Thursday, November 08, 2007

Buzzword preview

UPDATE: Virtual Ubiquity informed me that Buzzword does allow exports to .doc, .rtf, and Word 2003 xml via the Save As dialog. Apparently there's a bug with the radio button being grayed out.

I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Buzzword, a basic word processor built in Flash to facilitate networked collaboration. Today, I was finally able to try out the preview. Here's a quick pros-cons list based on a five-minute test drive.

  • This thing is just beautiful. Fonts render nicely, although there's only seven of them. The page is WYSIWYG, of course, but you can zoom in and out via a slider. Animation is discreet and appropriate.
  • The features are intuitive.
    • Buzzword's functionality is available primarily via toolbars for fonts, paragraphs, lists, images, tables, and contents; they're rendered in roughly the "ribbon" configuration offered in the latest Office, but are much better done here.
    • The scrollbar actually shows page numbers, which is incredibly smart.
    • Hover over a page element and you'll get a little, unobtrusive Comment icon. Click it to add a comment immediately. These comments stay in the margins, like Word's, not embedded in the text the way GDocs' comments do.
    • To add table rows or columns, you just have to click an unobtrusive plus sign in the table itself. No menus or key commands.
  • Sharing is finer grained than in GDocs: You can designate someone as coauthor, commenter, or reader, with appropriate permissions given to each.
  • The documents list is great, with various ways to sort the documents (alpha, by author, by your role, by date).
  • It supports endnotes!
  • Apparently it doesn't support paragraph styles, which is a big drawback.
  • Currently it doesn't seem to allow document uploading. The Save As feature indicates that you can save as Word format, but that choice is grayed out.
  • The History is very basic, not nearly as full-featured as GDocs' or Word's.
  • Oh, and it requires Flash.
On the balance, this product has some real potential for the online collaboration market. Some of the cons I've listed are clearly in the works, while others could potentially be added without much trouble. The UI, as I said, is really smart and does some things that would be clever even in an established desktop word processor.

My sense is that Buzzword isn't going to go head-to-head with Word -- the features are adequate for basic collaboration on short documents, but not for long documents or for more complex types of documents. That leaves GDocs, but I don't think they're competing head-to-head with GDocs either: GDocs' features are much more squarely aimed at intense collaboration (I'm thinking particularly of versioning) across multiple devices (especially mobile). But Buzzword would be very easy for students to use in writing classes, for instance, and its commenting features would be great for peer and instructor review -- better than GDocs' in that regard.

Virtual Ubiquity - Buzzword

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