Buzzword Review

My new account has come through from Buzzword. They apologised for the delay and explained that they have had a lot of requests and are still polishing off the service.

Anyway, I’ve given it a spin using my Mac’s Safari browser. The service has a nice, fresh interface with minimal amounts of menu and toolbar clutter at the top of the screen. There are simple menus for the usual document things plus a small number of toolbars that cover fonts, paragraphs, lists, tables, comments and images. File formats supported are Buzzword’s own file format, Word, Microsoft XML 2003 and RTF.

To create a new document was a bit on the slow side, as I had to wait for Buzzword to load the editor and fonts. I also tried to upload, from my hard-disc, a Microsoft Word version of my Web 2.0 report, which as anyone who has tried to read it will know, weighs in at a hefty 50-odd pages. Although, again, this took several seconds, Buzzword seemed to upload everything accurately and laid it out as expected. Something I particularly liked was that the page numbers are displayed as a long, thin, vertical strip on the far right of the window, and you can move straight to a chosen page by clicking on its number.

Its most interesting feature though, is that several users can view the same document and add comments in little coloured bubbles in real-time. A document can be shared with a number of users and each can be assigned a ‘role’ for the document – as a full writer (with edit abilities), reviewer (who can add comments) or a humble reader (who can only view the document). The product is clearly geared at over-the-Web collaboration within work teams.

For an early beta I am reasonably impressed. There are three issues though, that are worthy of further thought. The first is how slow it is. This is in all probability connected to the use of the Flash animation format and the provision of the service over the Web. No doubt this will improve as the beta develops. However, I would say at the moment that the average user will find it a serious issue.

The second concern is more a general comment on these kinds of Web-based services: your documents are no longer held on your own computer but on a server provided by the service. In the Web 2.0 world this means that you are, in fact, handing your data over to a third party. There is a potential security issue here that we should all pay attention to, but which is particularly relevant to professional and corporate users.

The final issue is that of file format, which is an area that is being hotly contested at the moment. The default format for storing a document is Buzzword’s own format, and I could find no details in the help files as to what this format was or how ‘open’ it is. Although there is the option of exporting the file to a range of other formats, I have no idea how successful this would be without conducting a full test. This is actually a very important issue (honestly!) and one that I mentioned recently in my coverage of a report I worked on for JISC. If users are not careful, the introduction of Web-based office document services may be yet another way of establishing proprietary file formats that lock users in to a particular service provider.


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3 Responses to “Buzzword Review”

  1. Raza Rizvi Says:

    A new file format might be needed to aid the speed of loading but even the Nokia mobile on which I am typing this (on a train using 3G) understands Microsoft Word. With the lack of a suitable Open standard for high-speed, over-the-web word processing (RTF come back!) using MSWord is a must. Why not OpenDocument at least?

  2. davidvirtub Says:

    Paul, thanks for the writeup.

    I’d be interested in learning more about exactly which aspects of the product you found slow. We’re aware that it can take a while for the browser to initially load the application, but startup time should be very quick on subsequent use. If you’re seeing lengthy progress bars every time you load the application, that’s probably a bug we should investigate.

    Adding an image to a document can be slow as well, since it has to be uploaded to the server before it can be displayed in the document. That’s a limitation of storing your documents on the server, and will change over time as we build our desktop version using Adobe AIR.

    Can you describe anything else about the product that you found slow? We’re very interested in your feedback. Feel free to visit our discussion forums at if you’d like to post there.

  3. pdanderson Says:

    Following David’s comment about the slowness of the Buzzword preview I’ve had another session with the new wordprocessor. This time I took some timings.

    With Apple Safari, It took 9 seconds to load the initial beta site login page from typing in the URL and 6 seconds to actually log me in once I had typed the password and hit return.

    I also tried the system under Firefox. I have not used Buzzword with Firefox before, so this was a ‘cold’, first test and as David makes clear this takes a while. The service took just over a minute to load the initial login page. The second time I tried this it only took ten seconds.

    However, I also timed the uploading of an existing Word document which ran to 50-odd pages and included a couple of small images. This took 1 minute and 8 seconds. This time was the same for both the Safari and Firefox browsers. As a comparison, Microsoft Word itself takes 24 seconds.

    Hope this helps

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