I see what you did there.
July 11, 2010 11:07 AM   Subscribe

We're two people collaborating on a large academic text at a distance, and can't find a service or app which fulfills our requirements. Please advise.

The simpler solution the better, but what we want is basically an efficient way of working with largish academic essays. It's within humanities, so no need for math equation support, but footnotes and references abound. We're both on Mac.

  • Version rollback
  • Compare changes / Highlight changes
  • Comments which don't export with document (which could be easily missed when sending drafts to critics)
  • Footnote support
  • Export to Word format
  • Keeping track of and inserting references.
  • Live update of changes if we're working at the same time
I'd settle for something which handles references separately and insert them afterwards — those are not directly necessary for writing and editing the thing.

We've tried Google docs and that's our fallback option, but there's something wonky going on with the footnotes where they don't show up properly in Word. (Which, unfortunately, we can't get away from) Also, there's no simple way of highlighting the changes. The live editing and version tracking is excellent though.

Writeboard from Basecamp has nice compare edits & highlight but no doc export and no footnote support.

Mendeley Desktop is mostly for collborating on sets of data, not the text itself, if I understand it correctly?

There are plenty of apps and services out there, I just haven't found the one. I figure plenty of others have come up with brilliant solutions to this un-original dilemma. Let's have at it!
posted by monocultured to Education (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Anything wrong with the obvious choice? (Word 2008 or 2011 beta on the mac). Word 2011 beta does the live update of changes thing as well. A couple of articles cover some of the intricacies of references / citations if you need that.
posted by tasty at 11:25 AM on July 11, 2010

Response by poster: Ah, see, I don't use Word myself so never considered it being an obvious choice… I'll poke the beta with a stick and see if it works out. Thanks.
posted by monocultured at 11:37 AM on July 11, 2010

You may want to try out google wave? I'm not sure how their exporting is or how it would handle files as big as you need, but it's worth a look.
posted by brainmouse at 12:13 PM on July 11, 2010

celtx could be worth a look.
It's a "live" collaborative writing tool.
It was designed for scriptwriters rather than academics.
That said, I think it has most of the features you listed in some shape or form.
posted by driftingclouds at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Word + track changes feature in Word + EndNote (with 'cite while you write' Word add-in) + Dropbox
posted by dino might at 12:52 PM on July 11, 2010

Yeah there was a ton of work put into improving the collaboration experience with the last version of Word so I would nth checking that out.
posted by kthxbi at 1:08 PM on July 11, 2010

Also, Zotero groups is great for collaborating with someone on references. And unlike Endnote, it's free. Interfaces with word pretty easily.
posted by mulkey at 1:13 PM on July 11, 2010

I have used SubEthaEdit in the past and works great for Mac users that want to collaborate on a document in real time. More for programmers but I figured it was worth mentioning.
posted by jdoss at 1:46 PM on July 11, 2010

If you need word functionality, use the Word web app via Microsoft's Skydrive. I'd love to link you, but everything sends me back to my trial account. I think if you create a hotmail account you'll have access to the skydrive (I think?) just like Google apps.

Google docs is definitely the better product for collaboration, however. If you want to see what someone's typing, Google's the one. Word web app has collaboration support, but the document only updates every few minutes, it's not immediate. But it reproduces word documents exactly.

So far I've found that it prompts for Word 2010 if it's trying to open a complex document, but if you stick your document on the skydrive and open the document in Word 2010, you can see updates from your collaborator in the client, no need for the browser editor.

You'll get your footnotes, but you have to own Word 2010.
posted by Hildegarde at 1:50 PM on July 11, 2010

I would use a combination of MSWord and an online collaboration tool such as 37 signals Basecamp. Basecamp is fantastic and keeps everything in one place in the cloud.
posted by eirelander at 3:24 PM on July 11, 2010

Hmm, something pretty close is latex + version control of choice (I like subversion and perforce), which is what I use to collaborate with others and myself at multiple stations. I have my references managed in a zotero library, which exports to a bibtex file. What it wouldn't do is show changes "live". It seems like it would be simple enough if you want to have a cooperative edit session to plop the current revision into one of the collaborative text editors above, and put it in as a revision when you're done. It's also not WYSIWYG.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:36 PM on July 11, 2010

Also, while the latex to word export exists, I've never used it. The PDF production is beautiful though.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:39 PM on July 11, 2010

What you want is a distributed version control system, or a document management system. In the former case, none that I know of have any kind of Word awareness - the closest would be be the nut-crushingly expensive Perforce. On the document management, Alfresco rocks and is free, but would require some effort or a tame nerd (or a subscription to make the pain go away into someone else's bucket).
posted by rodgerd at 2:09 AM on July 12, 2010

Perforce has a 2-user free license.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:15 AM on July 12, 2010

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