Etherpad FTW

Start with Doug Engelbart example: two cursors.

Engelbart’s vision, from the beginning, was collaborative. His vision was people working together in a shared intellectual space. His entire system was designed around that intent.

From that perspective, separate pointers weren’t a feature so much as a symptom. It was the only design that could have made any sense. It just fell out. The collaborators both have to point at information on the screen, in the same way that they would both point at information on a chalkboard. Obviously they need their own pointers. —Bret Victor

If “science is a wiki,” the world is an etherpad. A bit messy, chaotic, full of people hacking and occsasionally writing over top of one another. Occasionally breaking when you have too many people — but also beautiful in its brute simpliciy.

But also, at its best, infinitely open to others to improve. To tweak. To make better. Pull the time slider and you see history unfold before your eyes — like a living, breathing thing, or an ant colony of furious ideas and bits of language swarming around itself. A future as yet unwritten. Sure it can be a messy back of the mullet. But maybe raw, get your hands dirty collaboration is ultimately more of what we need right now, as opposed to pretty and polished passive consumption. And refreshingly free of the log-ins, passwords and red tape that often stands between us and the collective completion of virtually any task. The la brea tar pits of admin and mental kruft and cognitive overhead and flack and static and overflowing email inboxes that now characterize most of our working life. About 90% of the Mozilla Foundation seems to run on etherpads. A visiting colleague once joked: what do you guys do when you get home, say “how was your day, honey?” oh, pretty good — check out line 117. He kidded, but later in the same meeting he said: “I like this. I like how you guys run meetings.” He meant because we don’t just talk about stuff — we try to list it and collectively get shit done. Or at least triage a fair chunk of right there in the pad, where all can see. The Cult of Etherpad is kissing cousins with the cult of Done, and I suppose that’s ultimately why those of use who love it love it so much.

I’ve used Etherpads for just about everything. You can to /matt to see what I’m working on or thinking right now. My wife and I started one for brainstorming our shortlist of baby names. I wrote my brief for me investing plan (though of course none of my sensitive stuff like passwords, etc.” Figuring out what furnitue we want to buy on Craigslist, renting cottages with friends,

They’re great for several — but equally great for one or two. If you’ve used Google Docs it’s pretty much exactly the same thing. Except even more stripped down and basic, which is part of its beauty and charm. And more importantly, it has two killer features that make it (in my view anyways) vastly superior:

1) no log-ins. no fuss no muss. No permissions to set, no accounts to manage, no nothing. If someone can click on a link and type, they can use an etherpad. It’s true you *can* set up etherpads with passwords, if you wanted to (and it always bugs me when my colleagues do that, because they’re almost always screw-ups and admin with any kind of log-in) but the main thing is that it pushes work into a single big open white board on the internet.

2) the awesome bar effect. You can *name* your etherpads with a unique address. This makes them ridiculously simple
I’m always kind of amazed when colleagues send around pads like “/6” or “allaskdfja.” Why do that when you can name them x or y?

* 3) “really real time.” That’s what etherpad calls it, and I love it.

(oh wait — you still use an old dumb browser that doesn’t have an awesome bar? you really should consider switching. you’ll love it.)

This one hack has probably changed the day to day of how work more than any one thing. Why?
no more bookmarks. or having to rember what link, document or list is where. Where’s that list of tweets we’re scheduling? Type in “tweets” and boom there it is.
one app for everything. and that one app is: the web. or rather, your browser. Your browswer is where you spend most of your time anyway. So no more switching between Evernote vs. Word vs. To Do list app vs whatever — your whole life is basically just right in your awesomebar.

The down sides of etherpads

hard to find later. Ether pal, etc. Give them better names, and be tidier in terms of how you think.
kinda ugly. Dark colors, mish mash. I personally love that. but some don’t.
not amazing to export.

Ticks and trips

Still, the number one complaint I hear is that they’re too hard to find. Given them an intelligent name. If you have a bunch, chuck them onto a wiki or web page, so you can put your hand on them all.

Shaving the Mullet: turning dirty prototypes into (slightly more) polished pages

What I don’t use them for: personal information. Sensitive data. Credit card numbers. Etc.

They’re also semi-public. Or quietly open. Sure, anyone who has the link “x” could see the three or four cottages we’re trying to rent

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