Sometimes, the way to maximize the value of teamwork is to have as little team, and as much work as possible. This is especially true when teams or partners are geographically distant from one another. Live collaboration in such situations is logistically difficult, and stressful for all involved. Tracking changes in a Word document is one way to get around this, but doing it that way, there’s really only one person working on one document at any given time. TextFlow now provides an alternative.
To use TextFlow, you’ll need a word processing program that can open and save in .doc (Word) format, and Adobe AIR installed on your machine.
Before you can use TextFlow, however, you need drafts to work from. Start with a single Word document. Send a copy to anyone whose input you think is needed. Everyone can work on their copy of the document invidually, simultaneously. Normally this kind of thing would give me a massive headache, since I’d be worried about sifting through three or four different variants of the same paragraph and playing spot the difference.
Once you have multiple versions of the same document, you simply launch TextFlow, and then drag your original to the application window. Now, you’re free to drag and drop revisions from multiple parties on top of your original, and TextFlow will compare the versions automatically. Once it’s done the comparison process, it displays changes inline in colored boxes. Clicking on the boxes in different places (icons appear when you hover with the cursor) will allow you to Accept, Hide, Reject, or move the suggestion to the app’s built-in scratchboard.
You can save your session at any time, which does not save over the original document, but instead generates a .tfx file that allows you to jump back in to your editing at the same point you left off. To produce a .doc file, you can click the Export button at the top of the application pane.
TextFlow is still in beta, so the lagginess I occasionally experienced wasn’t surprising, but it does slow down the editing procedure a bit. The sections it recognized as changed in my test document were also sometimes unnecessarily long, i.e. if I changed one sentence in a paragraph, the whole paragraph was flagged. This last point could be a feature of the app, though, since changing a sentence might also change the context in which it appears, necessitating changes in the surrounding text as well.
Overall, it’s definitely an app to watch if you do collaborative writing with multiple authors, or if you have a lot of client stakeholders that want direct input into the final product. You can download the TextFlow beta here, or check out on online interactive demo here.
Note that in order to use the app, you’ll need to sign up, but the registration process is very simple.