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Monday, October 03, 2005


Interview with the Co-Founder of Writely

Earlier today I decided I'd try my hand at an interview, and who better than Sam Schillace, the Co-Founder of Writely, an AJAX based word processor (oh, but it's so much more). I've taken quite a liking to the program, as it's fast, efficient, and does exactly what it ought to do. I'd advise all of you to try it. Sam also maintains a blog, giving details and insight on Writely.

Anyletter: Five years ago, I would have never imagined writing a document online using a tool with as much functionality Writely gives me. How long has this been in development, from idea to development?

Sam Schillace: About 4 months. Plus some time to develop the toolkit it's based on.

Anyletter: I see that the number of members increases over 200% every six days, does Writely rely on word of mouth, or any other forms of PR/advertising? And after the Slashdoting on Friday, did Writely see an even larger increase in registration?

Sam: Just word of mouth - we're very viral. We doubled pretty fast from the slashdotting. Today's pretty busy too.

Anyletter: Yesterday, in between blog posts (which I write and post through Writely), I noticed that the UI had changed slightly. Does the use of an AJAX environment ease the introduction of updates?

Sam: Not particularly. We just like to iterate the application a lot. Our philosophy is to listen very hard to our users, run as fast as we can, and iterate at least once a week if possible.

Anyletter: I understand that your security is top-notch, but are there still concerns about the security of documents residing on a remote server as opposed to a personal computer?

Sam: A few folks have issues. We expected this, because the application category is so new. But plenty of folks are comfortable using webmail - we think the same will ultimately be true here.

Anyletter: Google, recognizing that some people use browsers that don't include AJAX support, included an HTML version of their email service Gmail. Are there any plans of including an HTML version of Writely (though with limited functionality)?

Sam: We've talked about it, but it's not a high priority. We think WYSIWYG is important, we need JavaScript to do some important things like collision resolution, and we currently support something like 85% of the installed browser base already.

Anyletter: Do you see Microsoft Office and Open Office as competitors, or does Writely intend on being much more than just an "online word processor"?

Sam: We see ourselves as a complimentary application. We feel that web word processing will ultimately be a separate category. Even though we stayed very close to what folks are comfortable with for the first release, we expect to look pretty different eventually.

Anyletter: As far as statistics go, do you see more than the average 15% Firefox users, or do most of your members use IE?

Sam: Lots and lots of FireFox. I don't know the percentage. They're all early adopters.

Anyletter: After moving to the final product, does Upstartle, Inc. intend on keeping Writely free, or will there be a premium service?

Sam: There will be a paid premium service that goes up from whatever is there now.'s not costing us much to run the servers so we're not in a rush.

Anyletter: For me, the ability to post to my blog was the key selling point for using Writely, has this aided in "word of mouth" advertising?

Sam: Yes, tremendously.

Anyletter: Does Upstartle have plans beyond Writely? Has the advent of AJAX opened new doors to see ideas come into fruition?

Sam: Yes, but we're not telling! :)

Seriously, I think what's going on with Ajax and Web 2.0 will remake the software industry eventually. What it will look like is up for grabs. We just try to focus on making things that real users find valuable.

Anyletter: Excellent work so far, and I'm happy to use this product. I feel slightly guilty being a beta tester and not finding any bugs, but I'm sure there are people more qualified than I are. Are you open to suggestions for improvements, and where can we submit them?

Sam: There's a feedback form on the site, or you can mail feedback at writely dot com.

Anyletter: Thanks for your time, and I hope to see many more using Writely in the future.

Sam: Thanks!


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