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An analysis of collaborative document editing Author Hao Xu (Architecture) Hao

Version 1 2

Date 2/16/2010 2/17/2010

Notes Initial draft Expand recommendation section

AN ANALYSIS OF COLLABORATIVE DOCUMENT EDITING........................................................ 1 COMPETITOR RESEARCH................................................................................................................... 2 GOOGLE DOCS............................................................................................................................................... 2 ADOBE BUZZWORD....................................................................................................................................... 2 ZOHO............................................................................................................................................................. 3 REDLINER..................................................................................................................................................... 3 ONEDOC.NET................................................................................................................................................. 3 PLEASETECH.COM......................................................................................................................................... 3 A COMPARISON MATRIX............................................................................................................................... 4 MAIN DISCOVERY................................................................................................................................. 4 TRADE-OFF BETWEEN RICH EDITOR AND COLLABORATION FEATURES.....................................................5 COLLABORATIVE EDITING IS A NEW SPACE................................................................................................. 5 FINAL DOCUMENT VS. SCRATCH BOOK.........................................................................................................5 DESIRED LIST OF COLLABORATION FEATURES.......................................................................... 5 TECHNOLOGY APPROACHES............................................................................................................. 6 LICENSE THIRD-PARTY EDITOR................................................................................................................... 6 DEVELOP OUR OWN EDITOR........................................................................................................................ 6 OUR RECOMMENDATION................................................................................................................... 6


Competitor research We believe that collaborative document editing is the key offering in IntraLinks collaboration suite. This is a relatively new space not only to IntraLinks but to the Internet. There are a few leading providers which we studied: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Google docs Adobe buzzword Zoho Redliner Onedoc.net

Google docs A javascripted based document editor. It offers Microsoft word like document editing feature and supports import/export from/to word document. Google docs maintains its own document format which is also public. From a document editor’s perspective, it’s fairly rich featured. It supports images, tables and math equations. We believe it addresses most of the needs for an average document author/editor. From a collaboration perspective: multiple authors may work simultaneously on a document. The changes are propagated to other authors only when the document is saved. The system performs an auto-merge to incorporate the newly saved changed by others. It seems to be a fairly simplistic auto-merger. No other collaboration features seems to be available.

Adobe buzzword

A flex based document editor. It offers Microsoft word like document editing feature and supports import/export from/to word document. Buzzword maintains its own document format. From a document editor’s perspective, it’s fairly rich featured. It supports images, tables. However it does not support math equations. From a collaboration perspective: multiple uses can co-editing the same document. However a user must lock the entire document before he may edit it. All other users are in read-only mode in the meantime. The editing user releases the document doc by saving the document at which time other users will automatically receive the updated version of the document. In other words, it’s more like a check-in/check-out system.


Zoho A javascripted based document editor. It offers Microsoft word like document editing feature and supports import/export from/to word document. Google docs maintains its own document format which is also public. From a document editor’s perspective, it’s fairly rich featured. It supports images, tables and math equations. We believe it addresses most of the needs for an average document author/editor. From a collaboration perspective: multiple authors may work simultaneously on a document. The changes are propagated to other users as the current user types. It does not provide in-text highlighting and commenting.

Redliner

A silverlight based simple text editor with rich collaboration features. It support imports/exports from/to Microsoft word but it strips most of the formatting including images and tables. From a document editor’s perspective, it is very simplistic – text only. From a collaboration perspective, it supports in-text highlighting and comments. It also supports paragraph-scope versioning and diff calculation.

Onedoc.net A Microsoft Word Add-in that works with Microsoft word 2003 and 2007. From a document editor’s perspective it has the full power of Microsoft word. From a collaboration perspective, it breaks a document into sections and manages “assignment” of each section to a user. From a high-level, it’s somewhat similar to the offering of Xinnovation.com except that it manages the organization of sections within a single document. However because Microsoft Office does not expose fine-granular APIs for partner extension, it doesn’t (and probably will not) have very fine-level collaboration features such as in-text comments and highlighting.

Pleasetech.com

Start-up. Self-funded from 2002. 50 employees. Mainly in document review space. • •

Collaborative authoring : MS WORD. “Edit zone” (new feature introduced in July of 2009). Open a new word process to display just the paragraphs in the zone. Collaborative review. (flag-ship product)


PleaseReview is 100% API (web services) enabled. Converted to HTML and loaded into javascript HTML editor (FCKEditor). Paragraph is the smallest unit of content for editing in a popup window. The main trick is to extract word content into html while preserving the paragraphs. Also the “reviews� on HTML are sent back to WORD as word annotations.

A comparison matrix

We provide a simple comparison matrix to summarize the differences of the above products.

Google Docs

Editor features A

Asynchronous collaboration No

Adobe buzzword

A-

Yes (comment)

Zoho

A

No

Redliner

D

Onedoc.net

A+

Exclusive. Intext comment; paragraphlevel versioning Yes

PleaseTech.com

A-

Yes

Synchronous collaboration Entire doc on save. Automerge Check-in/Checkout style. Lock doc before editing. In-text comment. Real-time as you type. Chat capability. Not supported

Technology

Section-based decomposition of document Upon press reload button

MS Office Add-in

Main discovery A collaborated editing tools requires two components: 1. Editor 2. Collaboration We listed main finding below.

Javascript Flex

Javascript Silverlight

Convert WORD to HTML and edit using FCKEditor


Trade-off between rich editor and collaboration features We found out that editors rich in features are weak in collaboration. Products that offer good collaboration (onedoc.net and redliner) are either based on Microsoft Word or based on very simplistic editor (redliner). We must face one of the two challenges 1. Building a homegrown rich-text editor is a technical challenge. However once we have it, adding collaboration feature is relatively easy. 2. Writing an extension to a third-party editor entails following challenges a. We must license the editor b. Editors (even MS word) lack fine-grained API. Therefore, there is very limited room for innovation on collaborative features.

Collaborative editing is a new space

Existing products offer very preliminary features. This means that a standard set of collaborative features is not even established in the industry. There is a lot of room for our own innovation.

Final document vs. scratch book Should the online editor be a Word-like application where one creates the final version of a business document? Or should the editor be more of a scratch-book for dumping ideas and draft texts? Redline is pretty much a scratch book while all others target to be the final application. We as the technology team cannot dictate which way to go but we do have our preference.

Desired list of collaboration features We believe the following features are important for online editing collaboration: 1. Support of both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration 2. In-text highlight and comment (for both sync and async) 3. Paragraph level versioning and delta calculation (sync and async) 4. Document-scope exclusive lock (sync) 5. Paragraph/section level exclusive lock (sync) 6. Paragraph/section level auto-merge (sync) 7. Document level auto-merge (sync) 8. Real-time change propagation (i.e. broadcast as you type) (sync) The underneath editor must support the following features in decreasing priorities: 1. Import/export from Microsoft word


2. Text with format 3. Text selection 4. Copy/paste 5. Undo/redo 6. Simple image embedding (inline, block and floating) 7. Tables 8. Equations 9. Paging 10. Real-time spell checking

Technology approaches We have two potential approaches

License third-party editor We can license a third-party editor and do custom development on top of it. There are only very few products and it’s not clear if any of them are open to purchase. If we can identify an editor product, we’ll then look at API of the editor and determine what kinds of collaboration features are feasible. We understand that Microsoft Word has a documented API therefore developing a Word add-in is one obvious direction.

Develop our own editor Our editor can be developed in either flex or javascript. A javascript editor can leverage web browser’s rendering capability. In other words, the underneath internal formatting will be “HTML + CSS”. Zoho and Google docs took such an approach. The downside is that javascript is not strong engineering programming language. A flex editor basically means that we are going to draw every glyph on a “canvas”. However, with flash10 text engine and Flex 4.0’s Text Layout Framework, we don’t have to build everything from scratch. Either way, our editor should be developed in a phased fashion. We can start with a plain-text editor and add features such as text format, image, table and equation as we go.

Our recommendation We recommend that we build our own editor that supports collaboration from ground up. However, if IntraLinks is able to license a rich-text editor that has a fine-grain API on which we can develop our collaboration extension, we are open to evaluating the potential of extending that editor. On that note, we believe that it’ll be very hard to


write an Office Add-in (based on Word API) that supports all the desired collaborative features listed in the previous section. The reason behind this recommendation follows: Online document editing is already a very hot area. There used to be quite a few online editors a few years ago on the market but today it pretty much boils down to Google Doc (dominant) and Zoho. They both target small businesses and compete directly with Microsoft Word. Adobe buzzword hasn’t picked up any meaningful market share in that space with their sleek flex application. Therefore, it would be unwise for us try to compete with them by offering another feature-rich online editor. If we license a third-party editor (assuming there is one for us to license), we will be limited by the capabilities exposed by that editor. Moreover, we will never gain a competitive edge in terms online collaboration over the vendor of that editor. This is because (1) they own the editor (2) a natural direction to further development of an online editor is collaboration. So they will almost certain invest in collaboration on top their editor. So we can probably only be a second-class player in that space. We believe our way to compete is some kind of a scratch book. The scratch book is limited as a full-blown editor (for example, the scratch book can support plain text only to start with) but we’ll innovate heavily on collaboration features (which is still a very young area). Because the editor itself is simple, it’s easier for us to focus on collaboration from technology and resource perspectives. We’ll then expand the editor features (such as images, tables and equations) once we see some initial success. It’s important to support capabilities to import/export to/from the scratch book to popular formats such as Microsoft word and Google docs. In summary, we should position ourselves as the leading online collaborative scratch book in the world. In other words, we’ll basically build a redliner style product.


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