At the beginning of the year in the ‘A real-time education (etherpad, mindmeister and cacoo)’ I made a prediction that there would be a lot more real-time collaboration tools/web applications. At the time I mentioned that the real-time collaborative word processing tool Etherpad had been bought by Google and the original etherpad.com would be disappearing at the end of March. The reprise has been extended as noted in this Transition Update and as the code is open source a number of other sites have popped up which clone etherpad’s original functionality.
It looks like Google have deployed the old Etherpad team to take a look at the Google Docs suite recently announcing a number of improvements to Google document and spreadsheet, which includes character-by-character collaboration. Another big addition is a new standalone collaborative drawing editor. This is similar to Cacoo but without as many features. The big advantage of Google’s editor is it is a single sign on and allows pasting into other Google Docs using the web clipboard. One final addition worth mentioning is the extension of the sidebar chat from spreadsheet to documents and drawing. The video below gives a demonstration of the new features.
I’m sure a number of institutions who have already signed up to Google Apps will be rubbing their hands with the addition of this functionality to all their students. If you would like to try out these new features yourself Google are phasing the changes in but you can opt to start using them now by opening selecting http://docs.google.com/settings,clicking the Editing tab and checking ‘New version of Google documents’.
A final thought, and one I’m sure a number of commentators have picked up on, with Google’s work in indexing the web, print/journals (Google Books and Scholar) and even video/audio (YouTune auto captioning) it seems it is only a matter of time before they integrate plagiarism detection tools into Google Docs.