During the sixth term at ITU, me, Pontus and David wrote our thesis collaboratively, using Gobby. This was in 2008, so things are likely to have changed since, and I’m not saying Gobby didn’t do the job, it did. But it felt “unpolished”, and it was no fun making it work through firewalls etc. Gobby also required one of the clients to also act as a server. If that client went down, the other participants would need to re-establish communication for themselves.
As I said, it’s been two years since I looked at it, and we used it successfully, so it does the job. Then Etherpad came along. This, more than anything, showed me the value of the swarm, and how many people collaborating with lightning speed can put together or translate a document, a statement, whatever.
Etherpad was however different. Anonymous, public, all-access and perhaps most importantly, web-based. Google acquired Etherpad, and it will soon be shut down. Google did release the source code, so one can set up a “pad” of their own, a feat I’ve tried and failed at. I’ll continue trying, because Etherpad really is that great.
In the meantime, however, I’ve also researched other implementations. Abiword has gotten collaborative functionality, and implementations exist for both GNU/Linux and Windows (sadly the ports to OSX seem to lag behind :(). Initially this collaboration was managed through user defined Jabber accounts (and I suspect this is still the case) but have now been replaced (or supplemented by?) abicollab.net, a free service which sets you up with an account that can be used from inside Abiword.
All three methods have slight variations in implementation and areas of use, Gobby for instance is probably the better (although at least back then rather difficult to install/manage) choice if content security/control is key. Both Etherpad and Abicollab.net stores your information off-site.
Etherpad on the other hand is dead simple to use, with literally NO barriers between new users and collaboration, and, for better or worse, anonymous and public, although I have a feeling this is a matter of configuration.
Abiword is not as difficult to work with as Gobby, sacrificing content control to gain user-friendliness.
The Abicollab.net user interface leaves me wishing for a couple of things, but once I’d made a couple of tweaks to my profile and gotten the hang of how to navigate the site most, if not all, of the problems vanished.
If you want to try out abicollab.net (something I do recommend, it is fraking cool) keep in mind the following:
During signup it will ask you if you wish to be hidden from the user directory, or public. If you say hidden, no one will be able to add you. The only functionality (at least what I could find) on the site for adding friends is by searching for them, and if you’re hidden, you can’t be found.
Pontus, whom I tested this with tonight, also selected hidden… Yeah, we couldn’t find each other. It would be nice if there was a way to just enter an email of a friend you knew was on there, and send a friend request to him/her, but no such luck.
The link to the profile page (where you can change your visibility) was cleverly disguised in the top right corner as black non-underlined text, in such big letters that my eyes never even registered it as a potential clickable area.
Once a person has requested to friend you, you should log in and look to the right sidebar, there will be links to accept or decline the request. I missed that the first time around as well.
Once that was done however, the rest was easy as pie.