Buzzword is often compared with Google Docs, so it might be useful to discuss the relationship between them – both the similarities and the differences. The short version goes like this:
- Free web apps. Buzzword and Google Docs are both driving the move to on-line applications, and are rapidly gaining popularity and market share.
- Comments and Collaboration. Ubiquitous access to your documents enable better collaboration, and both tools have useful commenting functionality to support this.
- Layout and Pagination. Google Docs has the sophistication of Notepad, with no page payout or pagination capability. Buzzword, on the other hand, shows a true and accurate representation of the page in real time.
- Experience matters! Buzzword’s user experience is rich and elegant, rewarding users and encouraging authors to write more.
Web Apps Come of Age
Google Docs has been around longer, and its arrival three years ago helped establish the concept of on-line productivity applications. Google Docs is a simple rich text editor; as a native HTML application, it is very well integrated with the browser. It also works well as a front-end editor for some blogs. So if you re writing simple documents, or if HTML is central to your work, Google Docs is an good choice.
Buzzword and Google Docs are part of the intriguing migration of productivity software to the web. Because they are delivered online, both Buzzword and Google natively benefit from the advantages of ubiquitous access: your documents are available from any Internet connection. Moreover, both allow you to provide access to your collaborators – fellow students, teachers, committee or other project members.
Comments and Collaboration
Because they are delivered on the web, both Google and Buzzword are natural platforms for document collaboration. You can share your documents with collaborators, and from then on everyone is working on just one version of the document – so you can avoid the hassle of emailing documents around to each other. This was described in an earlier blog entry, and Google has a nice YouTube video explaining the value of this approach – the video applies to Buzzword as well as to Google Docs.
One of the primary means for collaborating on documents is through commenting. Both Buzzword and Google Docs allow collaborators to leave suggestions in the form of comments in the document. The experience is different – Google’s comments appear in-line, cluttering the content, while Buzzword’s appear in the right margin where they are easier to scan and digest.
Layout and Pagination
There’s a fundamental difference between Google Docs and Buzzword, however, and it’s in the virtual DNA of each application: Google is an HTML application and Buzzword is built on the Adobe Flash platform. Because of the limitations of HTML, Google presents documents as if they were simple, text-centric web pages, while Buzzword can manage and display the document in a rich, graphical medium.
One place this matters is in layout and pagination, neither of which Google Docs can handle. Native web editors, like web pages themselves, display their content without regard to how it will appear on a printed page. In fact, even the “Preview” function on Google Docs doesn’t show page breaks – you actually have to print the document to determine how many pages it is, and where the pages break.
By contrast, the page you see on the Buzzword screen is identical to what will print out. There is no “Preview” command, because you are always looking at the true document. Buzzword is so fast that it re-calculates line and page breaks instantaneously with each keystroke. Text wraps around images on the screen in real time – exactly as it will print out. This is the kind of page fidelity you might hope for in a desktop word processor, but only Buzzword can deliver it online.
For simple documents or blogs, the accurate representation of the document’s page may not matter. However, we’ve spoken with many writers who have articulated their need to know the shape of their document on and across pages. This goes beyond adjusting for awkward page breaks, and (for students especially) writing just enough to fulfill a minimum page writing assignment. One college student explained it to us very clearly, saying that after years of writing papers, he knew the shape of a 10-page paper and as he writes he needs to know in real time where he is in the writing progress.
Of course, the other primary difference between Buzzword and Google, a differentiation enable by the HTML-vs.Flash dynamic, lies in the user experience. Our most recent blog entry addressed how enthusiastic some of our users get when describing the Buzzword design. We also have an earlier blog post, entitled “Design Matters“, that describes our design focus and approach.
Because of its elegant and polished design, Buzzword is in a whole different class than Google Docs. It offers a rich and rewarding experience, where writers want to spend their time and express great thoughts, while Google offers a simple, utilitarian tool for merely capturing text.
The verdict from our users? We’ve heard from thousands of users – via email feedback and on the Buzzword forum – that Buzzword is a superior writing environment:
I’ve tried various different [tools], including Google, but I’ve been looking for your quality. You have certainly “raised the bar”. Just adding tables, everything. The aesthetics are simple but pleasant, and all the transitions are lovely and smooth. This is a winner for me. I love it.
Second on the list comes Google docs… very good too because it is also simple and easy. But the interface is a 100 times less “cool” then Buzzword.
A colleague and I are both writing novels and have in the past been drafting them in Google Docs for collaboration and editing, and then typesetting the chapters in LaTeX for layout and fonts. Now, however, we have both migrated our novels to Buzzword because of the superb collaboration capabilities and beautiful fonts and easy layout.
Just wanted to say that this was the first time I have tried using Buzzword and I was very much impressed. Beats Google Documents hands down for ease of use and styling.
In summary, we see Google Docs as an effective tool for simple documents, especially those that are less than a page or two. It’s also very useful when you don’t care about the page – maybe for a Kerouac-inspired long ramble of text.
However, comparing Buzzword to Google Docs is a little like comparing Microsoft Word to Notepad or, on a Mac, Apple Pages to TextEdit. One is a serious word processor with page layout and pagination capabilities, while the other is a convenient and simple text entry tool.
If you’re looking for a rich writing experience, and unparalleled fidelity between the screen and the printed page, then Buzzword is a great way to go.