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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Etherpad – a gem of a tool for collaborative writing

By Fiona Strawbridge, on 9 March 2010

Steve Rowett has just introduced us to Etherpad – an online tool for collaborative writing.  You can find it at http://etherpad.com/ and using it is beautifully simple:  You simply click on the ‘Create public pad’ and start writing.

Of course, being collaborative you would want to invite others to work with you, so the first thing to do in the ‘Public Pad’ view is to invite others to join you.  I sent out an invitation to colleagues at 11.45, suggesting we start working together at noon.  One by one people showed up, within moments had worked out how to identify themselves, and how to use the chat as well as the editing interface, and 15 minutes later we had created a reasonable document.  You can see who is writing what as all text is colour coded by author.

Fabulous for brainstorming. Beats the wiki hands down. Also beats GoogleDocs as the refresh time is just 0.5 seconds compared with 15 secs for Google.  Etherpad explain that they are able to do this 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 also has a timeline feature so that you can go back through the entire document simply by sliding a slider across the screen. Lovely!

Here’s a quick (and slightly rough around the edges) video to show it in action.