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Writing and sharing documents online with Writely

Dec 07, 20053 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Writely collaborative document editing system

There seems to be a wave of Web applications appearing that break new ground in terms of their sheer cleverness – that “Ah” factor that hits you when you recognize that they are really different and valuable. Along these lines is a new service that just astounds me. It is a collaborative document editing system called Writely.

Writely is free – you just sign up, confirm your existence by following a URL in an e-mail you receive after registering, and you’re off.

Writely is a really good looking system and very easy and obvious to use. You can create a new document, upload a file from your PC or e-mail a file to the system. Formats supported by Writely include HTML and plain text files as well as Microsoft Word and OpenOffice files smaller than 500K bytes along with GIF, JPEG and BMP files smaller than 2M bytes. Support is planned for RTF, PDF (export-only), Word Perfect and others.

Once a file exists in Writely you can edit it in the WYSIWYG editor that provides copy, cut, paste, drag and drop, fonts, text effects, layout, tables … pretty much all the functions you need to create sophisticated business documents. In fact, I used Writely to write this column.

You can also add collaborators to the document – you instruct Writely to e-mail and invite them to the document and the system notifies you when others are working on the same document as you and coordinates the updates and changes. You can also view the complete revision history of your documents and roll back to any previous version.

When you are ready to publish you can make the document available for either selected people to see or even the world. If you want to you can publish the document to a blog – Writely supports posting to most of the popular blog systems including those that support the Blogger, metaWeblog or MovableType APIs. Writely also lets you add tags to documents and posts your documents’ metadata to an RSS feed.

Writely supports IE 5.5+ (Windows), Mozilla 1.4+ (Mac & Windows), and Firefox 1.0.6+ (Mac & Windows – except for 1.5b1 on the Mac) but is not supported on IE 5 (Mac) or IE 4 (Windows), Netscape 4, Opera, and Safari. The current beta requires that you enable cookies, JavaScript and allow pop-ups for the domain. A future version is planned that will use DHTML which will allow browser with pop-ups disabled to access Writely.

Currently in beta test, there is no limit on a users’ total storage space and each individual document can be up to 500K bytes with each embedded image up to 2M bytes. The beta system allows you to share a document with up to 50 people.

As I mentioned earlier, Writely is currently free, but that may change. The publishers intend for a free version to always be available but intend to have extra features and facilities for paying customers.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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