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Networking The Internet

A Web App For Real-Time Collaborative Writing 157

Posted by kdawson
from the write-on dept.
adamengst writes in with good news for anyone who needs to collaborate remotely on a writing or editing project — coding too. It's especially good news for those using Windows and Linux. Mac users have had SubEthaEdit for a few years now. With EtherPad, two or more people can edit a document and see all the edits simultaneously. EtherPad's main differences from SubEthaEdit: it's a Web application that de facto supports many platforms without the need for a central Mac OS X host; and it's free. Here is a comparison of EtherPad and SubEthaEdit.
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A Web App For Real-Time Collaborative Writing

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  • Mmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by jornak (1377831) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:09PM (#25847381)
    Finally, a cross-platform version of Mulitplayer Notepad!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by David Gerard (12369)

      Wikipedia is the largest Massively Multiplayer Online Notepad installation in the world!

      (I just forwarded a link to the app to wikien-l.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        but it's not real time, it's turn based :)

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)

      Finally, a cross-platform version of Mulitplayer Notepad!^K

      It was a dark and stormy night.

    • Re:Mmm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Skinkie (815924) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:16PM (#25847485) Homepage
      http://gobby.0x539.de/trac/ [0x539.de] seems very cross-platform to me too. Who needs ctrl-z anyway if not using bash?
      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by arth1 (260657)

        Who needs ctrl-z anyway if not using bash?

        Um, is this a trick question? Everyone using job control. (Which, IME, are the people not using bash.)

        • by Skinkie (815924)
          (it refers to gobby not able to do undo's)
          • by arth1 (260657)

            Ah. You youngsters use the CTRL keys differently. :-)

            CTRL-C: Terminate (SIGTERM)
            CTRL-Z: Suspend (SIGSTOP) (resume with "fg")

            Undo? "u" does that. Followed by "." to undo again, or another "u" to undo the undo (redo).
            And yes, it also allows multiple people to work on the same document.
            (Ten points to anyone who can identify my editor).

            • Re:Mmm... (Score:4, Funny)

              by abigor (540274) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:59PM (#25848103)

              Those darned youngsters you speak of simply lack vim! Not to mention vigour.

              • by arth1 (260657)

                No, "vim" is for the youngsters. Pressing "u" twice in vim doesn't undo the undo. And it doesn't allow multiple people to work on the same document either.

                • by abigor (540274)

                  No, "vim" is for the youngsters. Pressing "u" twice in vim doesn't undo the undo.

                  It does in vim-tiny ;)

  • Looks great! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by XTrollX (1398725) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:09PM (#25847383) Homepage
    This looks like a very promising App. As a student, we are assigned group assignments which often involve a partner and an essay. It's always stressful to try and edit our assignments together because it involves emailing it every time we make a correction. This would completely eliminate that frustration, can't wait until this comes out!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Ed Avis (5917)

      Have you tried using a version control system such as Subversion or Mercurial? You don't all see the same screen in real time, but it automatically coordinates changes that need to be merged in.

      • 99% of the population would have no idea where to set up a Subversion or Mercurial. Even in engineering this would have saved us a ton of time. My girlfriend (med student) often has to write reports with a partner. This would allow her to be on the computer anywhere and on AIM or even in the same room and start knocking out the same report instantly.

        This is how 'merging' usually goes. Everyone works on their Word / Powerpoint presentation separately. Then you set up a group meeting and merge it together in

      • Pardon me if I'm wrong but isn't subversion entirely line based? And you can't actually see the changes in place and highlighted. It just lists them like diffs and you get to accept or reject them enmass.

        perosnally I used writely (before it became the google app). And there's some even better ones now like Zoho, which is a ms word look-alike for collaborative writing.

        • by Ed Avis (5917)

          Pardon me if I'm wrong but isn't subversion entirely line based?

          Yes, it works with text files. (You can store binary files but they can't be merged automatically.) So that does make it unsuitable for documents saved from a word processor, unless you save in text format and add the formatting as the last step.

          And you can't actually see the changes in place and highlighted.

          Well, you can use all sorts of tools to show you the diffs. On Windows I use TortoiseSVN, which shows the two versions of a file with d

          • by Locklin (1074657)

            So that does make it unsuitable for documents saved from a word processor, unless you save in text format and add the formatting as the last step.

            No, actually, line-based diff is almost entirely useless with written documents. You either have "soft" or "dynamic" word wrap (one line per paragraph), or "static" word wrap (newline on the end of each line). In the first case, a single change in a paragraph marks the *whole* paragraph as changed, and in the second case, a single change causes the paragraph to need to be re-wrapped and again the whole thing is marked as a change.

            For written text (latex, html, or plain text), you probably need to use someth

            • by Ed Avis (5917)

              No, actually, line-based diff is almost entirely useless with written documents. You either have "soft" or "dynamic" word wrap (one line per paragraph), or "static" word wrap (newline on the end of each line). In the first case, a single change in a paragraph marks the *whole* paragraph as changed, and in the second case, a single change causes the paragraph to need to be re-wrapped and again the whole thing is marked as a change.

              This is a good point. Strangely, in practice I have never found this to be a

            • by jgrahn (181062)

              No, actually, line-based diff is almost entirely useless with written documents. You either have "soft" or "dynamic" word wrap (one line per paragraph), or "static" word wrap (newline on the end of each line). In the first case, a single change in a paragraph marks the *whole* paragraph as changed, and in the second case, a single change causes the paragraph to need to be re-wrapped and again the whole thing is marked as a change. For written text (latex, html, or plain text), you probably need to use somet

          • by jgrahn (181062)

            Pardon me if I'm wrong but isn't subversion entirely line based?

            Yes, it works with text files. (You can store binary files but they can't be merged automatically.) So that does make it unsuitable for documents saved from a word processor, unless you save in text format and add the formatting as the last step.

            Those of us who demand version control put that differently: "So that makes word processors unsuitable for documents under version control".

            As soon as you choose to use one instead of LaTeX, troff, H

    • A similar product that I think is far more interesting is this one: http://www.textflow.com/ [textflow.com] - does away with the idea of a single central document that everyone has to connect to to work on and the inevitable locking and/or conflict avoidance that insues, and instead works on managing the merging of multiple versions of documents, which are pretty much inevitable no matter what app you use. Think MS Word's track changes on steroids.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Cowmonaut (989226)
      GoogleDocs....
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This looks like a very promising App. As a student, we are assigned group assignments which often involve a partner and an essay. It's always stressful to try and edit our assignments together because it involves emailing it every time we make a correction. This would completely eliminate that frustration, can't wait until this comes out!

      I'm surprised no one's mentioned Google Documents [google.com] yet. I've been using it for group assignments since late 2005, when it was called Writely and hadn't been bought out by Google yet.

      The first thing I thought when I saw this article was, "This is new?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MrMarket (983874)

      This looks like a very promising App. As a student, we are assigned group assignments which often involve a partner and an essay. It's always stressful to try and edit our assignments together because it involves emailing it every time we make a correction. This would completely eliminate that frustration, can't wait until this comes out!

      We use Google docs for this.

    • by Sunkist (468741)

      who edits/revises this way in the real world? seriously.

      Maybe towards the final drafts this might work, when the revisions are semantic, grammatic or subjective word choice.

      IMHO, research papers seem unlikely to benefit from something like this.

      • by yotto (590067)

        I've been using Google Docs to revise like this in the real world for over a year to do the show notes for my podcast, Volcanicast. 3-4 people need to edit and I need it to output (piss-poor, in Google Docs' case) html for the resultant rss feed for the show.

        I love that Google Docs does all this pretty seamlessly. I wish, however, that the html was better and a few bugs with formatting would get fixed. If I could find something that output html and allowed simultaneous editing, and was easy to use (one of o

  • by Beyond Opinion (959609) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:10PM (#25847397)
    I work for a web design company which has most of the employees working in one office, and a few employees (including myself) in a separate office in a different state. This could be very useful for making edits, teaching interns, etc. I'm definitely going to show this to the other team.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by arth1 (260657)

      Keep in mind that you expose the documents to people not in your company. A careless remark about something that might affect future stock prices could very well be exploited by someone with access to the servers. Not to mention trade secrets.

      Keep communication in-house if you can.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        That is a good point. We probably shouldn't use phones either, now that you mention it, since they could be tapped. Maybe we should hire runners who would dash across rooftops with Parkour-inspired grace and agility, carrying our top-secret files back and forth. . . .
        • by arth1 (260657) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:54PM (#25848021) Homepage Journal

          With phones, you have a contract with the phone company, who accept responsibility for keeping your transmissions private. It's even mandated by law. If someone at the phone company listens in on your talks and acts on the proprietary information, or by negligence allows others to do so, you have a legal claim to redress.

          With a web server, no such protection is in place. In fact, most public web servers require that you abide by their EULA, which further reduces your legal status.

          You don't have to be paranoid to use common sense. You just need to avoid unnecessary risks. And this is one.

          • I gotcha, I just wanted to reference Mirror's Edge.
          • by Reziac (43301) *

            All true enough. So is there a (preferably free :) alternative that, say, I could run on my own PC, or on my own web host, and would work by my directly inviting others? (I'm wondering if some aspect of the bittorrent protocol might be useful here.) The idea is to avoid using any system that we don't have complete access control of.

          • With phones, you have a contract with the phone company, who accept responsibility for keeping your transmissions private.

            [Citation needed] I just took a look at the fine print on my (land-line) phone bill and couldn't find the part that you mentioned. Could this only be something that applies to cell phone plans?

            It's even mandated by law. If someone at the phone company listens in [...] or by negligence allows others to do so, you have a legal claim to redress.

            Perhaps that means there should be a deluge

    • Take a look at collabedit [collabedit.com]. That guy was first, plus he explains what libraries he used.
  • by toby (759) * on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:11PM (#25847419) Homepage Journal

    ECF home [eclipse.org], articles at IBM DeveloperWorks [ibm.com], InfoQ [infoq.com].

    From the latter: ECF is...

    • Real-time communication and collaboration features for teams using Eclipse such as peer-to-peer file sharing, remote opening of Eclipse views, screen capture sharing, and real-time shared editing.
    • A set of communications APIs and frameworks built upon existing protocols (like Google Talk, XMPP, SSH, HTTP/HTTPS, Rendevous, IRC, and others) for developers to add communications and messaging to their own Equinox-based plugins, or customize and extend the ECF applications.
  • and pretty well-implemented. It doesn't handle deletions, though - something like Word's Track Changes for deletions might be nice.

    There's a test room here: http://etherpad.com/as9F1Jh5cu [etherpad.com]

  • try it out (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    First!

    join me here: http://etherpad.com/Azkob99ZYK

  • Always thought something like this would work amazingly for collectively taking notes on a lecture.

    • by adamengst (206161)

      We use SubEthaEdit for taking notes during Steve Jobs keynotes. It's brilliant for that. Alas, EtherPad won't work there because Apple always blocks Internet access in the keynote room.

  • screen -x (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I use `screen -x` for collaborating on anything.
    And, to add to this flamebait, I use a good editor (i.e. vi or vim).

  • Gobby (Score:5, Informative)

    by kwalker (1383) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:18PM (#25847533) Journal

    Linux and Windows users (And I think there's an OS X port too) can use Gobby [slashdot.org], which is like SubEthaEdit, but free, written in GTK+, includes a free server for collaboration over the net, and zeroconf support for finding users on the local network. Since it's based on GTK+, it has things like syntax highlighting, spellcheck, etc. already available. It should also be in most popular distros' repos already.

    • In fact, the Gobby authors might want to take a close look at this Etherpad thing.

  • I've seen it written that IRC is just multiplayer notepad before...

    But anyway, Google Writer does this, Abiword is a non-web app freely available on all major platforms, and has a Collaboration plugin (never used it personally).

    Oh, and this one still requires you to use their server... That rules it out for most use cases I can think of in a commercial setting.

    Interestingly, they say on their FAQ
    "One thing that Google Docs does not do is real-time collaborative text editing." Actually, yes it does...
    "Google

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      And while it is true they need a "google docs" account, you can do that with any e-mail address, not just a gmail address...

      Google Docs seems just as good, already in place, and better integrated with things like OpenOffice/MS Office, already has spreadsheet/powerpoint capability, etc. I fail to see the point or the hype.

      And Google Docs allows you to have collaborators and just viewers...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by adamengst (206161)

      Google Docs is great, but it doesn't update in real time. There's always a lag that gets in the way for quick collaboration.

    • > Give us the code, let us host it locally, force user accounts if desired.

      In addition, please come mow my lawn, give me some of your famous home-made myrtleberry pie, and a copy of your house keys.

    • by sherriw (794536)

      I'm trying to share a google docs document by just sending the link, and no, it requires you to log in with a google account.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by x102output (536049)
      Na, Google Docs does not do this. This is REAL-TIME collaboration, updating on the screen as you type.
  • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:22PM (#25847565) Homepage Journal

    I've gone through and I haven't seen how one keeps anyone with the url from participating. If there is no mechanism to do this, how long before someone has a script out there that generates random urls and looks for matching documents? I can see how this could become somewhat entertaining or infuriating depending on ones point of view.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Reziac (43301) *

      Couldn't this be gotten around by requiring a login password along with the URL that you're about to send to your collaborators? It's unlikely that such an attack could find BOTH the URL and the password at the same time.

      The application could generate the password along with the URL, to ensure that it's both random and not readily guessable.

      • I'm sure it is an easy problem to fix - if it is a problem. What I've seen on this so far seemed to hype the whole "All you need is a url" deal. I'm not a particularly devious person - but the problem with that approach jumped out at me immediately.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Another thought you just gave me: how to prevent a keylogger from getting into the action?

          Possible solution: instead of displaying the password to the initiator, have the server email it separately to the invitees, maybe as a unique hash in the URL sent to each. That way only invited guests could show up. Only downside is that you'd have to provide email addys to the server, and if someone is that set on snooping, they probably could intervene and send their own emails. But if the hash doesn't match, the se

  • When I worked at Motorola, we would use an internal chat server (iChat) to communicate with each other while on a conference call. Worked pretty well, though we did have to sanitize and redact all of the "what a doofus!" comments caused by inane comments by clients on the conference call.

    Though I have not used this or SubEthaEdit, I wonder how distracting it is while typing to see the text change due to others...
  • Drawing version? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pzs (857406) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:23PM (#25847577)

    Does anybody know of a collaborative drawing tool in the same vein? This would be great for a play-by-IM roleplaying game, so I could draw a battle map for my players. I could draw the map and they would be able to move their characters when it was their turn. I could even use different background textures to give the maps more character.

    Cross platform would be ideal so that I don't have to use Windows...

    • by yumyum (168683)
      I think Groove [wikipedia.org] does that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tepples (727027)

      Does anybody know of a collaborative drawing tool in the same vein?

      You could start your research at Wikipedia: Oekaki [wikipedia.org] and Paint chat [wikipedia.org]

    • by Hahnsoo (976162)

      Does anybody know of a collaborative drawing tool in the same vein? This would be great for a play-by-IM roleplaying game, so I could draw a battle map for my players. I could draw the map and they would be able to move their characters when it was their turn. I could even use different background textures to give the maps more character.

      Cross platform would be ideal so that I don't have to use Windows...

      I use MapTool from rptools.net. It's free, and it has ever feature that I need for running a weekly Shadowrun and Castle Falkenstein campaign, including drawing, maps, minis, chat, dicerolling, etc.

    • So, we're having a Slashdot discussion there. Full of "your mom" jokes and other mindless crap. And all of a sudden - BAM!

      We're hit by an ASCII goatsex.

      Ah, thank you internet for inventing another way to make me want to gouge my eyes out.

      EtherPad is dead to me, as of 11:52 AM, CST. lolz.

    • Seems like they locked it down, at least the multi-user aspect. Or can other people get in to it?

  • by flynt (248848)

    You can do real-time simultaneous editing with multi-tty mode in Emacs 23. I don't know how useful it is though.

  • Google Docs does this really well with shared version control. I've used it several times to do this sort of thing.

  • QNX had this back in the 90's. I laughed at people shuffling a WordPerfect legal document around between 5 secretaries and having to combine their edits and get the document out before the end of the night. They could have done it in a fifth of the time had they used QNX and this awesome work process (who's name now escape me). It used QNX's message passing architecture to work it's magic. It was truly neat watching edits to a document occur in real-time - and this was back in 1991.
  • by agristin (750854) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:30PM (#25847695) Journal

    I love sub-etha edit and used it for a long time.

    But for almost all the same functionality and the ability to do presos, documents and spreadsheet collaboratively and simultaneously Google Docs is pretty awesome.

    • by ockegheim (808089)

      Hehe, I've been using SubEtha Edit for years because of its coding friendly features and have never collaborated with anyone.

      If I need to create a word-processing document I use Google Docs too.

  • For now, we offer the free version of EtherPad as a service, which is already useful in a number of use cases. In the free versions, pads are secured by creating unique and non-guessable URLs. Only people who know the URL to your pad will be able to access its contents. In this way, you can control access to a pad. You can think of the randomly-generated URL as a sort of password.

    Boy, I hope some suckers use this for ultra secret stuff. I will be firing up my script soon enough to figure out those "non-gues

  • at the very LEAST! maybe SSL + password protection. Right now anyone with the URL can hop on in and see/edit the document.

  • How do these compare with Thoughtslinger?

    http://www.thoughtslinger.com/ [thoughtslinger.com]

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      The description reminds me of Wildcat BBS chat mode -- it's all realtime too. The only downside is that it's logged in realtime as well, rather than what's on the screen, so the BBS's stored document is as messy as your typing. No reason you can't screencap it with some scrollit type tool, tho...

      Ah, hell, scrollit is for DOS; is there a similar capture tool for Windows??

  • by forevermore (582201) on Friday November 21, 2008 @01:25PM (#25848459) Homepage
    For those of you intending to actually publish your work (but not having actually sold it yet), be very careful about what you do online. Many publishers will not even glance at a manuscript if it has been published in any part before, and online forums (even private ones) and document sharing services are still a very grey area.
  • Look I know its not open source, and its flash based, but a text plugin for drawball would be good.
  • CollabEdit (Score:4, Informative)

    by Maexxus (970160) on Friday November 21, 2008 @03:59PM (#25850733)

    This has been done before, http://collabedit.com/ [collabedit.com] :)

  • http://www.buzzword.com/ [buzzword.com]

    Windows, OSX, Linux (including 64 bit with Player 10).

    Share a document, allow multiple co-authors, change history...what more could you ask for?

  • The reason why something like this hasn't caught on before on UNIX (Emacs had this in the mid 90's and it wasn't the first) is because there are better ways of doing it: UNIX users use concurrent version control and wikis for collaborative editing. For pair programming, shared screen sessions via VNC are good (during pair programming, only one person should edit at a time, the other person should watch). In those few cases where real-time collaboration on within the same buffer is needed, Google Docs is a

I've never been canoeing before, but I imagine there must be just a few simple heuristics you have to remember... Yes, don't fall out, and don't hit rocks.

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