A chat with Michael Robertson

by Mathew on March 25, 2006

I know that all the fuss about Michael Robertson and ajaxWrite.com was ages ago in blog time – days being the same as years in the blogosphere – but I wanted to write about it anyway, because Michael said some interesting things to me in an email that I wanted to pass on. Besides, I was on vacation. I only blogged a couple of times, believe it or not – once to mention Dave Winer (because I couldn’t help myself) and once to mention our Web 2.0 conference, which I expect you all to come to.

Michael, whose track record includes mp3.com, Linspire.com and many other startups of note, sent me a message about the launch of ajaxWrite, at which point I mentioned that I was already pretty familiar with it – warts and all – since it had been all over tech.memeorandum.com for most of that day (okay, I checked memeorandum the odd time too while I was on vacation – so sue me). He mentioned that the site had been “a little slow because of the unexpected traffic,” but that other than that things were working fine.

Naturally, I asked him how he thought ajaxWrite would stack up against Writely.com, since many people – including my friend Mark Evans – noted the obvious similarities with the Web 2.0 service that Google just bought (which I have used many times in planning mesh and quite like, particularly because it allows real-time collaboration on a file). Here’s what he said:

“Writely has a richer feature set then ajaxWrite does because they offer online storage and sharing. We just launched ajaxWrite, so we’ll match them over time.”

In other words, it sounds like the version we’re looking at now is just 1.0, or maybe 0.9. Not surprising, since Writely has been around for some time now, and Michael has presumably been watching its success. He added:

“Having said that, ajaxWrite has a significant advantage. It looks and operates like a true desktop application, not a web page with some pseudo-menu-buttons. This means it’s immediately comfortable to desktop users, making a seamless transition possible. Imagine software/services being embedded into the browser/email/OS to seamlessly launch support for popular file formats as encounter them.”

Then I asked him whether it bothered him at all that Writely had been bought by Google and therefore the field had grown substantially more competitive. Here’s what he said:

“No. I don’t subscribe to the “google is invincible” nonsense that the press promotes. They now have near-Microsoft status on the FUD meter. A blogger simply suggests that Google might be working in a category and the tech press automatically assigns the space to Google.”

He went on to mention all the attention paid to the “mythical” Google Office, back when the company was rumoured to be talking with Sun Microsystems about something important (which turned out to be a fairly lame toolbar bundling deal).

“It was stunning how many people were talking about ajaxifying OpenOffice after the silly Sun/Google love in. I like Openoffice, but it’s a pig. It will never be a web app. To even suggest this shows a lack of understanding of the technology. If Google is all knowing, all coding and all products like so many people believe, why would they buy a tiny shop like Writely? Because they don’t have anything going on in this area and need something – that’s why. Yes, Google can throw money at it, but give me the small talented team over the rich behemoth any day because they’ll move faster and be more responsive.”

Them’s fightin’ words, Michael. Let the battle begin :-)

In case you haven’t read enough opinions about it already, Alec Saunders thinks ajaxWrite is a dud, Mike Masnick thinks the odds are stacked against it, TDavid thinks it’s part of an unsustainable Web-app explosion and Paul Kedrosky says it is yet another example of Michael’s “stick in the eye” marketing. Oh yes, and apparently ajaxWrite – despite its name – isn’t really Ajax at all. Any comment on that Michael?

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