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Whee! That was fun Sam
9.29.2005 [] - Permalink

Hi Everyone! We got slashdotted today...it was an interesting experience.

The site seems to have held up well, aside from a brief period when it was not possible to register new accounts. If anyone experienced a problem, please let us know!

I also wanted to thank folks for giving us all kinds of great feedback. We love it all, positive or negative. We feel very strongly as a team that the only way to develop great products is to listen hard to your customers and iterate constantly. We're working as hard as we can to make Writely as great as we can make it. All the feedback helps. Don't be shy about negative feedback - it's useful too.

Lots of folks on the web are saying we're a threat to Microsoft, or something to that effect. I don't know if that's true or not (probably not), but it's not really what we're about. We really only care about one thing - that our users have a really great, useful experience with us, and that they (you) want to come back and use us again and again, and tell your friends about us.

I'm sorry I haven't been writing, we've been really busy. I have a lot I've been thinking about, with regards to how the Web 2.0 world is likely to go. I think it's interesting, and will surprise us all. Just as the open source world got a lot of power from the surprising direction of openness, I think Web 2.0 will get surprising amounts of power from similar areas: openness, connectivity, communication, and trusting and listening to your users. It's already clear that one of the hallmarks of Web 2.0 will be a much, much higher velocity in the application realm. Possibly we'll start to see applications that are customized to individual users on the fly, that connect and optimize groups in surprising ways, that foster global businesses with even more speed than before (we're hearing some really interesting business ideas coming up our of the user base, it's wild). These apps seem like simple ideas, but simplicity and reach is part of the power.

We have an iteration coming in a few days, hopefully. It's been three weeks since we did the last one, which is the longest it's ever been for us. This is light on major features (more blog providers, some UI fixes, and the ability to email documents into the system, or cc the system on emails and have them become collaborative), because we're focusing on fixing problems people have been reporting with the UI and workflow.

We've heard about Open Office, we've heard about Safari, we've heard about Opera, we've heard about localization, we've heard about the API, we've heard about templates...it's all on the list, and we'll get to it faster than you think!

Thanks again for the patience and the support. It humbles us. And, to quote Wynton Marsalis: "The humble improve".

What does the Microsoft Reorg mean? Sam
9.25.2005 [6 comments] - Permalink

If you follow the "Web 2.0" area, of which, I guess, we are a part, the Microsoft reorg this week was an interesting event. It's been widely interpreted as a reaction to the kind of work that's been going on with applications like ours. Here's a good posting looking at this event in some detail.

The author, Keith Teare, a Venture investor looking at this space closely, discusses how the shape of the network is changing in light of new technologies. I think his take is interesting. I wouldn't have used his words exactly, but I do see the trend he points out, and it's what we saw clearly when starting Writely: everything is becoming more powerful and cheaper. Servers, programming environments, browsers, etc. The modern browser with async JavaScript (e.g. AJAX) is a fairly good platform for developing a certain kind of application, especially one targeted to a broad audience, and it's cheap to experiment with.

This means, as Keith points out, that innovation is moving out to the edges (or as we saw it, to smaller companies and startups). That's not to say that there aren't opportunities in the center - personally, I think big, well established companies like AOL, Google, Yahoo, MSN, Salesforce.com, and (maybe) Oracle are in a good position to make plays in the center that will be very rewarding. We see a number of ways Writely needs to interact with the center of the network - without it, we'd just be a copy of WordPad, for example.

But the point is that it's now possible to do something that wasn't really ever possible before - experiment with new products, paradigms and interfaces cheaply, and get that experimentation out to a very broad audience (also cheaply). It's been possible to hack out little apps on the desktop for a while, and it's been possible to have broad reach with simple web pages and web apps for a while, but it's only been a little while since you can create a really rewarding web experience with broad distribution in the installed base. And, with modern hosted servers so easy to get these days, you can serve a lot of users for not much money.

So...interesting times, indeed. I think we'll see a lot of innovation on the edges. The one danger I see is that the toolkits are so powerful that folks tend to want to toss every feature they can think of into the apps. Personally, we don't think this is the winning idea. It's not that we aren't going to add features - we are, and how! It's more that keeping the message and UI of the application simple is a very important part of being successful on the web. It's the web part of "blending desktop and web" that you need to survive. What this means for UI design depends on the app - it probably means the UI changes as the task changes.

I suspect Microsoft is going to try hard to make this even easier. If they're smart, they and the rest of the portal companies will make it even easier for small companies to innovate, in a way that is somehow integrated with their center. Or, maybe just integrate a bunch of the apps directly. Personally, I'd love to see things like being able to use slawsome to put verbal comments on a Writely page...and we don't need the center for that. Hmm...

Net Work Sam
9.23.2005 [7 comments] - Permalink

I stole the title of this from Peter Rip, who's been doing some very good thinking about what's going on in Web 2.0 right now (hint - if you're looking for a VC who gets it, Peter is it).

I have been telling people for a while now that one of the reasons I think apps like Writely resonate, is that more and more, what you do on a daily basis happens on, in, or around the net. I'd been struggling with trying to put this concept into compact form, and Peter nailed it: Net Work.

I'll let you read the rest on his site, it's only fair. But go read - it's worth it.


Worse is Better Sam
9.22.2005 [9 comments] - Permalink

Found some interesting posts today. This over on OK/Cancel there is a very good discussion of whether and why to build Ajax apps. A quote I like:

What's the difference between Oddpost and Gmail? One followed desktop interaction conventions, required a particular browser and a particular operating system, and gained a cult following. The other came along four years later, followed Web interaction conventions, worked across all modern browsers -- and transformed its entire category. Some might argue that Oddpost is the more sophisticated solution. But Gmail is part of the larger Web in a way that Oddpost never could have been.

The rest of the discussion here is about whether or not Ajax will take off. I don't think users care, they care about the solution...and nice, light, pretty, no-install apps in the browser are going to win this fight. And Ajax is really the only technology that can hit all those points (Java is a download, and usually a JVM version hassle, Flash is pretty but kind of sluggish, and lives more or less in a walled garden on the page unless you work very hard, etc).

Another interesting thing popped up, Ajaxian covered Bindows. Personally, I think this is a very nice toolkit, but exactly the wrong direction. I think it's wrong to just try to replicate the desktop experience - this is the exact mistake many early windows apps made. Remember DOS apps ported into Windows? And then being eaten by folks who get it. That's this, I think. One of the reasons the web is so nice is that the page UI is simple...a few things at a time, a very easy metaphor, etc. It passes the "mom" test - I can usually just tell my mom to go to a site, and she usually can figure it out. I can't remember the last time I could do that with a desktop app. So, even though the windows desktop is "richer", it's not neccesarily better.

There was a discussion long ago about how sometimes "worse" is actually better, if it's simpler, has broader reach, etc. I think the two above stories are examples of exactly this.

Random Thoughts Sam
9.21.2005 [6 comments] - Permalink

Well, we've been getting more and more feedback from folks. Most of it very positive, which is great. Steve and I talked about what all of this means, what Writely is. Is it real? Is it a toy? (well, if we are, in the words of Woody from Toy Story "You're a cool toy!").

I think this is very real. Now that we've looked harder at this space, and watched what people are doing, I think that Writely really does represent the first of a new kind of application - desktop apps re-invented for the web. Specifically, we're something between email and desktop publishing. More importantly, I think this, and the other Web2.0 apps, are really here to stay.


Because they really are better. They really make things easier to do, in a persistent, fundamental way. One analogy is web mail - it was inevitable that it would take over a lot of (not all of, but a lot of) the email market because it was better - easier for some things, and with the benefit of universal access.

I think Writely is much the same, with even more benefits. I call it the "three A's": Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime. Obvious to those who live and breathe the net, but valuable none the less. I think as users get used to the idea of Word processing on the web, the questions will be less "why would I create this document there?" and more "why wouldn't I?" And I think we're going to work hard to make it easier and easier to do this - more entry points, more apis, more features in the editor, more document types (like spreadsheets), more and more and more polish.

Speaking of API, that's the other ramble for tonight. I've been thinking of the structure for the API. I think we're going to go with a very simple to deal with XML format over HTTP, with an option to get the output in JSON format as well.

The API will be pretty simple. There are only three verbs: GET, PUT, and POST. And maybe just GET and PUT. The nouns are documents, revisions, contacts and assets. Each API call will have a "basis set" of things to operate on (which might be one document or user, or all of them, or some subset), a simple filter stack to filter from that basis (like "all documents where user is sam@writely.com"), and then an optional set of fields. So a query would look something like: (sorry for the square brackets - pretend they're angle - I can't get blogger to do entity encoding)


[basis]some id[/BASIS]
[field name="title"]
[field name="tags"]

That would return the title and tags from the document who's id was passed. (This request has no filter stack)

The response would look like:

[field name=""]
[result][field name=""]the document title[/field]
[field name=""]the document tags, comma separated[/field]


[failure]unknown document id[/failure]

Comments are welcome - this is all preliminary.

Peter Gets It Sam
9.19.2005 [4 comments] - Permalink

A nice article from my friend Peter Rip, who's been meditating on Writely for a while. I think my favorite thing he said is "how many Word documents do you make that aren't in some way shared".

Writely is the Seed of a Big Idea

Worth a read.

OpenOffice and OASIS Support Sam
9.17.2005 [2 comments] - Permalink

We've heard from a number of folks that want OpenOffice support. We'd be happy to oblige, but we can't find a translation library to move OASIS into either Doc or HTML format. If you know of one you think we've missed, please drop me (sam at our domain) an email about it.

...And Camino support Sam
9.15.2005 [1 comments] - Permalink

I should probably save this and announce it tomorrow. :)

We just released alpha support for Camino (actually, I think it's better than Alpha, but we haven't run the full test on it yet), and fixed a nasty bug in the new Deer Park beta of FireFox that was getting in folk's way. So...if you tried us in FireFox and it didn't work, try again, please!

And if you're a Camino user, give us a shot, and tell us what doesn't work!

What are you, anyway? Sam
9.14.2005 [5 comments] - Permalink

"What's a wiki?"

Ask that question to the 95% of the population that doesn't code for a living, or write seriously, and they'll say it right back to you: "I don't know, what is it?"

"What's a document?" "What's word processing?" "What's a web page?"

Ask almost anyone those questions, and you'll probably get the right answer.

People ask me from time to time, "Isn't this just a wiki?". They're almost always either investor valley types, or bloggers, or programmers. My answer is, well, yes and no. It is, technically, a wiki - a collection of pages that you can easily link together. But then, Napster was technically just an FTP client and a vertical search engine, right? No big deal.

Well, no. It is a very big deal if you do something that lots of people want (online, shared, safe documents) in a way that's easy enough to deal with so that they can really do it. That's a big part of what we think we are - the easy way for folks to collaborate, publish, keep notes, make web pages, push to their blog, etc. Eventually, we hope to be even more useful than just plain pages, but that can wait. For now, we're just focusing on solving this problem really well.

The other question I get asked a lot is related - "So, how much of Word are you planning to copy?" The answer is: "none of it". We don't think of ourselves as a copy of Word on the web. We think that's what's known as a "dancing bear" - interesting and novel, but only because it's so weird, not because it's really useful.

What we are planning to do is to listen, very closely, to our users, and to iterate and improve the application as often as we can (currently every week or so), so that it's constantly getting better. Nothing makes me happier than all the great, positive feedback we've been getting, except maybe the negative feedback we sometimes get that helps us improve.

We're a word processor, re-invented for the web. We're going to be the best, most useful tool we can be in this context. We hope to keep you delighted for a long time.

I'll post on some upcoming features and ideas soon.

The things you learn... Steve
9.13.2005 [2 comments] - Permalink

When we launched Writely, I knew that running a public web site would be an educational experience. But I didn't realize that running a site for writers would be even more so. For example, I had no idea that I would finally learn the difference between "who" and "whom". Today, we got the following feedback regarding the phase "Only who you choose" in the FAQ:

Actually, this should be "whom you choose." The simple rule of thumb is: Invert the question into a statement, do you use 'he' or 'him'? e.g. you say "I choose him," not "I choose he."

I knew the difference between "their", "they're", and "there". I even knew when to use "its" and when to use "it's". But I'd always wondered about "who" and "whom". Now I know, and now you know.

Why aren't you supporting Safari!!! Sam
9.09.2005 [5 comments] - Permalink

We hear you, loud and clear. Lots of Mac users want Safari. Heck, my wife does! So, why aren't we supporting it?

Well, sorry to say, there are some bugs in Safari's text editing support. If you're interested in the technical details, here's an example.

On the editor page, we have some toolbars. When you click on the buttons in the toolbar, you want it to change whatever text is selected. But, in Safari, unlike all the other browsers, when you click on that button, it drops the selection in the page before giving control to us. So, there's nothing to change, and all the buttons don't work. This is bug #1.

OK, we can deal with this. We can watch the mouse, and when the mouse moves right over a button, we can grab the selection before you click, and then restore it later. That almost works, but we then hit bug #2: Safari incorrectly reports what the selection is if it's been made by double clicking. If I select the first word of the sentence "Thanks a lot" by dragging, Safari tells me the selection starts at position 0, and goes to position 6, which is OK. But, if I double click, say, right on the 'a' in 'Thanks', Safari tells me that the selection starts and ends at position 3, even though it also tells me the text of the selection is "Thanks". So when I go to restore the selection, it's wrong, and it still doesn't work, only sometimes instead of always.

I don't know how to solve this. I can play some games with collapsing the selection to an endpoint, and moving it around, but they're complicated and they might not work in all cases. I'm asking Apple for help. If anyone reading this has a suggestion, I'd be glad to hear it - you can reply here, or in the feedback form on the Writely site.

So, that's why we're not on Safari yet. It's a nice browser in some ways, but it's missing important stuff that's going to take time to work around. We're trying, and I'm sure we'll get there, but it might take a little while.

Technorati Tag Sam
9.06.2005 [1 comments] - Permalink

Just a quick post to add the technorati tag for us to the site:

We're working on some new features and fixes. We've heard loud and clear that Safari support is important, so we're investigating whether the design mode support in Safari 2 is good enough.

We've also heard from folks who want to be able to publish from Writely to a blog, so ATOM support is coming soon. If you have other desired publishing APIs you want us to support, let us know using the feedback form on the site.

Finally, we're starting to work on a web API for Writely, suggestions and requests are welcome. We'll post an initial version of it in a few days.

What do you mean, closed? Steve
9.04.2005 [0 comments] - Permalink

We've heard from a lot of people who want into the Writely beta. So why did we close registration? Simply to ensure that we could provide a good experience for everyone who is already registered. That's always our top priority.

Our user base doubled overnight... and then doubled again... and then tripled... and then tripled again. We've planned for scale, but the overwhelming interest threatend to run ahead of our buildout. Hence, the temporary suspension of new accounts.

The good news is, we're accelerating our scaling plan. If you're already on the waiting list, you should be hearing from us in the next few days. If you haven't signed up yet, well, take a number. We'll reopen registration as soon as the backlog has been cleared. In the meantime, rest assured that if you sign up on the waiting list, we'll get to you sooner rather than later. As Claudia noted in the previous post, you can also get an account by asking someone else to share a document with you.


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