by Bryan Alexander, Center for Educational Technology, NITLE

The slow rise of wikis as popular authoring tools produced a series of commercial ventures, such as SocialText. Recently a new group of Web 2.0-oriented, wiki-like services has appeared. Writely is a good example of these. It offers an easy-to-access, clean-looking, collaborative writing space, much like JotSpot Live and Writeboard. Users can quickly set up a web page focused on a single document.
Unlike most wiki implementations, and contrary to the old wiki ethos, Writely excludes all potential editors, save those invited by the creator via email. Editing is advanced wiki, including multiple versions and rollback. Contributors are identifiable, unlike most wikis. Menus aren’t intrusive, but drop down through AJAX.
From an information services support perspective, Writely has several advantages. As a hosted site it looks relatively noncommercial. For backup and migration purposes, Writely exports content into several formats, including HTML and Word. In terms of training, the creation and content editing window is a clear, simple WYSIWYG, easier to get into and more recognizable for non-specialists than many wiki implementations. Writely can ingest uploaded documents in common formats, such as Word.
Disadvantages are fairly evident. Like most Web 2.0 products, it’s in beta. As with any externally-hosted service, academic users are at the mercy of someone else’s business decisions. For Mac users, Safari has issues, and may not be supported. Overall, however, the ease of use and good export renders Writely worth the experiment.