I was invited to test a new web site designed for screenwriters called Plotbot, which is all about "writing together." I was a little skeptical of something created to force we hermits (a.k.a. screenwriters) out of our caves and into collaboration, as well as concerned about something that might allow the general public to hack into that brilliant script project one is working on in top secret to avoid the plagiarizing hoards of Hollywood, but it's an intriguing program created with good intentions (by film school graduates). As the site is in beta mode, I hope my comments here will be kind and fair if also honest enough to help this work in progress.
Using AJAX, Plotbot allows writers to use their web browser to write a screenplay, and then invite others (one other, several, or as many as you want) to work on it with them.
The site design is generally very friendly with a sense of humor throughout (with the titular bot lurking over all), though it's a bit hard to do what many writers will want to do, which is start writing. Jumping right in to writing a script is rarely the best thing to do, but Plotbot does provide an Outline option, which is a better place to start.
The site needs to better differentiate between the tutorial aspects and the actual action elements. A big button that says, "Project" or something instead of using hyperlinks within a larger bit of text, would be better. I realize the site is in Beta mode so some of the bugs and kinks will be worked out (right now, clicking on the link for "Your Homepage", even while logged in, takes me to a more generic home page, whereas clicking on the caption at the upper right with my login name in it takes me to what really is my home page - for example).
So I created a project, called The Time Travel Project, for lack of a better title - you see, uh, it's a time travel script that I hope to write after I'm done with this damned WWII project - and made it "private" for now, as I don't have any potential writing partners at the moment, am paranoid about theft, and am a hermit living in a cave. But if I want to make it public, Plotbot makes it easy to change that. It's also easy to invite writers to join, whether they're a member yet or not.
How about the writing software itself? It won't replace Final Draft or Movie Magic any time soon. It's fairly easy to use (and it's free) so for people who don't yet have those other programs and can't afford it, this isn't a bad way to go. It is a bit cumbersome, however. You type in the scene heading, easy enough. Then action. Then you have to hit "submit." Each time it's a new element. Dialogue brings up two boxes, one for the character name (though it doesn't tell you the box is for character name, it assumes you know. I did know, but will everyone?) and then the dialogue. Then submit. Wait a few seconds for it to load, and so on. It's easy, but not what I'd call super fast. What would be cool is if it had a way to upload a final draft (for example) file and then use PlotBot to collaborate and edit it with others there.
[PB doesn't yet appear to have any means of exporting (or importing) scripts, which would be a serious flaw because almost everyone is going to want to then transport their finished project to another program where they can then print and tweak and send. However, they note in their dev blog that this is in the works, so hold tight.] [a bit of an update/correction: you can actually download an XML or RTF version of your script to PlotBot; you just have to look for the "download" link next to the script title on the screenplay page. However, I'd still advise a second, more obvious location for this.]
Of couse, Final Draft has something called "CollaboWriter" which allows writers using Final Draft to chat with each other while editing the script (one person is designated the editor at a time). It takes a little while to completely understand, too, but is pretty sophisticated. It also requires that people are all using Final Draft of course, which is not a cheap program. (I'm just using FD as an example because I happen to have it.) So again, PlotBot can be a cool tool for bringing people together who are using different software - but why would they want to type in a script twice, using PlotBot and another software? This is where the import tool could come in handy.
If you want to print, it appears you have to print directly from the web browser using the browser's print command, but perhaps this will be fixed in the future as well. Also, PlotBot works best in Firefox.
I plan to check out the collaborative aspects of PlotBot in more detail soon, once I convince another person to try it with me. If you try this and have feedback on it, post a comment here to let me/us know.
Again, with the program in Beta mode, and having great potential, I would like to keep my eye on PlotBot to see how they tweak it in the future - and urge other scriptwriters to do so, too.