Raise your hand if you’ve tried to collaborate with others using a wiki. Most people just don’t get it, do they? Wikis, for the most part, are confusing and slow to edit, and are simply too much hassle for small projects. Wikipedia is the biggest wiki success story, but they’re not the panacea for normal business and educational collaborative writing. The market hasn’t been too rewarding to wiki products, either. PBwiki, a business built around hosted wikis, has been rebranded as PBworks and deemphasizes the wiki part of their product, focusing instead on their project manager and intranet social tools. Even the much hyped Google Wave quickly hit the deadpile after consumers found it too confusing.
After trying to use wikis for one too many group project that fizzled out because of poor tools, I set out to find something easier to use than email, copying a Word file back and forth, or the dreaded wiki that no one could figure out. Enter Writeboard. This simple online text editor takes the pain out of collaborative writing, and is as simple to use as Notepad or TextEdit. It’s a solution that almost anyone can instantly understand and start using without any learning curve. Keep reading to see why Writeboard might be the perfect solution when wikis fail.
Just Start Writing
Writeboard is a completely free webapp from 37signals that gives you a clean slate to write text documents and colaborate easily with others. Right from the front page, you can create a new Writeboard and get to work. Enter a name, password, and your email address, and you’re ready to go. Then, to share the Writeboard with others, just give them your Writeboard’s unique URL you’ll see when you sign-in, along with the password you created. No creating user accounts or complicated invite systems, just links and simple passwords and you’ve got a space for your team to write.
You can start writing as soon as your Writeboard is created, no login required. Just type in anything you want, whether a couple sentences or half of a book, into the main text box, and click Save. If you’d like to collaborate with others on the Writeboard, enter your name on the bottom so you’ll know who changed what. Otherwise, you don’t even have to enter anything other than the text you’re writing.
Writeboard is not limited to plain text, however. Writeboard supports John Gruber’s brilliant Markdown formatting, which lets you add formatting to your document without fancy controls or confusing XML markup. Add asterix around a word to make it bold, use the # sign to create a numbered list, insert an image from a link with exclamation points, and more. You’ll find a short formatting guide right inside the Writeboard editor for quick reference. While editing, you’ll just see the raw text and symbols, but once the document is saved, all of your formatting will look just like you want.
Don’t Write in a Vacuum
Writeboard really shines when you use it to bring your team together. As mentioned before, anyone with link and password can edit the Writeboard, and you can invite others directly from the app as well. Each revision is saved, dated, and marked with the author’s name. When you’ve made a significant change, think the document is finished, or needs extra attention, click Flag this version to mark this revision. Alternately, you can switch back to any older version of the document and compare changes made.
When you’re comparing revisions, any text removed in the later revision will be struck out, while new text added will be highlighted in green and text that is the same between versions will be left the same. This is a great way to see what was changed between revisions quickly. Additionally, beside each revision, you’ll see a small dot that indicates how much was changed in each version. Small dots show small changes, while larger dots show more extensive editing. Best of all, you can always switch back to an older version if something gets messed up, so you’ll never lose crucial text.
If you need to use your document in another app or print it out to share, click the Export button on the top to download your Writeboard’s content in HTML or TXT format. You could even upload the HTML file directly to your website for a quick way to create a new page, or copy the content into your CMS in seconds.
Find All of Your Writeboards
There’s no limit to the number of Writeboards you can create; make as many as you want for free and use them for anything from your grocery list to lecture notes to your important business copywriting. The only problem is, it can be easy to lose track of all of your Writeboards since there’s not an account with a dashboard listing all of your files. If you do forget your writeboard’s address or passsword, just go to the Find your Writeboard page. Enter your email, and you’ll receive an email listing all of the Writeboards you’ve created along with their passwords. Now, you can file that email as a quick reference so you won’t forget them later!
Integrate Writeboard in Basecamp & Backpack
If you use Basecamp or Backpack, 37signals’ project manager and intranet collaboration solution, you can use Writeboards right in your normal collaboration environment. Basecamp lets you add Writeboards to individual projects, while Backpack lets you add them to pages. Either way, you can add existing Writeboards as links or create new ones directly in the app. If you’d like, you can try this out with the free versions of Basecamp and Backpack, too, if you’re not already using them.
These Writeboards are even easier to use. Anyone that has access to your Basecamp or Backpack account can simply click the link to open and edit the document. Since you’re already logged into a 37signals product, you won’t have to enter your name, either, as it’ll be automatically added from your 37signals account. Best of all, you can still share the Writeboard with others that aren’t members of your Basecamp or Backpack account. Just click the Share link and enter anyone’s email you want to join in, and they’ll be sent a link with a unique password so they can join in too.
Sometimes, throwing more tech at a problem doesn’t solve it. Simple tools can honestly be the best solution sometimes, as our own Justin Stravarius recently explored in his great article on simple apps. For me, 37signals hit the perfect spot between features and simplicity with Writeboard, and whenever I need to do a collaborative writing project, it’s always my first choice. Writeboard isn’t a new app, and has actually been around since 2005. Its simplicity and reliability, though, makes it still a valuable tool even today. Best of all, it works great with 37signals’ professional apps, Basecamp and Backpack, helping this simple app fit into the wider ecosystem and remain a supported tool even though its free.
Next time you need to collaborate with others on a writing project, or just want to write your own documents with versioning and online backup, give Writeboard a try. You just might find a new simple tool that becomes a regural part of your webapp toolkit!