Writely

As I posted earlier, we’re trying [Writely](http://www.writely.com) at [C3](http://www.c-three.org). I think the folks I work with are sick of me throwing these services at them to play around with, but that’s part of my job. I’m always looking for ways that we can do what we do a little better and a little easier with less budget. I mean, we had to kiss a few demo frogs before settling on [WebOffice](http://www.weboffice.com/en/home/default.asp) (formerly Intranets.com until the [WebEx](http://www.webex.com) folks bought them out) for our document exchange, contacts, tasks, calendars, etc. tool. For $50 a month (nonprofit pricing) it’s been great. We have two people in Oregon, one in California, one in Arkansas, one in New York, one in Washington, D.C. and me in New Jersey and this application lets us work as if we were all down the hall from each other.

But back to [Writely](http://www.writely.com)…

So far, the jury’s mixed. We’re constantly collaborating on documents, but if I send something out with a Word attachment to 3 people, I get 3 edits back that I have to combine. We can store our documents easily on [WebOffice](http://www.weboffice.com) but it doesn’t help us figure out which version of the file is the latest and whose changes to incorporate in the final version.

I like that Writely lets folks edit the same page, I like that you can import/export to Word. What Writely still needs is the ability to see all revisions at one time on one sheet (a la Word) and let the main editor accept/reject them. It also needs a commenting function, so someone can explain their reasoning for making a certain change.

Finally, I’d love to see the ability to comment/edit on PDF files the way you can do on Word. Of course, [Adobe](http://www.adobe.com) may have something to say about that.

I’ve been thinking about using it as a blog editor with its direct “post to blog” features (because all the blog clients for Windows are *still* hopelessly horrid)…but it’s not much use without categories/tags.

I should say that I also considered trying [Writeboard](http://www.writeboard.com) which is [37Signals](http://www.37signals.com) entry into the online collaboration space. But Writeboards have to be written entirely online and are formatted with Textile. Notta chance. *I* am comfortable writing in Textile/Markdown, sure. But the folks I work with are too busy doing their jobs to deal with learning shorthand. If they want to make something bold, they want to hit a “B” key or press something on their keyboard, they aren’t going to type formatting codes. I learned that lesson already when I tried using [Basecamp](http://www.basecamp.com) as a freelance designer.

Personally, I love what comes out of [37signals](http://www.37signals) ([Basecamp](http://www.basecamphq.com), [Backpack](http://www.backpackit.com), etc.) but they’re web geeks writing for web geeks. I say that in the nicest way, of course. Yes, I hate Internet Explorer and Word as much as the next Web 2.0/standards-happy type of person. But these new tools have to be intuitive and comfortable for people who have never used anything else, or they’ll try it once or twice and then go back to what’s habit.

As I wrote today on the Basecamp user forum:

>The people I work with are busy doing their jobs. If technology is not intuitive, the are not going to bother learning it. Period. These aren’t web developers or geeks or people like you and me who enjoy sitting down and learning new code or technologies. These are people that if you present them with a phone that doesn’t have a clear keypad and offer them the instruction manual in one hand and a cup & string in the other and ask them to choose one to help them make a call, they would pick the cup & string before the instruction manual.

This is not to say they’re stupid, or luddite. They are brilliant, talented folks. But their job isn’t to jump through the hoops that the software thinks they should jump through because the software thinks it knows better. I need to be able to send them an email with a username/password for whatever service we’re trying and a line or two of instruction. If they can’t figure out how to use it and integrate it into their workflow in the first 15 minutes, I’m not going to convince them to spend the money on it or adapt it into their day. It’s that simple.

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