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December 20, 2005

A Wiki, turbocharged

I've been working on solutions for a learning exercise that will team up students from a dozen universities around the world.  The teams will collaborate to produce a business plan, but they need to work asynchronously due to the global time issues.  I've been looking at Wikis as one part of the solution - a common workspace where teams can group-edit a set of documents they're preparing.  

But Wikis have disadvantages -they're too geeky to use, and very limited in the kinds of documents you can build.  If you're used to Word, Excel, or even a decent HTML builder like Nvu, the best wiki may still cramp your style.  But then I came upon Writely, by way of Dave Lee at the Learning Circuits blog and Harold Jarche's blog.

Writely is a lot of things - you can start with a Word or OpenOffice document, edit it online as HTML, upload it to your blog, export it as Word, OpenOffice, or RTF.  It tracks versions, revision history., diffs, all by user and date.  From the point of view of my immediate need for collaborative workspace for globally distributed students, it's a wiki with rich formatting and tons of input and output options.

Officially a Beta, Writely may not be useful for my immediate purpose.  As with many corporate or institutional uses, I'd need some kind of custom branding, an easier way to manage accounts and access, and more peace of mind than that provided by a "beta" site.  For this project, we'll continue to look for a wiki that isn't awful...but something like a fully-baked Writely will be the standard to meet. 
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