Playback is just one little feature of Etherpad, but think of the implications of this alone. Among other things it will make cheating impossible in classes where students write papers, because now you can finally "show your work" in writing the way you do in math.
You often talk about releasing early, building something people want, etc. Since you carry a lot of influence, and (I guess) invest in Etherpad, and they've adjusted it to your personal request - do you worry that this effect might give you a distorted view of how well Etherpad specifically, and YC startups generally, are building what people want?
To further drive that thought home, my company hereby offers to add any 1-day-effort feature request made by any popular tech figure, provided they're willing to share our work with their audience. (Sites for those would be http://bug.gd or http://www.yumbunny.com or any other site in my profile.)
Seriously, they'd be silly not to have taken pg up on this even if he wasn't helping to back them.
I don't think pg implied that he bullied them into implementing this, only that he talked them into it. And I can't imagine that YC would last long if pg got into the habit of bullying its start-ups into implementing his personal requests.
While solutions like DropBox or Sharepoint allow versioning and collaboration it's at a higher level. Maybe I've been spoiled by VMWare, but I love having branches of specific versions to fall back on and test things out. Why should writing be any different?
What a great way of bringing attention to a start-up: make something that's inherently fascinating due to features. This is unlike anything online I've seen before because the functionality just doesn't exist anywhere else. So it's a great thing to watch and it also tells you about the service.
I like that you keep constantly going back to eliminate unnecessary language. Something tells me that's the first and most obvious trait of watching good writers write: at the governor's school, when the writers would write on paper instead of on the computer, you could read a draft and see that emerging pattern of phrase after phrase, each building on the last. It's interesting seeing it happen on the computer.
Anything you write with it now you will be able to play back like this soon. Etherpad is already saving all the keystrokes. They just haven't released the player yet. (This is a one-off prototype.)
This site shows how some fairly good illustrations are drawn (brushstroke playback). Unfortunately, not all drawings can be animated and the ability to search for playback-capable drawings is limited:
It would be interesting to have the timestamp data (if it is recorded) of the keystrokes (adjusted to author's timezone - privacy withstanding) so you can see a clock/calendar [day|night icon] when the author wrote it (was it 3am in the morning? did they put it aside for a couple hours or was it a period of days?).
EDIT: Didn't see this comment. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=495812
However, it should be somewhere hidden and available only if people really want to be able to replay. Else it is going to be an over kill on their servers.
It might be kind of jerky during the editing stage, but it's better than scrolling around trying to find out where the action is. ;)
What I learned from this is that I write very differently from the way you do. My first draft is almost straight stream of consciousness, and then I go back and reread and edit several times. You seem to make several attempts at each sentence before finding one you like, and then edit the whole thing.
Of course, I may just not realize how I actually write, since I don't have a playback of anything of length to watch.
What I'd really be interested in watching is some famous programmers working on code with this kind of playback. Not sure if it'd actually be enlightening, but it would be fun to experiment with.
"Launching lets you observe the collusion between your presuppositions and the needs of actual users."
I went back, and you are right, it is collision.
Collusion is more fun though. :)
If this were only available when you guys were writing code for Viaweb, and when you were writing On Lisp -- what a wonderful thing it would be to learn from. It would show the thought process behind what went into writing what you wrote!
They will probably give up Word for something, eventually. Especially among the current generation, writing is something done online; a blog, an email, a tweet, writing on someone's wall. At some point, it stops making sense to have a word processor distinct from the web. Right now, Word has more features that people like than online writing tools, but that will change over time. Online writing tools are a more natural fit for collaboration and integration with words' final destinations.
Microsoft could make the online tool that replaces Word, but it is probably too dangerous to their current revenue stream. I don't think they can get the same revenue for an online version of Word, and it would be difficult for them to rationalize trying a new business model that may never regain the revenue they get now.
(And yes, I'm basically just making the Innovator's Dilemma argument for word processors.)
Something like Windows Live Writer 2009?
If it has an installer, it doesn't count as an online tool, as far as I'm concerned.
If high-resolution timestamps for each keystroke aren't too much of a burden it seems like this would be straightforward to implement, given an algorithm like BioPassword's.
There are already non-webapp mouselog/keylog and replay applications. And besides, think of the implications of letting students be on the internet while they are writing essays.
a) telling students to install a keylogger, write an essay with it turned on, then submit the essay plus the logs, and then the teacher figuring out how to replay the logs, versus
b) telling students to write their essay at etherpad.com, they submit the url, teacher clicks on "replay."
As for the matter of students being online, that's going to have to get solved anyway, because all the apps are moving online.
I think that pendulum has almost reached the end of it's arc. There are a number of trends that are starting to pull in the opposite direction. From concerns about privacy and security to the proliferation of mobile computing, intermittent disconnection from the cloud has it's uses.
Tools like Google Gears and the continued blurring of the line between desktop applications and web applications mean that it's easy to build applications where being connected enhances the experience considerably, but the essential functions are still there even if the network goes away.
Ironically I think it's the tech crowd/geeks (us) who are most resistant to webapps. We can see the privacy,security,reliability issues. The average users however, cannot. They're already embracing webapps.
The big question is what's next. I'm guessing it'll be mobile - the geeks are embracing it just as the mainstream is finally becoming comfortable with last decade's technology. But it's a bit too early to tell.
First, there's the simple privacy issue. If a professor told me to install a keylogger on my computer or if she told me to use etherpad to write an essay - either way I'd feel like my privacy was being violated.
Then there's the practical issue of how this system would affect writing ability. I personally do my best writing when I'm able to ignore the critic in my head and focus on the words. Being self-conscious about someone seeing all the stupid things I wrote along the way would make it much more difficult to get into this state of concentration.
Finally, there's the issue of making teacher's not only read two dozen boring essays but also watch replays of them being written. I personally think their time could be better spent.
...and even then I use WriteRoom, full screen green on black, no formatting options: http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom
script -t 2> script.demo.time script.demo
# M-x tetris
# ; play tetris now
# C-x C-c ; exit emacs
# watch tetris being played:
scriptreplay script.demo.time script.demo
It's also really interesting to watch a good writer go about editing. This is certainly a way to teach writing, besides the obvious method of practice.
-- Otto von Bismarck.
I found it quite surprising to watch. I thought it was a genetic algorithm writing an article somehow at first with all the constant deleting and rewriting.
Once I realized what was really going on I was struck by what an odd writing style it was (to my experience). I'm firmly in the "get it all out then come back and tighten it up" clan. There are, I suspect, at least several groups though.. I'm intrigued what they all are (perhaps the "just write and don't ever edit" group, the "refine as you go" group, the "headings then fill the gaps" group...)
You have great intuition, because it actually was!
There's lots more potential in the graphical dimension: sliders, text color/weight that varies with age/volatility; timelines of activity (gross keystrokes or net adds/deletes) that go by either keystroke-time or clock-time.
Also an interesting thing to think about: how to build an efficient text index that can find any word or phrase that was ever present, even momentarily (or as the prefix of another word mid-typing) -- and plot its positions and lifespans.
Of course with smallish works just replaying every tick and grepping every frame could work. However, my initial inspiration for the TimeWriter idea was hosting an indefinitely lengthy personal journal. Each day, you could edit with abandon, knowing that instant search could find any fragmentary thought (and surrounding context) you'd ever jotted. The freedom of a clean sheet of paper, whenever necessary, with the confidence of perpetual perfect recall, when desired.
I had always assumed that nobody would get it unless I built a silly little mp3/cd player timeline with sliders and buttons. This changed my mind. Simple works just fine. Gimme a couple days and I'll polish it up and throw it live.
This is a service I actually want to sign up for and I wasn't able to find a sign up link after looking around for 30 seconds or so. Surely there would be some benefit to EtherPad to have me sign up for an actual account and collect data on me.. which in this case I am happy to have them do since they are providing a solid service..
...wait a second, a stupid detector is going off in my head, let me check something real quick... (googles "founders at work")... well that's the one -- curiously I hadn't read it's synopsis before...
I would still be interested in further reading suggestions though if other books come to mind.?
There's other stuff I want to see that should be even more interesting. When it's replaying, I want to be able to see characters that make it into the final version in one color, and others in another. Then I'll be able to tell when I'm writing well and when I'm writing badly.
However, I have to admit that I think such playback would make me a better writer.
Thanks for sharing, very awesome to watch. My only request would be the ability to adjust the playback speed.
If I don't do this--and I frequently don't--I find my output grinds to a halt with my brain both creating and editing sentences at the same time.
What are your thoughts on this?
There's other stuff I want to see that should be even more
interesting. When it's replaying, I want to be able to see
characters that make it into the final version in one
color, and others in another. Then I'll be able to tell
when I'm writing well and when I'm writing badly.
This web site sucks and you are a moron\b\b\b\b\\b\b\b\b\b\\b\b...\b\b\b\b\b\\bb\bGood day sir, I can't seem to find how to cancel my account. Thank you and I hope you are having a pleasant evening.
I mean, I guess people wrote books before there were computers, so I shouldn't be that surprised, but I just realized I can't imagine writing anything longer than a couple pages on paper.
I remember arguing with English teachers in middle school that I thought better while typing. They insisted that I hand write my rough draft anyway, and I hated it.
"There is only one thing that annoys me about living in Edinburgh - well, two, but I'm pretty much resigned to the weather now. Why is it so difficult to buy paper in the middle of town? What is a writer who likes to write longhand supposed to do when she hits her stride and then realises, to her horror, that she has covered every bit of blank paper in her bag? Forty-five minutes it took me, this morning, to find somewhere that would sell me some normal, lined paper. And there's a university here! What do the students use? Don't tell me laptops, it makes me feel like something out of the eighteenth century."
-J. K. Rowling
According to Wikipedia, she did the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone on a manual typewriter.
How about an entire trilogy of books.
Neal Stephenson wrote the Baroque Cycle out long hand. This post (http://blog.wired.com/sterling/2009/01/the-entire-terr.html) was from last month ago but I also remember 3 other pictures from several years ago.
I was completely dumbfounded when I first saw that stack of paper because I can barely manage to write a one line note to my wife without scratching something out. To undertake something as large as the Baroque cycle trilogy is really beyond my comprehension.
I don't know if he wrote Cryptonomicon this way also but my first edition is full of typos. Something I imagine could happen if you turn over several hundred hand written pages with edits to a typist.
So, what you produce may not be as good as it will get later, but at least it's complete.
The major disadvantage of writing on paper is of course when you have no idea what you're going to write ahead of time, because then your first draft is going to be very, very low quality.
Edit: Nevermind. I see they're the references at the bottom! Why xfs and xtc?
To make this work, Etherpad would need to provide an API, though not necessarily a well-documented one. A supported API might make sense for Etherpad, though. Imagine being able to load a Wordpress plugin that enables playback of your blog posts. Or something that lets you co-author blog posts on etherpad. Oh, and greasemonkey scripts that let you co-edit any elements in a web form. OK... let's not get ahead of ourselves...
An API to etherpad would realy help, IMO.
In addition, for school papers I would type in sarcastic or snarky sentences just for fun about what I really think of the subject matter or whatever book I was forced to write an essay for at the time. Sometimes I'd go so far that I would save a different copy of the paper just so that I could go back and laugh at it years later.
It looks like a great way to gain insight into how you or someone else writes, but I think it should always be opt-in.
Two reasons: 1) You could see when the Eureka! moments occur. 2) To easily get a real measure of how long it really takes to write.
I have a real problem with 2), both with underestimating how long it will take to do things I think will be easy to write, and overestimating things I think will be hard. Of course, there's a lot more to writing than typing, but it could provide important information that is tedious to track at a high level and impossible to track at the level of granularity that this app could.
I think (from comment above: "not working all day") you took much longer than the figure above? Perhaps a lot more thought goes into an essay than I imagine?
The ability to fix those types of changes, or to revert back to a paragraph "somewhere in the middle" would be huge.
How do you get the play back link though?
This will be a great tool for the classroom. Whether it's tracking collaboration on papers or "showing work".
I did IB in Tallahassee, Florida. That was 5 years ago, but good luck!
This would make collaboration much faster.