Writeboard: The “app-less” web-app 05 Jul 2005

66 comments Latest by Brian

What makes a web-app an app? I’d argue it’s not the functionality — there’s a lot of functionality on the web that we wouldn’t explicitly consider a “web-app.” I’d argue it’s the account, the infrastructure, the multi-page UI, the navigation between elements, the billing, the overview pages, etc. That’s the stuff that makes a web-app an app.

Now, what if we removed all of that? What if a web-application looked more like a web-document? What if the whole “application” was a single document, a single URL? What if the interface was one page? No account, no preferences, no settings, no “navigation” in the traditional sense. What if you could email it around just as you do a photo or a file attachment?

It’s just around the corner. Stay tuned for Writeboard — the next little thing from 37signals.

66 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Joost van der Borg 05 Jul 05

Well, always curious to see what’s coming next :)

Jomdom 05 Jul 05

Well, you got me good and excited!

kmilden 05 Jul 05

Bring it on!

a 05 Jul 05

Sounds like a one-page, account-less version of Backpack, or a Ta-da list that’s not constrained to one content type (the list).

Scott T. 05 Jul 05

sounds like a simple tiddlywiki

pb 05 Jul 05

Zaplet was on to something similar putting apps in email…until it took $100m in venture money.

Question: is it ever going to be possible to deliver an app in a b rowser and not have users worry about the lack of a back button?

JF 05 Jul 05

Writeboard is nothing like Tiddly.

Sara 05 Jul 05

Sounds very cool - now I’m excited!

Dan Boland 05 Jul 05

Sounds to me like Writeboard will be a cross between a blank Word document and a bulletin board. Put whatever you want on it and e-mail it as a document (PDF?).

Travis Anderson 05 Jul 05

Sounds like those online doodling tools/communities.

David Grant 05 Jul 05

Sounds like Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Brad 05 Jul 05

Sounds like we should wait for the launch to find out what it is.

Don Wilson 05 Jul 05

Sounds like burnt cheese.

Sheldon Kotyk 05 Jul 05

Been waiting for this since you talked about it in SF back in October.

Darrel 05 Jul 05

But what does it smell like?

Ed Knittel 05 Jul 05

I bet it tastes like chicken. A lot of stuff tastes like chicken.

Don Wilson 05 Jul 05

Just a side note, Robot Coop, in related news to the recent startup of 43Places, owns the domain to 43People.com, which could be a social network of people.

Pretty interesting. :)

Mike 05 Jul 05

Chicken!?! I don’t need any Whiteboard that tastes like chicken and smells like burnt cheese?!?

Jim 05 Jul 05

I like cheese

Anonymous Coward 05 Jul 05

ooh I bet it’s a self aggrandizing piece of garbage like Backpack turned out to be. Oh wow, a blog!

Ben Whitehouse 05 Jul 05

Hi there fellas, any way we can tie these apps together?!!! I got a-Da lists, I got a $5 back-pack, I got a $12 basecamp and nobody talks to nobody! Now Writeboard!? Come on - add it into backpack or something! I got more sign-ins on more sites then I know what to do with!

I want a web-OS that knows I’ve registered 2 times before!!!?

(Make that 3 time before!)

MJH 05 Jul 05

I agree with Ben! Start tying everything together, to many passwords and logins for me!

Alex King 05 Jul 05

Ben, I think they call that Microsoft Passport. Not too cool. But hey, if 37 came out with something like that, it would be neat!

Phil Boardman 05 Jul 05

You know, that description describes exactly how this very page you’re viewing now works.

No account, no preferences, no settings, no �navigation� in the traditional sense.

Just a single page web-app.

ratso 05 Jul 05


Jens Meiert 05 Jul 05

Go on…

Don Schenck 05 Jul 05


Ben Askins 05 Jul 05

To say that an app isn’t about functionality is a big call. But nonetheless I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with.

I agree with Wejn, it does sound like tiddywiki.

Jamie 05 Jul 05

Congratulations on getting the domain for this one!

David 05 Jul 05

I’ve thought this since Backpack, not to mention the shameless self-praise of Basecamp, but 37 has officially jumped the shark.

Chad 05 Jul 05

Here�s my guess:

*User creates a new �Writeboard� by giving it a name, which creates a URL with a subdomain, let�s say chad.writeboard.com
*On chad.writeboard.com, the user enters a paragraph.
*User selects �email this Writeboard� link, enters a friend�s email address and submits the form.
*User�s friend receives the email with the paragraph that the user entered.
*Friend replies to message, edits the paragraph and sends an updated version of the text back to the Writeboard server.
*The text on chad.writeboard.com now includes the friend�s edits.

Am I even close?

Ben Askins 05 Jul 05

Typo…. tiddywiki=tiddlywiki

Generic 05 Jul 05

I love this blog and I love your apps, but I have to say… Whatever happened to less is more? This is like the third thing you’ve launched in a year and they all seem to overlap eachother.

Soon enough you’ll have to develop and launch a 5-minute wizard to help users figure out if they should use basecamp, ta-da, backpack, writeboard, etc.

You can call it: WTFdoIjoin.com

jules 05 Jul 05

I’m with Ben above - accounts would be less of a detriment if they could be tied together; ironically, one of my favorite tada-list uses is to record logins & passwords for all my basecamp users. how about a sync-all-my-accounts app? a 37signals-meta-services-portal?

anyhow, here’s hoping that writeboard can be directly integrated into basecamp… version-controlled, collaborative writing is pretty central to many industries’ definition of project management.

Noah Bradley 05 Jul 05

My guess: A very simple app that lets you start typing right away—no interference. The files/documents are saved on their server, thus making them publicly available (easy to email, whatnot). Maybe they’ll even put a password lock on it. Also, make them in a format that can be saved to your computer and uploaded back into the program.

But remember people, it has to be done with “No account.”

Sounds great. I love the rest of your products. Use ‘em all (to varying degrees).

Jeff Wheeler 06 Jul 05

Yeah, sounds like it’ll have some text, and you can edit it, and it’ll save your edits and mark them as your chosen color. Something like that.

kelby 06 Jul 05

love basecamp
love tadalists
didn’t ‘get’ backpack
but writeboard seems ‘write’ up my street :)

anonymous 06 Jul 05

what you guys need to build next is an open-ended, scaleable web-app developed using Ruby on Rails that builds peoples expectations for months reaching a crescendo just before launch day. Promise the world, of course, as the app needs to do absolutely everything yet be ultimately simple and easy to use. Don’t worry about making it work for too many browsers though, as that will make customer support difficult to manage.

Im looking forward to it!

40hdaily 06 Jul 05

i wish it is subethaedit, ala web.

just a single page with a url. start write, and everyone sees the writing in realtime.

ajax syncs every character (or block of them) to server, and ajax polls the database for content every nth second and updates the DOM/url for everyone to see (and write)

no save button, no nothing. just collaborative writing.

Philip 06 Jul 05

Regarding accounts, why can’t I logon to the Basecamp Forum with my Basecamp username and password? Why am I forced to register another username and password?

Bill Brown 06 Jul 05

I love this. I bet one of you is right and the rest are just contributing free ideas for the next mysterious web app.

JF 06 Jul 05

Regarding accounts, why can�t I logon to the Basecamp Forum with my Basecamp username and password? Why am I forced to register another username and password?

We use a 3rd party product for the forums and there aren’t any hooks to the account system.

Anonymous Coward 06 Jul 05

JF sez: “We use a 3rd party product for the forums and there aren�t any hooks to the account system.”

This is a lame excuse for an obvious user experience problem. Create the damn hooks, your a software company!

JF 06 Jul 05

Well, Anonymous, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Different Basecamp users can have the same username since usernames are unique to their own Basecamp account and not to the entire Basecamp system. So, there can be 100 people with the username “joe” in Basecamp.

Dan Boland 06 Jul 05

Wouldn’t it piss you off more if you couldn’t use your own name as your username because someone else totally unrelated to you or your site/business already chose it? That’s how MyFamily.com works and it’s fucking obnoxious.

Anonymous Coward 06 Jul 05

The natives are getting restless.

Anonymous Coward 06 Jul 05

So, there can be 100 people with the username �joe� in Basecamp.

That’s why it makes more sense for the username to be an email address.

JF 06 Jul 05

That�s why it makes more sense for the username to be an email address.

Oh yeah? What if you have an account in multiple Basecamps? Yours, a client’s, or another one? For example, I have my own Basecamp account (for 37signals), and I also have accounts in 3 other Basecamp accounts (a colleagues, a client’s, and another one).

Anyhow, we’ve thought of these things. I have to get back to work.

harry 06 Jul 05

Coming Soon from 37Signals:

“Paper” - The Web-less Anti-App

What makes a web-app an app? I�d argue it�s not the functionality � there�s a lot of functionality on the web that we wouldn�t explicitly consider a �web-app.� I�d argue it�s the Web, the packets, the HTTP requests, the browser, etc. That�s the stuff that makes a web-app an app.

Now, what if we removed all of that? What if a web-application looked more like a regular old paper document? What if the whole �application� was a single document, a single piece of paper? What if the interface was just one single piece of paper! No Web, no browser, no settings, no �navigation� in the traditional sense. What if you could pass it around just as you do a photo or a box, or anything in the physical universe?

It�s just around the corner. Stay tuned for Paper � the next little (and I mean tiny) thing from 37signals.

Anonymous Coward 06 Jul 05

The hype’ll kill you.

Jon Wayne 06 Jul 05

These comments are good fun, aren’t they?! I’ve been laughing for the last five minutes. “Stay tuned for paper…” :) Now that’s funny.

If there’s one thing I’m getting from the constructive criticism is that we all actually love the work 37Signals does so much that we wish they would just replace all our essential daily apps with apps that lived and breathed simplicity, fundamental and essential functionality- apps imbued with that special 37 signals magic.

We wish they would rework social networking apps like friendster, make email that only gets messages from people you care about, and take backpack just a little further so that we don’t have to bother with the blog software we currently hate to install.

But what we really wish is that all these apps had full APIs and all were integrated into a skinnable 37 Signals Life Dashboard. We don’t mind paying for multiple apps and we wish we could login just once to achieve all of this organizational nirvana.

We wish? Well I wish at least. ;)

mkoval 07 Jul 05

Good to know you’re developing new stuff.

Is contact management (or VERY simple CRM) coming up any time soon?

David Heinemeier Hansson 07 Jul 05

Writeboard has been bumped twice. First we did Ta-da List, then we did Backpack, and now we’re also doing Basecamp 2.0. So it’s just in recent days we’re getting back to where we left off with Writeboard all those months ago. It has been laying dormant for a good number of months.

bort 07 Jul 05

thanks for those links, craig, especially the second one. perhaps it’s something wiki-like but without the linking between pages, and with a much nicer modern interface.

i’m sure it’ll be nice enough, but man do i get sick of the hype. the “app-less web-app” *groan*… and “the next little thing” tagline is overly precious. *gag*

Stephen 07 Jul 05

harry, friggin hilarious! That’s what we need…paper! I agree wholeheartely with all the criticism. I’ve been reading this blog long enough to know the signals’ weaknesses. “Let’s make all our apps really really simple.” Like Dropzone.com, signals loved that one. Even said something to the effect of, “I love when an app does one thing really well.” The signals have made this theory a fantastic sales pitch as to why you should buy a bunch of apps that don’t work together. It’s horrendous! Hey JF, way to be a great example of how a business blog can shoot you in the foot. Can’t be professional because you’ve got a few hecklers…why don’t you cry a little and go home? Yes there are hooks in the support forum, and yes you can fix them. But that would prevent you from developing a worthless app that Backpack probably already covers, not to mention squeeze another $5 a month out of the countless groupies. 37 signals has in fact “jumped the shark” (www.urbandictionary.com)

JF 07 Jul 05

The signals have made this theory a fantastic sales pitch as to why you should buy a bunch of apps that don�t work together. It�s horrendous! Hey JF, way to be a great example of how a business blog can shoot you in the foot. Can�t be professional because you�ve got a few hecklers�why don�t you cry a little and go home?

Uhh, what? Sounds like someone’s crying, but I can assure you it’s not me. Surely you have something better to do with your time than pick on a horrendous, worthless, inept software company like ours.

And as far as being shot in the foot, I have no idea what you are talking about. People disagreeing with us on our site is not being shot in the foot, it’s just people’s opinions. Agree or disagree we want to hear you and we’re providing a friendly forum to allow everyone to be heard.

As far as making simple products, It’s no surprise we like simple. If you want complex and ultra-full-featured there’s plenty of other places you’ll be able to find it. But tens of thousands so far have knocked on our door and we’ve been happy to be their hosts.

As far as our apps working together, they will shortly. We’re working on it. We’ve released 3 apps in 1.5 years and have a 4th and a 5th on the way (hopefully the 5th by the end of the year). We’ve been busy. Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — the gold standard of integrated products — didn’t work together for years. I’d say we’re doing pretty alright so far.

Yes, we have some work to do on the integration side, and we’ll get there soon.

Stephen 07 Jul 05

JF, I apologize for my comments. I came in to the mix late and decided to kick ya’ll while you were down…call it mob mentality. I am a basecamp user and simply feel ya’ll are concentrating too much on releasing new apps than finetuning old ones. Again I apologize for my lack of professionalism on the blog.

JF 07 Jul 05

Stephen, we’re very very hard at work on all our apps. Basecamp 2, Phase I launched last week. Phase II is well under way. Stay tuned.

Peter Cooper 08 Jul 05

What about a single HTML file which, when shared, is kept updated even if it’s sitting locally on someone’s machine? You can easily fetch content from the server using or AJAX (though some browsers won’t fetch from a remote domain, so would be better) .. you could keep documentation updated on people’s machines as soon as you publish a change :)

Page 14 Aug 05

Any idea when we will see writeboard?

Sanat Gersappa 30 Aug 05

Start.com had this (URL-based) implementation until recently. However users found it difficult when using multiple PCs. So now they have shifted to Passport. The URL-based implementation still works though.

Jay 31 Aug 05

This is an interesting idea. However, i think the idea may be suitable for scenarios where the security is not a big concern. By using only the URL, the user is confused (has to memorize or bookmark the URL), the page is accessible by any dick and harry. It is a neat idea, no doubt, but not suitable for general adoption.

Personally, I have always had issues with usernames and passwords. Different domains have different policies and I have to create a new password everytime. Recently, I was thinking about the possiblity of starting a web username/password directory where users can create a unique username/password and websites can use the repository as a “certification authority” before they are allowed to log in to the respective websites. I admit my idea may need some fine-tuning but it may also be a step in the right direction.

Russ 02 Sep 05

for an early glimpse at what I think Writeboard will be, check out www.writely.com

it’s a fully web-based document app

although I’m really looking forward to the 37S approach to this

cheers …

Brian 03 Oct 05

While Writeboard is nice and all I think it lacks a couple key things.

1) What is up with using _ and * to bold, italicize, and bullet things? Why not just put a simple 4-5 button wysiwyg editor at the top? People are used to seeing and using pretty buttons to modify the text. Using these special characters is something completely new to them.

2) These special characters are a pain in the ass to sift through when reading the document in editing view.

3) The formatting does not transfer to Word. I can’t edit a document online, save the text file, and open it and Word with the same formatting(if that is even possible).