REVIEW: Writely, an online collaborative editor

Writely is an online collaborative web editor, with some surprisingly nice additional features. Recently acquired by Google, Writely fills the need for a simple way to create documents, share them with other editors, and track revisions. Along the way it also allows you to publish these documents to your web space or post them to your blog.

Here’s what the opening screen looks like, with the documents I’ve created:

You create and store documents directly online. The documents you create exist as HTML documents while in Writely. However, in addition to HTML files you can upload MSWord, OpenOffice, or text files to Writely, edit them, then download them back to your local computer as Word (.doc), OpenOffice, RTF, HTML, zip, or PDF documents. (Yes, PDF–so Windows users now have a free and easy way to turn their doc files into PDF.)

Here’s a screen shot of the main editing window. As you can see it looks quite similar to Composer, Nvu or any simple web editor (and it has a spell checker):

Those of you who have despaired at the mess Word creates when saving a .doc file as an HTML file will be happy with Writely. I experimented with taking fairly complex Word documents (see one example in a separate blog posting below), uploading them to Writely, and checking the HTML code that was generated. Result: this is perhaps the cleanest HTML code I’ve ever seen come out of such a process.

What else can it do? Writely gives you the ability to publish any of the documents you create into a public space so they can be viewd by others, but not edited by them. Unfortunately, you cannot publish them directly to your UVM space. To do that you would have to create them in Writely (not a bad idea because it is a simple and good HTML editor, on par with Nvu or Composer), then download them to your desktop and upload them to your web space.

What about posting to a blog? Yes, this is easy. In fact, since the editor in Writely is so easy to use, Writely is a great way to create blog postings then send them to your blog–and it includes a spell checker! You can create the posting, preview it, then post it with one click, all within the same editing window. No need to login to the blog admin environment, etc. Currently there are two limitations: your blog entry window allows you to create a posting with a brief excerpt and then a link to an expanded posting. Writely doesn’t: the posting is created as one big posting. Also, pictures are still a bit of a problem. You can easily include a picture in your Writely document, but they are still working on making it easy to have that picture transported to your blog. Stay tuned for that one.

One other nice feature: You can send any e-mail message to Writely for editing, so if someone sends you an e-mail to be edited, you can forward it to Writely. This also means you can forward them to your blog via Writely. That is, if you get an e-mail message and you want to post it to your blog, send it to Writely, then use Writely to post it.

So is it a wiki? No, though it shares some of a wiki’s features. Yes, you can have multiple people editing a document, yes, it will track revisions, but unlike a wiki, it does not require you to learn and use special wiki-only editing codes. For example, in a wiki you might create a link to another document by enclosing it in square brackets []. In Writely you simply use the link button which creates standard HTML coding. A wiki will let you create a suite of doucments that act as a web site (think wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, for example). Writely simply stores your documents as a list of files.

Is it like Sharepoint? In terms of storing documents that multiple people can work on, and which tracks revisions, yes. However, Sharepoint is not an editing environment. Typically you create the documents outside Sharepoint and then upload them for sharing. Also, Sharepoint has many, many other features and functions like a tracking feature for project activities, discussion boards, surveys, lists, etc.

So, if you want an easy web editor that can

  • import multiple file types,
  • export multiple file types,
  • share documents,
  • allow collaborative editing,
  • track revisions and changes on shared documents,
  • limit access to those documents or allow for general viewing, and
  • have an easy way to create blog postings

you might want to give it a try at

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