Get Going With Sync.In for Real-Time Collaboration

Would you like a better way to edit documents and collaborate on ideas? Emailing notes back and forth is a mess and wikis can be complicated to use. Plus, neither of these let you see your team’s document changes in real time. Google Docs now allows collaborative editing, but it makes it hard to get a sense of what was added and when.

For a time, Etherpad was the king of online collaborative writing. No matter where you and your coworkers were, you could log in to the same Etherpad, edit together in realtime, then playback the document revisions to see how the document progressed over time. Then, a couple months after Google Wave was announced, the Etherpad team was bought out by Google. Their code was opensourced, but their original site was shut down and, before long, Google Wave was canceled and opensourced as well.

Today, if you’d like to keep using Etherpad, you could obviously install and run the opensource Etherpad code directly on your own servers for your company or personal use. However, running it directly can be difficult, and if you just want to get started writing collaboratively, you’ll want something easier to manage. There are then a number of sites that let you use the original Etherpad code on their own servers. Some of these services simply use the original Etherpad, while others have taken it and expanded its feature set.

Sync.in is a great service from Cynapse that has taken the original Etherpad and given it a fresh theme, a desktop launcher to access your pads easily, social network sharing, and more. Let’s take a look at the service and see if collaborative writing has been given a fresh start with Sync.in.

Writing in Sync.In

Sync.in is a freemium Etherpad-based collaborative writing system. You can create unlimited free collaboration documents that will be saved publicly on Sync.in’s servers. To get started, just head to their homepage and click Create a new Public note.

Get started writing collaboratively in one click

That’s it! Once you have a free public pad, you can just start writing like you would in any rich text editor. There aren’t tons of text options, but the standard formatting options are available such as bold and bulleted lists. You can copy your text from Sync.in to use it elsewhere, or export it later in text or HTML format. Alternately, you can just bookmark your Sync.in pad to come back and edit it anytime.

If you've ever used any rich text editor, you'll be ready to use Sync.in

All free Sync.in pads are fully public, so anyone can join in and help proof or write your document. You can just share the URL of your note from your address bar, or press the Share button on the right sidebar to share your pad on a variety of social networks. This is a great way to get feedback before you post an article on your blog, or get everyone to help you make a list of important things to cover in an upcoming meeting.

Take Sync.in social and share your writing with your networks

As people start to join in and help edit a post, it’ll become a rainbow of colors with each editor automatically assigned a different highlight color for their text. The highlighting helps you see where changes have made and what’s going on. The most amazing thing is how fast all Etherpad implementations keep text synced; we were able to see changes in almost real-time from two different computers editing the same pad.

Your text will become a rainbow reflecting who editing what

Go Back in Time

One of the best features is that you can see how your work progressed over time. Every keystroke is recorded and saved as you type, so you’ll never have to worry about it losing your data. Then, as you’re writing your document, you can save revision points when you make major changes. If you decide to go back to the way you had your document before, your old version is just one click away. This makes it almost like a revision control service for your writing.

Save revision points so you can jump back to previous versions of your document quickly

Alternately, if you’d like to see how your document progressed over time, click the Playback button. This lets you playback a recording that shows every keystroke and edit you’ve made to the document over time. If you’ve been wanting to learn more about your own personal writing process, this is a great way to critique and see where you’re making the most changes!

Starring: Your Writing!

Taking Sync.in Premium

There are only two problems with the default Sync.in pads: everything you write is publically accessible, and the only way to keep up with all of your pads is to bookmark them or write their note ID down. If you’d like a secure way to collaboratively write or just want to use Sync.in as a repository for all your team’s writing, you can get a Pro account for $2 per user per month with a minimum of 5 users. From the front page, you can quickly signup for a free 30 day trial to see if pro accounts are perfect for your team.

Choose a unique URL for your team, then select the free trial to testdrive Sync.in Pro

Your team will now have a unique domain with a dashboard where you add your team and collaborate privately. All of the great Sync.in features are included in pads, except now, you can make a pad only visible to those on your team. You can also download a zip file containing an HTML copy of all of your pads, which can be a great time-saver for archiving your documents. This is much better if you’re writing internal corporate documents or other private info in Sync.in.

Your Sync.in Dashboard turns pads into an internal productivity tool

The pad editor looks mostly the same in the pro version, but with a few changes. First, you can change the name of a pad to make it easy to find later; free pads only have their unique pad ID number. Then, you can change your privacy settings, sharing your pad with your team, the general public, or locking it down with a private password.

With a Pro account, you can name your notes and set privacy levels

Sync.in From Your Desktop

We don’t usually discuss desktop applications very much at Web.AppStorm, but sometimes little things that can integrate a webapp with the standard desktop user experience can be the thing that makes people adopt it better. If your clients feel more at ease using a standard application than a webapp, then anything that bridges the gap can help.

Sync.in includes an Adobe Air powered app that lets you quickly create new pads and open existing ones from your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. If you’re using the standard, free Sync.in service, you can use the app to create a new pad in one qlick or open existing pads from their note ID (the code in the pad’s URL after the initial http://sync.in/). Or, if you have a pro account, you can login to unlock more advanced features.

Create new notes, or add your Pro account to unlock more features

Once you’ve added your account, Pro Sync.in users can access any pad in their own custom domain from their much shorter note ID. You’ll also be able to search and find any pad that you or others on your account have created, and can then open the note directly or copy the note URL to share with a coworker. While many will find it just as easy to use Sync.in from their browser without the Air app, it’s definitely a nice addition for those who want a quick, 1-click way to start writing collaboratively with their team.

Find any notes on your Pro account from the desktop app

Conclusion

Whether you’re a student working with a class team on a group paper or a company wanting to get the engineering team’s input on your marketing script, there’s millions of reasons many of us need to write collaboratively. Plus, sometimes it can be nice to go back and see how your piece came together while you were writing it. Sync.in works great for this, and while its core tech is not unique to their site, they have done a great job implementing it with their own style and adding premium features that make the service more useful.

Do you regularly use an Etherpad-type service? Let us know if you’ve used Sync.in, run Etherpad on your own servers, or have found a solution you think is even better.


Summary

Sync.in is a great app for collaborative writing and realtime playback of your revision process. If you're looking for a successor to Etherpad or Google Wave, this is a great free or reasonably priced option.

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  • I’m a student and I find it perfectly fine to use google docs for collaborative work. What does Sync.In do that docs doesn’t?

    • I think the real question is what does this do that google wave doesn’t.

  • The biggest difference is that you can playback your editing so you can see how your doucment changed over time. Plus, you can save snapshots to easily revert to previous versions of the document. Both of these are much more powerful than Google Docs’ undo feature.

    That said, different things work better for different people. I personally use Writeboard whenever I need to do collaborative writing with others in college. Most non-techies get freaked out with real-time collaborative writing, but Writeboard lets everyone edit without the confusion or hassle. It’s worked great for me :)

    With more techie people though, I’ve always enjoyed using Etherpad, and sometimes used it for personal and professional writing I do myself. Sync.in is a great replacement for it now that it’s gone.