Monday, May 3, 2010

Realtime Web Collaborative Text Editors: Etherpad and GoogleWave

In the past, whenever a project was assigned to a team, they would sit down in the same physical location to complete the task. However, as teams have become more dispersed, the need to allow them to communicate successfully has increased. To fill this need, Internet-based real-time word processors have become more and more popular.
An excellent example is the web application Etherpad, created by Appjet. When you go to the Etherpad site, you are given the option to begin a new etherpad. Your new etherpad is created with a web address that can be shared with as many people as you wish.
The functionality of Etherpad is extremely basic. On the right side of the screen is a list of all current people viewing the page and a chat functionality that lets the entire team chat. In addition, every person is color coded. On the left side of the screen lies a word processor. This word processor updates nearly instantaneously, and all text is color coded by its writer. In addition, Etherpad has a slider at the top of the page called the time-slider. By sliding the bar, a user can go back in time to see changes made and past versions.
Etherpad is one of the first document-editing web apps to claim to be realtime. Appjet used a technology called server push, which allows the browser and the server to be in constant communication. Etherpad was also written in javascript.
In early December of 2009, Appjet was acquired by Google. It is the eventual hope that Etherpad's technology will be integrated into Google Wave.
It is believed that Google Wave will one day offer a similar collaborative text-editor to Etherpad. It is planned that Google Wave will one day integrate with Google docs to allow collaboration on documents within a wave. Currently, there is a large disconnect between Google Wave and Google docs. In addition, while Google docs has some of the functionality of Etherpad, it is less mature and has a significant way to go until it can match Etherpad's ease of use. For that reason, as they begin to work with the Google team, Appjet has allowed Etherpad's code to become open-source.

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