Got Social?

SnapSession: EtherPad

What you see below is what my final document looked like in EtherPad.

*****

Ok – so I’m testing this program called Etherpad. I just put out a note to my social networks, lets see if anyone shows up.

I started out as “unnamed me”, which I easily changed to AJ. Folks will have to be asked to change their status to their real names. Under my name, in the “Connected Users” area, it also shows my IP address and what browser and version I am using. At this point I can also pick the color I want my additions to be seen in. There are eight colors, so I guess only eight people can edit at one time.

You can invite people to share and change this document with you. The statement that appears when you first open EtherPad, read:

Welcome to EtherPad!

As you edit this text area, anyone else viewing this same page will
see your changes in real time. You can see their edits in real time
also.

To share this pad, just send them the URL:

http://etherpad.com/j6KHsKDDTu

So the URL is there to use. Or, to the right, you can enter someone’s email address and invite them directly. The URL also appears at the top of this specific web page and also in the URL window.

As for the sign up, well – there was none. I went to etherpad.com and click one button and got right here. It was quite simple

There is a chat function. Like the other four areas in the right hand window, there is a right/down arrow you can use to hide that area. The chat indicates who said what and the time. This would be very good for collaborators to talk to each other. The chat does not get saved as part of the document.

Below the chat is a window called “Saved Revisions”. This shows each revision, when it was saved, it gives you the option to view that revision and even to restore it the way a wiki would let you roll back to a previous version. I wonder if any guest can save and/or restore a revision?

The next window down is called Options. Here you can determine if you want to highlight who typed what, wrap long lines (both of which are checked off by default), show line numbers, use full window width, or highlight JavaScript syntax. The show line numbers is nice if you are working with others because it makes it very clear which line one might be talking about. The only negative is it is not really showing the line as much as the paragraph.

In the upper right hand corner is an icon that, when clicked, will allow you to make the current window full screen inside the web browser. There is also a “hide” option, so you can hide all of these option windows. This would allow the document being worked on to be the only thing seen in the full browser window.

The last window is an area when you can send Feedback directly to the Etherpad team. I like this – they make it easy to hear from their users.

This application first came to my attention because it has been used by people in Second Life. One of the major complaints from education types, regarding SL, is that there is no way to collaborate on a document in SL. One could post the URL from this Etherpad document into SL (HTML on a prim) and give the URL to the others in SL who can then edit the document together and see it on the prim in SL.

I have been one of those people calling for collaborative documents in SL. To me, EtherPad is a very cool application, but I’m not clear why SL users would use it IN SL, when they could just share it in the browser window without having to have it imported and refreshed in SL. That said, I can see that it fills a need for some.

This would be a great tool for a class, or group, that wanted to work on a document together. Google documents can also be used for the same thing and those documents can be exported into a variety of formats, something I don’t see here.

While I was working on this Margaret popped in and agreed to help me test this. She wrote the text below, which I saw her adding to the document in real time (which was kind of cool!) With Google docs, you have to wait for the refresh or save before others see the changes, whereas with EtherPad, the additions are in real time. In fact, I am writing this at the same time she is adding her text below, and both are working quite well. So this seems to be one advantage over Google Docs.

“This is a multi-user test to check the advantages of EtherPad vs. Google docs. I have never used Google docs but this is a good tool. Nice and simple. You just have to remember to save every so often to get the most recent version saved. The only disadvantage I see is that unless people are working on different sections of a document it could get complicated. Thoughts and statements might get duplicated. For me it would be difficult to type and look what someone else is doing at the same time to prevent duplication. Other than that for beginners it is a easy tool to use. Another advantage is that you do not have to worry about uploading in SL. You can edit and change things as needed. Especially, for big events where you can put real-time status. Everyone can look at one screen vs. opening local chat and sending IM’s.That is all I can say on EtherPad.”

*****

In order to get the text here I had to copy and paste everything, not a real big deal. The real big plus is that, even after everyone leaves the document on EtherPad, it still remains – so you can go back to it at any time. This means a a group can work on a document from week to week. Also, something you can do in Google Docs, but a cool feature nonetheless.

I can see excellent classroom uses for applications like this. I’m still not 100% clear why this is as good or better than using Google Docs, except for the real real-time nature of seeing what people are typing. If that’s the only thing, the ability to export from Google Docs into a word, pdf, etc.., is far better for me.

Have you used EtherPad? If so, why do you think its better than Google Docs?

  • cmduke says:

    AJ,

    I’ve tried and used Etherpad. The one application of it I’ve tried out is in Second Life, as you mention. I think having the Etherpad for a group discussion on a prim does create a perceptually different experience in Second Life. Those that want to observe more than edit can do so effectively in Second Life. The primary limitation in Second Life I discovered is that, of course, there’s no controls over the pad from within Second Life; viewing it on a prim, you can’t scroll down the page which becomes necessary once your document reaches 38 lines (a 10×10 prim with Etherpad on it).

    -Chris

    May 30, 2009 at 11:44 pm

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