Collaborative text editing allows for multiple people to edit the same document at once. This can be a real advantage if you need to work with people spread out geographically. Collaborative editing applications are sophisticated enough to monitor access rights, merge edits and purge old data across multiple users editing the same document at possibly the same time. Although there are collaborative text editors and word processors available, you’ll need to choose a solution that works on everyone’s computer. It’s important to note that collaborative editors differ from online document sharing services like Microsoft SharePoint, Box.net, Central Desktop, and Google Docs. These solutions let you upload documents online and control client access and permissions on the shared document. But these services only offer very limited version control and no simultaneous editing capabilities. Audit trails are needed to allow you to look at who interacted with the document and identify where they changed the text. Version control helps to keep tabs on multiple revisions of the same document, making sure that everyone is accessing the latest version at all times. Luckily, there are multiple options for collaborative text editing given the type of computer environments your various collaborators are using.
Collaborative Text Editing – Mac Only
SubEthaEdit – This is the app that originally turned me on to the powers of collaborative text editing. Using the Bonjour networking protocol built into Mac OS X, SubEthaEdit allows you to “announce” a text file that other users are able to edit across your network or the Internet. It’s a text editor, not a word processor, which means it’s more streamlined for coding, HTML editing and just plain writing. SubEthaEdit takes advantage of unique Mac features such as AppleScript and also allows for interactive piping to-and-from the UNIX command line through its /usr/bin/see utility. This is a great solution if everyone on your team uses a Mac.
Collaborative Text Editing – Mac & Windows
Office 365 – Microsoft Office has always had a great system for tracking changes in a document (go to Tools>Track Changes>Compare Documents), but the Office 365 system brings this system to the cloud and across multiple users. This means you can now collaborate on the same Word or Excel file and see your changes against those of your colleagues wherever they are. One of you could be on a Mac, and your other users on Windows and it will still work. The best way to get started with Office 365 is to purchase the home premium version of Office 365. It is offered on a subscription basis, and costs $99 a year. This gives you web access to Office apps, as well as allowing you to install Office for Mac and Office for Windows on 5 of your machines at no additional cost. Microsoft also has higher priced enterprise plans (starting at $20/user per month).
Online Collaborative Text Editing
Sometimes it’s best to use an online service to take care of the nitty gritty details of syncing your various documents across multiple edits among various users.
- TextFlow [no longer active] – This online redlining service allows you to compare up to 7 versions of either PDF or Word documents together into a window and highlighting the differences. The main editor can then accept, reject and merge the various edits. The genius of this service is that it allows people to work individually, and then one editor can merge it all together in the end.
- BinFire – This service combines online content management with project management. BinFire allows for collaborative PDF markup where you can draw on and highlight a PDF in real time while Skyping with participants. It also has an interactive real-time whiteboard and allows you to segment your projects and tick off your progress towards their completion. This is really more of a group-brainstorming app with impressive chat and goal management thrown in.
- AgileWords – This service allows teams to collaborate on business documents securely online. This includes sharing feedback, reviews, edits, and approvals over the web.
- Zoho Docs – Zoho uses a check-in / check-out system: editing a document involves a check-out where it is saved locally in your desktop. Once you finished working on a file, you can check-in to once again make it available to other users. Users in the workspace will be able to see the very last version of the file that has been checked-in.
- GitBook is geared towards collaborative editing of a longer book-length document. It’s owned by Github and uses the same Github version control measures (push / commit) when making edits.