EtherPad – cool collaboration tool!

EtherPad is a great tool for working with others on a document at the same time.

As the website states:

Other “real-time” editors like Google Docs work by broadcasting an updated copy of the document to everyone every 15 seconds. This creates a noticeable lag that gets in the way of collaboration. You start editing something, only to find 10 seconds later that someone else deleted it.

Etherpad updates every copy of the document every half second. This 30x increase in speed changes the experience completely. Your edits hardly ever clash with other users’. So you work confidently instead of tentatively.

Why doesn’t Google Docs update every half second like Etherpad does? Because it’s really, really hard. We’re fairly experienced programmers, and to make this work we had to solve problems that, as far as we know, no one had solved before.

It’s great – everyone involved has a different colour to highlight their contributions and it’s easy to move content around and decide what changes to keep and which to discard.

Well worth giving a go.

3 thoughts on “EtherPad – cool collaboration tool!”

  1. Why keep trying to bend the stateless web into the peer-to-peer editing space? Aren’t there already multiple p2p editors out there? Off the top of my head, I can think of SubEthaEdit on Mac, gobby on several platforms (X, Windows and probably Mac by now) and even Emacs can do it (not so nicely for Windows users, though)…

    This looks like a case of “if you only have a hammer, everything gets treated like a nail”.

  2. @MJ actually, using a web textarea for collab editing beats subethaedir, gobby and emacs – because 1. its extremely simple. 2. its extremely accessible (you don’t need to install anything). 3. anyone can use it – even your mom!

    This is not a case of using a hammer. It’s a case of doing something that is really really really hard, and doing it well. Even though that etherpad.com looks like a child play to write – it is very hard to actually do.

  3. 1. it’s a totally bespoke user interface as far as I can see – does it follow any human-interaction guidelines?

    2. it needs you to install/switch to IE 6+, Safari 3+ or FireFox 2+ according to its site; and

    3. anyone can use it only if they’re using fairly plain, unsecured versions of those browsers, without assisted access software.

    I wonder (but haven’t yet tested) how much battery and network it’s using. The software doesn’t seem to be auditable or customisable. Fine for casual use if you haven’t got one of the proper p2p editors installed, but not great. A system which could connect to existing p2p editors would be much more attractive.

    I can appreciate that bending the stateless web into a multi-client editor is very very hard. Partly that’s because it’s a bad idea.

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