Etherpad, a collaborative, online plain text editor

Update (04 Dec 2009): Google acquires AppJet; EtherPad team joins Google Wave – link. Early user Prasanna says he is “maintaining and hosting it here:

I tested out EtherPad, a browser-based simultaneous collaborative online plain text editor that Kevin Lim just bookmarked on delicious—as a result I got plaxo-growled and twittered as well.

  1. Just click to start using etherpad and a window opens.
  2. It does not require userids to start writing collaboratively.
  3. You chose the name and colour which identifies you on the right sidebar.
  4. The “highlight who typed what”is turnd on by default, as is “wrap long lines” and “show line numbers”.


I wish it had a advance to next word function, cmd-arrow goes to start/end, option and control does nothing. There is forum to submit feature requests so that’s where to ask.

A long time ago, I used CodingMonkey’s SubethaEdit, a collaborative Bonojur text editor that included your iChat ID on the side. That is a very cool application with a very nice mac interface and did not require an internet connection. SubEthaEdit went from free to £29 to support development—even with the 45% discount for educators, it’s too steep for infrequent users like myself. Pity, since Macusers are all over campus now.

Then in 2006, Writely saved the day – and soon after I started using it, it became Google Docs. A Google login is required but most have a gmail account these days. It delivers rich text, downloads to Word and sharing is easy, even publishing to a webpage! And has an office suite of browser apps to go with it, so that’s easily the collaborative document writer of choice.

EtherPad’s absence of login requirements makes it ideal for quick collaborative use. There are issues though:

  1. There is no security, so be warned! No confidential stuff online here!
  2. You must save revisions (no auto-save).
  3. Network conection can be iffy at times.
  4. Downloading to text is cut and paste.

I’ll keep an eye on this and other tools like Gobby that are out there, as it’s always good to know about alternatives. EtherPad promises updates to features (see their forums) and if it improves as quickly and as pre-emptively as Posterous did, it might stand a chance of bring the collaborative text editing tool of choice.