I know I’m not exactly breaking a hot new story here, but I wanted to offer a shout-out for Writely, a very slick writing app that is a cross between a synchronous wiki (that allows multiple concurrent editors) and an online word processing program.
I’d poked around the tool before, but it isn’t until you actually have to use it for something that you can really assess an application. As it happens, this week has provided me a useful comparison — I’ve used both Writely and Microsoft Word 2004 (just upgraded) for nearly identical collaborative writing projects with distributed partners. At pretty much every step of the way, I was pleasantly surprised by Writely, and dismayed by Word, which if anything has taken a step back in terms of usability and basic stability. In all honesty, I can’t think of a single feature or experience in which the desktop application was better. I wasted a great deal of time wrestling with the Word UI, fighting elements that might have been bugs, might have been features, it really was hard to say. Writely, on the other hand, was an absolute breeze… it has required virtually zero experimentation or fiddling to get up and rolling.
Given that Writely lets you export your files in both Word and OpenOffice format, it’s hard to think of any circumstance in which I would use a word processor, at least so long as I have an internet connection.
Writely is still in Beta (though so far very stable), and who knows what licensing will look like when they take this thing onto the market. But for 24 hours or so, I will not roll my eyes when some zealot raves about the promise of Web 2.0…
BTW, if you’re reading this, the API that lets me publish directly from Writely onto my blog worked like a charm.