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February 07, 2006

AssnHack #3: Writeboard

Continuing in my series of AssnHacks, and per my promise to blog a little more about my Technology Conference session on Web 2.0, social media and the long tail, here comes a little post on Writeboard.

First, let me present the problem that Writeboard helps alleviate. It's the problem (and opportunity) of "distributed authoring," a term I discovered recently to describe something that's been around for a long time.

Here's the problem: You and five other people in five different offices need to compose a single document. Each of you has something to contribute to the whole. Not like I'm composing section one, and you've got section two, and so on. No, we all need to be able to work on each others' sections. As project leader, you might start by composing a document in Word, then activating the track changes function, then e-mailing the document to the next person, and then they forward it to the next person, and so on, until it gets back to you. As the project leader, you approve all changes and then send it back out for another round of edits. And so on until the document is complete. Total pain in the arse, right?

In its simplest terms, Writeboard is an online collaborative text editor. You set up a board, invite people to collaborate on it and track changes via RSS. It's distributed authoring made simple, and that's what makes it great.

Two real-world examples of how I've used Writeboard:

  1. Four association volunteers and I need to collaborate on a proposal. We hold a conference call identifying the issues that need to be addressed. I take conference call notes and create an outline directly in Writeboard and save my changes. Then I invite the volunteers to log in to our secure board and flesh out the proposal. I track changes as well as make edits myself. I give everyone else a final opportunity to make changes before I copy the text out of Writeboard and paste into MS Word to hand over to the powers that be.
  2. Four colleagues and I need to develop topics to be covered at a conference. Again, I hold a conference call and record the notes in Writeboard. I take down 12 topics that we want to recommend to the conference organizers and invite my colleagues to flesh out the details, including session titles and descriptions. I track changes and make some edits myself. After a final appeal for changes, I copy and paste into Word and present our recommendations to the organizers.

Less time, fewer headaches. Definitely gotta try Writeboard!


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