Over 10,000 Writeboards created since yesterday’s launch! David 05 Oct 2005

72 comments Latest by Wade Schuette

We’re happy to report that more than 10,000 Writeboards were created since the launch yesterday. In celebration, we’ve launched HTML exports today to accompany the pure-text choice. And it’s not even all over. Before we leave Writeboard sit for a while, we got a few more things in the pipeline. I believe there’s another application besides Backpack that could use Writeboard, no?

72 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Tim Haines 05 Oct 05

Superb! That’s awesome guys. Well done. Are you the company Scobles been talking about buying?

Ben Askins 05 Oct 05

Good work guys. I’m looking forward to the Basecamp integration.


Adam 05 Oct 05

I’m sorry, but until you get this thing WYSIWYG’d, it’ll lag far behind offerings from JotSpot and EditMe.

I’m a total geek, but even I like being able to quickly drag-and-drop stuff from the Web, from Word… create and modify bulleted lists easily and so on.

I think it’s great that you’re making wikis more noticeable to the public, but I fear that many folks may be put off by the challenges of even making something bold or italicized. It’s just not yet intuitive enough for my non-geek friends.

Mark John B. 05 Oct 05

Whoa! Now that’s something!

I’ve created a few already, and have already shared my writeboards with my clients.

I am also particularly looking at integrating it with Basecamp. :)

Anonymous Coward 05 Oct 05

I agree with the calls for WYSIWYG. A tinymce version would add a few hours of work, but for a lot ov value.

JF 05 Oct 05

Until there’s WYSIWYG that is truly cross-browser/platform, we’re staying away. For example you can’t use Writely if you have Safari. That’s not acceptable to us at this time.

Rahul 05 Oct 05

But how do you convince others that WYSIWYG is a no-go until it has complete cross-platform stability? Especially with something like the FCK editor (http://www.fckeditor.net/) becoming so prevalent.

JF 05 Oct 05

It’s not about convincing others, it’s just not about providing that feature until we’re comfortable with the implementation. So until then Writeboard will be simple text.

Moritz 05 Oct 05

JF, good to hear, that Safari support is important to you. Please keep your products platform independent!

Rahul 05 Oct 05

I meant “you” in the general sense. I do support the thinking that led to Writeboard (and Basecamp/Backpack) using textile for formatting. Let me rephrase: how do you ensure that your own project team learns to adapt to the ideology that WYSIWYG isn’t necessarily a good thing in the web environment?

Hartvig 05 Oct 05

> Until there’s WYSIWYG that is truly cross-browser/platform, we’re staying away

Guess that’s the downside of a company running fully on macs and in some cases are a bit behind what’s happening on the 95% of it’s users who aren’t. Just like templates and designs looks stunning on macs, while lacking a bit on windows.

While understanding in the perspective of webstandards, it’s a shame that you just don’t give WYSIWYG for firefox+ie users, and leave mac-users with the textstile woodoo coding…

Guess you have your reasons though - but believe it or not, there’s some pretty decent stuff happening outside the world of shinny hardware ;-)


Rimantas 05 Oct 05

WYSIWYG is overrated.

Basecamp User 05 Oct 05

Really really really really looking forward to the basecamp integration — any idea on the timeframe for this? As an editor this will be a godsend for collaborating with my writers.

Stuart Sutherland 05 Oct 05

I disagree with commenters looking for WYSIWYG and formatting options. This is a cool tool for sharing CONTENT with colleagues and clients etc. The focus is on the writing, not its final formatting wherever it ends up - which could be within a web page a Word doc, you name it. That stuff comes later. So, keep it simple. A real problem with version control and multiple authoring at present is that there are too many formatting options which too many authors apply too early in the authoring process. Let’s keep that mess away from the ideas. Thanks for a great tool and for practising what you preach and avoiding bloated unnecessary features.

Jack 05 Oct 05

I agree, WYSIWYG is overrated. More distractions mean less communication.

Chriztian Steinmeier 05 Oct 05

I don’t need WYSIWYG - what I could possibly accept was a live preview…

Chris Harrison 05 Oct 05

Agreed. WYSIWYG is overrated. The support for textism is enough for most folks.

If you need WYSIWYG and Writeboard isn’t going to float your boat, take your dinghy on over to Writely or Jotspot. ;)

Ben Askins 05 Oct 05

Hartvig: I’m pleased that 37 signals are catering for that 5% of users who don’t want WYSIWYG editing to get in the way of content creation. Whether I’m using Mac/Safari at home, Windows/IE at work, or Linux/Firefox at my mate’s house, I can count on Writeboard working reliably and consistently across the board.

I find it quite bizarre commenting here and saying “it’s a shame you don’t give WYSIWYG for…” etc. It’s kind of like going into a BMW dealership and saying “I really want one with the exact same features as a Mercedes”. If you want a Mercedes, go buy a Mercedes.

Adrian 05 Oct 05

We need a Javascript confirm box if you try to edit a previous version to the current one.

People are accidentally editing previous versions and reverting all the changes since then without even realising it.

The “Edit this writeboard” button is now much improved. :)

Jez 05 Oct 05

WYSIWYG is overrated.


Chris 05 Oct 05

Please no WYSIWYG!

As other’s have pointed out content is the issue here. If WYSIWYG is added, some people I know will start asking me why they can’t just send me a Word document instead.

Tomas Jogin 05 Oct 05

WYSIWYG sucks, and I commend you for having the guts to pass on it.

Bill P 05 Oct 05

It’s all about collaboration, communication, and version control - and it does all of them extremelty well.

When dealing with real (NON-TECHNICAL) people, 2 things that are extremely difficult are (a) tracking changes, and (b) physically getting people to update the document in the first place.

This app is perfect in that I can send the doc with near-zero difficulty, and see what happens. it passed my “real person” test with flying colors. People changed the text, tried all the features, tracked changes, etc. Huge hit.

Designing a UI for real people is tough, and you guys have done it. Don’t change that focus.

It’ll be a huge addition to Basecamp. Kudos.

PS - I look forward to ‘Getting Real’ coming out in publication. Although I don’t agree that every premise of the book can be implemented in every project environment, I see it as a great start point for real project change.

It’s all about communication, honesty, and trust anyways, somethign you guys seem to have mastered.

I am going through my PMP certification, and my goal is to be able to apply the best of both worlds (structure vs. collaboration) to the team at hand.

dusoft 05 Oct 05

Jason: I think you should think a bit more openly - you can always provide two different versions of editing - current one (e.g. when Safari is detected) and WYSIWYG for users that like Word-interface.

dmr 05 Oct 05

Yeah guys, where are all the features? You heard the 95%, they want more features… more more more. Yikes…

I admire the 37crew for being able to tough out comments and requests for (what I assume) is a ton of requests for minutia; that ain’t easy. Bravo.

Mike 05 Oct 05

WYSIWYG is definitely overrated, and here’s why.

Writeboard is about the management of collaborative text editing. It’s function over form, and essentials over superfluousness. JF & Co. believe that less features are more features, so do you really think they’d drop WYSIWYG in there for the hell of it? Absolutely not.

There’s a reason the old euro-spec Lotus Elises didn’t have air conditioning — because they wanted to save the unnecessary 20lbs on a demon of a track car. There’s a reason Writeboard doesn’t have WYSIWYG — because it gets away from the core functionality they so eloquently provided.

Ryan 05 Oct 05

I’m still in shock that you don’t support concurrent editing. I have been using a CVS repository for a while and it’s saved my but a whole bunch of times. I was looking forward to seeing how 37signals would deal with conflicts in a user friendly manner.

J Clark 05 Oct 05

I kind of doubt that 95% of the people who would use Writeboard are using Windows, just because of the kind of people who tend to use Macs (forget the fact that the 5% figure is skewed by the way those numbers are counted). Seriously, that 95% includes every Tom Dick and Harry who bought a computer at Walmart, people who buy Macs usually buy them for a reason, not just because that’s all they sell at the Mall.

Also, watch those implications that the Windows world is so advanced, while the Mac world is just about shiny hardware. I use both daily, there’s nothing terribly special in either compared to the other, it’s about using your prefered tool.

Any actual figures on what people are using to access Writeboard?

brad 05 Oct 05

Writeboard is free. If you need more functionality and WYSIWYG, pay for a tool that provides it.

Adrian 05 Oct 05

I’m sure most developers understand the nature of concurrent editing as a consequence of using version control systems.

I’ve tried to teach non-technical people to use version control for collaboratively editing textual documents and concurrent editing and merging is the bit they really find hard to grasp.

My own observation of non-tech people using Writeboard over the last couple of days is that initially they find it hard to get to grips with the idea of versioning in itself and the principle of everyone editing the same document.

Having an exclusive lock on an edit corresponds directly to the real-world situation of a group sitting around a table where only one person is holding the pen and paper at any one time. Concurrent editing and the merge process are abstractions familiar to developers but aren’t analoguous to any real-world situations.

Allowing concurrent edits would increase the mental and interface complexity of this product excessively. It’s not the problem it’s designed to solve. I’d be highly surprised if 37signals ever implement it, but if they do, it’ll make it useless for what I’m currently using it for, which is a task for which simple, web-based tools don’t otherwise exist.

If you need to use a version control system, just use one. If you want to build an easy front end to one, by all means do. But I discern that this isn’t the intention of this product and that decision was made early on and for a very good reason and it won’t be changed.

Baeck 05 Oct 05

Honestly, one of the reasons 37Signals is so successful is because they’ve managed to strip out all but the most-important functionality in each application. Sure, there are times when WYSIWYG editing would be nice, but do you really NEED it to get things done? Probably not.

Pretty much universally, every co-worker and client I’ve shown the 37Signals products to has taken to them immediately. That tells me that their philosophy is right-on and is why I subscribe to their services.

dtb 05 Oct 05

Keep it the way it is guys. Simple! I love it. If I want to format the crap out of the text, I can do that in another app. It is PERFECT for collaborating. We have a few different ones going already for our business. Sure beats throwin back and forth Word docs! Thanks.

Hartvig 05 Oct 05

Please guys, chill! My response was to JF’s reason for not having WYSIWYG:
“Until there’s WYSIWYG that is truly cross-browser/platform, we’re staying away.”

So from that response I’m reading it as Writeboard doesn’t feature WYSIWYG because it sucks in Safari.

Dan Boland 05 Oct 05

I’ll hop on the “WYSIWYG sucks” bandwagon too.

Chris 05 Oct 05

WYSIWYG is definitely over-rated to me - and I’ve seen just about every one of the editors (FCK, TinyMCE, etc.) drop in random paragraph and span tags at some point or another. Rather than deal with a mess of HTML, I’d much rather use something like Textile - to me, it’s just quicker :-)

As mentioned in another comment, Writeboard is free, so if you find the features are lacking, choose another service. I like that Writeboard is stripped down - it’s simple and effective.

The only thing I would like is a simple setting for the global font used on the Writeboard - for some reason Lucida Console just doesn’t look correct on Windows.

Ben Sinclair 05 Oct 05

I’d love to see how your parsing and marking up the differences between versions works!

Vic Stachura 05 Oct 05

By ‘other app’ I hope you’re referring to Basecamp - yes? We love Basecamp and are eagerly awaiting the integration with Writeboard.

Chris 05 Oct 05

Minor correction: Lucida Grande, not Lucida Console.

ari 05 Oct 05

oh yeah, need writeboards in basecamp. That was the first thing I thought of when I started playing with them yesterday.

BUT, I would also like to be able to bounce more easily between basecamp and backpack—or am I missing something?

Given the option, I would like to schedule/plan projects in basecamp, but collect info for those projects in backpack. hm. I can see project brainstorming on a writeboard, then collecting related stuff in backpack, and using basecamp to plan and implement.

JF 05 Oct 05

Yes, the lack of Safari support is one thing, but we’re also not sold on the concept of WYSIWYG on the web in general at this time.

EAW 05 Oct 05

Another vote against WYSIWYG. Formatting isn’t the point, content is. Getting people to collaborate on copy editing is hectic enough without adding formatting to the equation.

Don Wilson 05 Oct 05

37Signals definately produces successful products. These are the same numbers that we saw with BackpackIt, though I would be definately more suprised had it been Writeboard then BackpackIt.

John 05 Oct 05

Is there any chance that the RSS will be updated regularly for the Writeboard? I know you have the RSS feed, but it is useful only if it is updated.

My feed hasn’t been updated for more than 24 hours!!!

Thanks …

David 05 Oct 05

I think the argument is less “WYSIWYG is bad” and more “the current set of in-browser WYSIWYG editors aren’t performant”, at least that’s what I get when I read the “We don’t want WYSIWYG” comments.

And, btw, JotLive WYSIWYG works for me in Safari.

Ryan 05 Oct 05

Until you can convince people not to go crazy with 72-pt fuschia fonts, I’m with you on leaving off WYSIWYG.

Eliot 05 Oct 05

Kudos on a simple, elegant and useful app. My contributions to feature creep:

Could the emailed copy of the board contents contain the version number (say, in the footer)?

Could you add a favicon to the Writeboard view and edit pages? In a tabbed browser, life is much better with an icon.


Rob Poitras 05 Oct 05

I agree that the wys. editor isnt really the right thing. But having a quicktags insert mode kinda like wordpress does, would be nice.

James 05 Oct 05

Very nice. Is there any chance of incorporating a shared spreadsheet like NumSum?


I’m probably in the minority here, but a shared, editable spreadsheet would be quite valuable to me.

Brady 05 Oct 05

I was trying to move some of my table-based content from Backpack to Writeboard. Specifically, I have a list of upcoming concerts and use the textile(ish?) format of piping |a|b|… I want to share authoring this with a friend, so was giving Writeboard a shot.

The only problem is the Writeboard CSS doesn’t show the table borders, so it is hard to read. How about altering the CSS so tables show similar to how they do in Backpack?

Thanks for listening to your users!

Brady 05 Oct 05

Don’t feel too bad, the text doesn’t even show on my Ubuntu Linux box with Firefox. But, hey, it ain’t Safari.

Vishi 05 Oct 05

Ok no WYSIWYG, but atleast buttons to add the markup easily? I hate typing documents as if I’m writing code.

Adrian 05 Oct 05

Brady: It works on my Ubuntu Linux box with Firefox. But, hey, that ain’t Safari either. Nor is my ancient Mandrake Linux box with Mozilla 1.6, but it works there too.

There are rumours that it works in IE6/Win32 too, but no-one’s admitted to trying it publicly.

Brady 05 Oct 05

Adrian: I was sort of joking w/ the Safari deal. The problem does exist on my machine, but I think my fonts are screwed up. This one is probably an id10t error, but frustrating nonetheless.

Jon 05 Oct 05

Safari support or no, I still say thumbs down to WYSIWYG. I like it the way it is.

And how hard is it really to use stars to bold and underscores to italicize?

Chris 05 Oct 05

As far as CSS issues, I think it would be nice to have the ability to either attach a stylesheet via URL or have a place to enter the rules directly - possibly even use a writeboard to store the information…

kmilden 05 Oct 05

Really? Try to login to Writely using safari. It works! Safari is the issue not Writely.

Anonymous Coward 05 Oct 05

kmilden, did you use their WYSIWYG editor with Safari?

Ryan Allen 05 Oct 05

Plain text is good because it never goes out of fashion!

I like the styles lock-down. It ensures that the documents don’t look too ugly!

Brad 05 Oct 05

This says it all (taken from the writely tutorial):

“What is Writely? (page 1 of 6)”

Any complexity will exclude somebody.

The easier something is, the more people there are who can use it and wish it to do more.

The harder something is, the less people there are to complain about what it does or does not do.

So i guess that (the ‘page 1 of 6’ above) didn’t say it all… but it sure says alot.

Brad 06 Oct 05

And further, the home page of writely shows a simple three step process, but when you click on that graphic it takes you to step 1 of 6.

Brad 06 Oct 05

Hey, nice touch on the comments piece. I’m sure it’s been mentioned but I like the ‘Brad said… (18 min ago, looking at version 5)’ piece.

It’s those things that set you guys apart.

Hrush 06 Oct 05

The hell with WYSIWYG…

Sometimes I wish MS Word didn’t have WYSIWYG. One of my pet work culture peeves is people who spend more time on formatting than content.

And, for Christ’s sake, if you did waste all that time on formatting, WHY DID YOU MAKE IT SO UGLY?

Adrian 06 Oct 05

Writeboard is all about the textual content. The minimal styling features offered are more than enough to cover its apparent intended purpose.

How would you visually display changes to style in a diff between two versions?

Separating content from presentation matters if you want to make your composition process efficient. I still write all my short prose text in a plain text editor so I don’t have the opportunity to distract myself with formatting.

When I write longer pieces I use a manual typewriter. It’s quicker for me to do that and OCR it into a word processor when I’m finished, than it is to compose it in a word processor, mess around with spell checkers and formatting, distract myself with email and IM and all that stuff.

Plus, the battery never runs out and the “screen” is amazingly legible, even in bright sunlight.

Ben Hirsch 06 Oct 05

People, can you really see 37S with WYSIWYG? Its just not their style…

andjules 06 Oct 05

I think there are a really 2 different ideas of WYSIWYG floating around. I think we need to call one of them ‘simple styling’ or something like that.
I don’t want Word on the web. When my client uploads (or pastes) something they’ve written in Word, I don’t want to spend time removing Times New Roman, indents or adjusting page width. Frankly I don’t even want images. Those are all design and layout decisions.

I DO want headings, italics (err.. emphasis), bold (err… strong), numered and bulleted lists, and hyperlinks. these are content.

and as much as I personally love textile, when you are dragging your clients into using these progressive tools (basecamp, writeboard, etc.), adding abstract encoding is just another hurdle. Even BBcode-style javascript shortcut buttons? Someone has written these as a plugin for Textpattern (PHP CMS), to at least make entering textile markup as simple as it would be in Word.

Abe 06 Oct 05

WYSIWYG editing does not mean having every conceivable WYSIWYG feature (different fonts, text colors, blink tags, etc). You can to do a minimal editor that only has the things you want (headings, bold, italic, links). The goal shouldn’t be to have Word-on-the-web, but to avoid making your users stop thinking about what they’re writing to remember the syntax for inserting a heading or link. I expect that 37signals will start using a WYSIWYG editor eventually, but one that is suitably minimal for the context of writeboard.

Christina 06 Oct 05

I really don’t understand the mindset of this conversations. You think WYSIWYG is good. You are sad it can’t be done cross platform. So you punish everybody because it doesn’t work on a tiny % of platforms. Why not make a good tool for everyone and a great tool for the majority. Why not offer a simple WYSIWYG for just IE, or just IE and firefox, whomever your biggest audience is? You aren’t being fair, you are penalizing the bulk of your audience for the few.

That, of course, assumes you consider WYSIWYG a good thing, which many folks here don’t seem to think is true. I’m definately in the offer it camp… after all, remember when blogging tools first came out and all the hard core people complained that if you weren’t smart enough to write html, you didn’t deserve to make webpages? Writing good code and writing good content was proven to not be the same thing… writing good code and formatting well isn’t either.

Adam 07 Oct 05

Amen, andjules and Abe!

> I DO want headings, italics (err.. emphasis), bold (err…
> strong), numered and bulleted lists, and hyperlinks. these
> are content.

I’m stunned by a lot of folks shouting, NO, don’t offer WYSIWYG! Too many people abuse it, it gets in the way of content, yadda yadda.

Anything can be abused, misused. I could make the same argument for plain text; too many people can’t write with a darn… giving them ability to write free-form text is a mistake! :D

Seriously, I hate 72pt magenta fonts as much as the next sane person, and I also am annoyed when co-workers spend 90% of their time on a document making it “pretty” (read: ugly as heck).

But I’m surprised and bummed that so many folks steadfastly argue against WYSIWYG as a tool that enables people to more easily accentuate and structure good *content*. We’re not talking nested tables or docs with 7 fonts in them. Rather, it’s about the easier creation of bulleted lists, links, etc.

There’s been a lot of (unfortunate) slagging at Writely, but IMHO, they get the WYSYWIG thing write when so many others (including JotSpot and EditMe) have gotten it wrong, IMHO; Writely’s WYSIWYG panel is intuitive, minimalistic, and highly effective.

How about this for a compromise?
1) 37Signals folks enable WYSIWYG for browsers that support it.
2) They also give document authors the option whether to show or hide the WYSIWYG by default (perhaps even lock it).

Then everyone’s happy, no? :)

Oh, and a P.S. about Safari… I’ve never used it, but — at risk of having to put on my flame-retardent suit — isn’t it rather telling that nearly every service on the Web that offers WYSIWYG excludes Safari? What’s so broken about that browser that makes it uniquely so difficult to support?

Wade Schuette 12 Oct 05

So, as one that’s been doing computing since I built my first analog computer in 1957, let me say I think your products are fantastic and your direction / philosophy is perfect.

I’ve used Writeboards with team members and am firing up Basecamp now, working on getting past that adoption resistance in a large healthcare medical center to outside, not-invented-here products with strange pricing methods.

If you are looking for another product that is huge, at least in health care work-flow improvement, please consider making a usable, low-end rules-based inference engine.
I would see the value of this in health care to be about the equivalent of the value of spreadsheets, once people figure out what they are and how to use them.

There is no clean entry path into artificial intelligence, expert systems, etc., even though the Gartner Group has indicated this is clearly the way to go with knowledge-based systems.

I wrote the Cornell B-school’s registration and course scheduling systems in rules-based products, and sat next ot the Hubble telescope team in Anaheim at a panel, and we were all truly hyped about how much easier it was to describe complex tasks in rules. The Hubble team had replaced literally 50,000 lines of Fortran with 210 rules, for selecting guide stars, and it worked way better.

If you used something like Writeboard for users to view and comment on and update each rule (sort of a WIKI kind of thing), you could do incremental knowledge capture on legacy processes that defy conventional systems analysis and are filled with one-sided rules. (If A happens, we do B. I don’t know what we do if A doesn’t happen.)

There’s so much that even 10 simple rules could capture in the way of business work that could be automated. Example - if this total on this report is over this amount, please page me. There’s no easy way to write monitors, triggers, and alarms for all the rest of the systems. Now with RSS, all sorts of data could be fed to a central place, but some basic rules-engine is needed to process it, and some software is needed to let customers incrementally feel their way to what the rules should be, without needed $150,000 consultants to flood them with UML diagrams and use cases.

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