doingText: Getting Text Collaboration Done

doingtextlogoThe key to successful document collaboration, as far as I’ve been able to gather in my many attempts, is making sure that the process is as simple as is absolutely possible. People only seem able or willing to work together on text projects if it takes only marginally more effort than not collaborating at all. A newly open-to-the-public web app called doingText, which Mike Gunderloy took a brief look at when it was in closed beta, might be the best and simplest method yet, even beating TextFlow‘s latest web-based tool.

They’ve since added some features, ironed out some kinks, and set up a multi-tiered pricing plan that offers something for everyone, including a basic free version that will probably be enough for most individuals. I wanted to run it through its paces now that it’s been officially released, and see if it really was as hassle-free as advertised.

Things started well. I didn’t even need to set up an account to begin, though I chose to in order review all of doingText’s features. Sign-up was simple, too, and they didn’t ask for any unnecessary information like my phone number or street address. You can also use your OpenID to register, and apparently doingText supports Gravatars, because mine showed up on my dashboard page once I’d completed registration.

picture-32When I say “dashboard,” I use the term loosely, because doingText’s interface isn’t really complex enough to deserve that title. All you really get is a text box and an “Edit Profile” button. Pasting text from any source into the box on the right will get you started. doingText automatically formats and divides the text into boxes based on its existing formatting. The source document I used was an .rtfd file I originally created in Bean. I was pleasantly surprised to find that doingText recognized line breaks and new paragraphs automatically, so I didn’t have to rework the text at all before collaboration could begin.

picture-52Each paragraph becomes a new “block” in doingText’s editor, and hovering over one brings up an options panel on the right that allows you to make changes to, or alter the color of, each. You can also add comments to explain the changes you’ve made to the work’s original author or your co-editors. The options panel also tells you which version of the document you’re working on, so you can easily keep track of changes across iterations.

picture-62You can share your document via a randomly generated unique URL, or by embedding specially-generated code in your own web site. You can also add specific individuals as co-editors, or set a password to limit access to your document even more. Every discussion (doingText’s term for an active document) has a revision history which you can access to quickly see what’s been done and by whom. Finally, you can download the work as a .txt or .pdf file at any time. A built-in messaging system allows you to communicate with other doingText users, even if you’re not currently collaborating on anything with them.

It’s not all roses, though, and there are still some bugs to iron out. When I tried to use doingText’s search function, which supposedly looks at your discussions, I couldn’t get it to return results, either using terms in the document’s title or its body. And there’s no way to hide the “Upgrade” reminder on your dashboard, which I find mildly annoying.

doingText is quick, easy, simple and clean. People can’t complain about having to register or learn or install new software to collaborate in your documents, since registration isn’t required (even by a document creator) and there’s virtually nothing to learn or install. doingText is the best thing I’ve come across for working with other writers and editors quickly on the fly, and the free version suits my simple needs quite nicely.

Have you used doingText? What did you think?

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