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Google acquires AppJet/Etherpad (etherpad.com)
258 points by dreeves on Dec 4, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

Well, that sucks.

I was psyched when I first read the subject, since I figured they'd be lending Google Docs their awesome text editor. Instead they're going to Google Wave, where the interface blows. Etherpad's lightyears more useful, more flexible, and more valuable. Blah.

The Etherpads themselves were very impressed with what the Wave guys showed them, and they are the best qualified to judge this sort of technology of all the hackers I know. Maybe some of the stuff they saw was unreleased, but whatever it was was, the Etherpads liked it, and they seem genuinely excited to work on it.

It seems understandable that both buyers and sellers are pleased with the transaction, after all, they both agreed to it. It doesn't really address the OP's (however direct) 'that sucks' comment.

Any early-adopter of a start-up product accepts the risk that the company behind the product might be unsuccessful. Customers like that bet, in part, on the notion that despite the statistically long odds, the company is making every conceivable effort to stay alive and succeed.

The 'buyout-and-the-product-dies'-type exit introduces a sort of divided loyalty and misalignment between the goals of the founders and the goals of their customers - if you're unsuccessful you might fail and we might suffer an abrupt service termination but at the same time, if you're quite successful, we might also suffer an abrupt service termination.

If only they had interviewed at Google and joined the team they wanted to be on a year ago.

These transactions trade on the goodwill of early adopters. And they make it harder for other startups as potential early adopters start to assume that it's better to wait for what Google releases instead of investing time in a product that will be scrapped either if the company fails or is successful and acquired.

Most of the Etherpads are ex-employees of Google that left to start their own company. I don't see any other way to interpret your comment except that you are suggesting that they should've quit running AppJet a year ago (since the option to be bought didn't seem to be available then) and interviewed at Google to get their jobs back to work on GWave at an early stage, but without the added benefit of having millions of dollars worth of Google stock. This seems quite bizarre.

My point is that if they wanted to build their own company they should remain committed to the product they built, and find a better support model for current customers/users than shutting down without notice.

I do not begrudge them making money at all. But one reason that they have "millions of dollars worth of Google stock" is because they offered a service that people adopted and paid for. I think they have more of an obligation to customers and users than the initial announcement indicated and I worry that not taking better care of customers in the transition makes it hard for other startups.

It now looks like Google has reconsidered the shutdown and EtherPad will be on-line until open sourced. http://etherpad.com/ep/blog/posts/etherpad-back-online-until...

Agreed. When Google Wave first came out part of me thought, "Shit, this could kill Etherpad". Then I tried Google Wave and realized that Etherpad was completely safe. I guessed wrong, Google still killed it.

As they say, if you can't beat them, you buy them.

Well, hopefully the Etherpad guys will help Wave suck a little less ;-)

Don't be selfish. Someone just had their hard work payoff; for me it's better to know they have been rewarded for their effort, instead of me just being able to use a nifty web app.

To the Etherpad guys: listen up! it goes like this, tonight, wherever you are, you're buying a round for everyone, capice?

It's awesome for them that they're getting a big check from Google, but that has no relevance to me as an etherpad user.

I think the benefits of having a successful peer far outweigh your ability to use a free online text editor. Whatever loss in productivity is caused by the absence of Etherpad (or god forbid, having to use a G-branded version, or another service) can be made up for with the rush and motivation you should get from seeing one of your own get off the Ramen diet at last (or at least not have to worry if their effort will ever pay off; stuff like Etherpad will get built into browsers and OSes RSN)

Any big fish could have taken their client base without paying a dime; everyone from Skype to Computer Associates could have obsoleted them without even trying. Heck, Open Source IM packages like Pidgin could easily add a service like Etherpad and those boys would have labored for nothing.

If you don't like what I am saying, the next time you cash out, just know that I am just as happy for you :-)

You do know that probably most of Etherpad's users aren't their peers, yeah? So to them, they've just lost a really great service.

Correct, that's one misunderstanding on my part that I have been trying to rectify for the last hour and half: forgetting there was another side to this, the end users'.

I will have to repent and become a consumer activist: I will boycott products A/B tested on humans.

Saying that everyone could have obsoleted EtherPad is like saying Intuit could have obsoleted Mint - Hard to argue with except by pointing out the facts on the ground don't support that version of reality.

Etherpad ROCKED - I've spent a couple weeks now with Wave, used it for a bunch of projects, and every time I use it, I did so grudgingly, realizing that Etherpad was lighter, cleaner, and more elegant compared to Wave's all-in-one platform approach. Yes, it's true that I can insert YouTube Videos, Polling Systems, and even a freaking ChatServer into my WaveDocuments - but it always felt like more of a technology exercise than a useful use of an application.

Let's hope that the EtherPads can do for Wave, what the Mint Team will (hopefully) do for Intuit.

I don't know if AppJet was profitable (enough) or not, but I would be some kind of an exit was inevitable. Could have been worse then this for them and their users. Good luck to them anyway.

Well, to be fair, as a free user, you have no relevance to big checks for them, either :-)

Definitely! Agreed 100.

I don't think anybody is being selfish, its bittersweet: Accolades for the AppJet team and disappointment that Etherpad will be killed.

That's like saying it's good when a band starts making music to make money instead of to make entertainment/for the love of music. It's great for them that they have profited from their effort (and they have the right to do so) but the ultimate goal of all this should be to make the world a better place in some way, not to make money. Creating a sustainable way to improve people's lives is the goal.

The band comparison is a fallacy: musicians are not in my line of work, I don't watch musicians for social cues and I sure as hell do not use their business decisions, lifestyle and success as a benchmark for my own. Software developers and entrepreneurs I do.

Game recognizes game, and right now I don't see much of it in this thread.

You may have the wrong sport.

I've missed Jotspot, now Etherpad. Just hope Google Wave will not be the next Google Sites.

I used JotSpot, not too heavily, just as a company intranet. Google Sites definitely streamlined everything. Maybe because I'm not a power-user or whatnot. But Google Sites is way easier, leaner, and faster for me at the end of the day.

Yeah, as someone who used Etherpad every week or two (as well as Wave), I'm really annoyed that Google has shut this down. Shame on Google and Etherpad.

Don't conflate Wave-the-framework with Wave-the-product. A lot of time and effort were spent on Wave-the-framework, whereas Wave-the-product feels like a first cut demo. I assume that Wave-the-product will go through a number of revisions that will be more Docs like, and I expect EtherPad to be a part of that.

Also, Wave-the-product might just be one client Google releases. If they really want to encourage a "Wave ecosystem," they'll likely pump out multiple clients with different focuses (including, hopefully, a new Wave-the-framework-backed Etherpad.)

What is 'wave the framework'? We've had XMPP for 10 years. And it still hasn't really taken off.

Frameworks are pretty useless unless you have a killer app built on it.

Again, product versus framework. XMPP as a communications framework has decent adoption, a number of open source servers and clients libraries in different languages. Jabber has limited adoption because its competing in a network-effect field. GoogleTalk is probably the most popular use of XMPP.

But, the meat of Wave isn't XMPP, its the combination of Operational Transforms on a federated XMPP layer with a web interface. Each of these features is equally important, so don't overlook them. OT makes collaboration easy, the web interface is the easiest user experience, and XMPP lets you scale the backend.

>> "combination of Operational Transforms on a federated XMPP layer with a web interface."

This is why I hate XMPP. Over-engineered to the point of absurdity.

See syntaxy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vib9hOL4Ju0 and similar tools in Wave.

Congratulations to the AppJet/Etherpad team. When I thought about your "exit" options, Google was at the top of the list. This doesn't surprise me given how talented you folks are and the real-time web expertise that Google needs more of these days.

It really really sucks to see Google shutting down Etherpad though. We used it at Poll Everywhere quite a bit for collaborative coding, now we'll have to find something else. Any chance you could convince Google to keep Etherpad around in some form?

sigh Google kills another innovative product.

As long as Etherpad is given creative control, I think they will create the next google product I love.

At JamLegend, Etherpad was the preferred tool for interviewing developers. Ccombined with video chat, we could meet anyone in the world.

try Gobby. gnu/linux only, iirc

Gobby is a free collaborative editor supporting multiple documents in one session and a multi-user chat. It runs on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and other Unix-like platforms.


Runs on OS X is a bit of an exaggeration though. It can supposedly be installed through MacPorts, but the two times I ever tried, MacPorts installed about half of normal Linux distro, before failing on some broken dependency.

If you want to go through several hours of compiling and several hundred megabytes of dependencies, with your fingers crossed that things won’t inexplicably break 3 hours in, feel free to try to install Gobby on a Mac. Personally, I’ll stick to SubEthaEdit, or whatever web-based editor, if I need collaboration.

* * *

I really think desktop collaborative editors should try to provide a web-based alternative front-end, for just this reason, that it’s nice for everyone to be able to contribute, and there’s no better way to ensure that than through the web.

There's also an extension for emacs that implements this: http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/Rudel

It says it even works with Gobby.

Google is not stupid, they will not kill but improve Etherpad and merge it into google wave making both google wave and etherpad more awesome.

While I am happy for the Etherpad team, this is still disappointing. The most useful aspect of Etherpad was its minimalism, so it is a shame to see it absorbed into bloatware.

Very upset to hear EtherPad is shutting down. I've used it a bunch (projected on a wall it makes a great collaborative note pad for BarCamp sessions) - will have to find a good replacement.

this feels silly, but is this opening an area for a new startup to clone them? They'd only be down one exit option. Albeit a very big nice exit option, but there are obviously people that would use their product.

The obvious way to make it more valuable is to integrate a web version with other editors--be they rich text or not. I'm not sure how easy it is to plug into Word, but seems like that could add lots of value.

Does anyone have any theories on why appjet never took off as a product?

Everytime I think about it, it seems like the perfect idea; save people the pain of setting up a server, hosting it, etc every time they want to make a web app.

Was it a bad implementation of this idea? Or was the idea just ahead of its time? Or was it something else?

I was a heavy appjet user. It was indeed an awesome system.

I think there were two reasons it didn't succeed:

1. It's niche was razor-thin. It required some skill to use, but was so minimalistic that many programmers would prefer to take the extra time to set up a "real" server.

2. Too ahead of its time

I suspect tools like appjet will be commonplace in a couple of years. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the "Google Wave" thing is a ruse and that these guys are actually working on an online editor for Google App Engine... This could, in theory, turn Chrome OS into an awesome dev environment, no?

I'd love to chat with you for a bit about what you liked about AJ, but your email isn't public. If you have some time, I'd love to discuss. cdavis@darkenedsky.com

I used AppJet myself for small personal projects, and liked it a lot. However, it wasn't complete enough for commercial use, perhaps as a platform for another startup to build their web app on. For example they didn't support development outside their web IDE, multiple code files in a project, a storage system with known scalability properties, or paid accounts with higher resource constraints.

I know they were working on at least two of the four features I mentioned above before they decided to abandon AppJet in favor of EtherPad. Building their own app to prove their platform was a good idea, but I guess they just didn't have enough resources to work on the app and the platform at the same time.

I'm not sure what the AppJet guys would have considered success to be, but if they expected other companies to build commercial apps on top of their stuff I think they gave up too early.

"Does anyone have any theories on why appjet never took off as a product?"

Basically people aren't going to switch to a new way of doing text unless someone forces them. Only a very small minority of people use something like FreeMind or EverNote instead of Word as their primary writing tool, so how could appjet ever hope to get more than a tiny fraction of those people when their best functionality only works when you have multiple people?

The only way to get mass adoption would be to force people to use it, which is possible, but only if you design the company around that from the ground up. Which I don't think they were organized to do, at least as far as I can tell.

If Google wants to, they actually have the ability to force more people to use it. Not sure if that will happen, but I hope it does since I wish I were able to use it more myself.

uhm... I don't think you know what the original appjet program was for- It was a tool for building web applications.

Congratulations to the Etherpad team. It's too bad that AppJet never took off more as a product; It seemed like it had a lot of potential. Etherpad was a lot of fun- I used it internally on a few projects, after seeing PG's demo with playback.

Hopefully you can add that feature to Google Wave while you're there; It was by far my favorite aspect of Etherpad. Even thought I can copy and paste my Etherpads into G:Wave, I can't keep the history, so that'll be gone forever in March, it seems.

Playback is an essential element of Wave; it's in there from the start.

Now you have an idea for your startup. A cool application was just killed and you can replace it.

This actually is the idea I've been working towards for the last couple of months. The backend is mostly sorted, but it would take another month or so to get a working product out the door.

Does HN think this is still a viable idea if the Big G has entered the game as well?

Sure, the Big G didn't entered the game, forced the exit of the best player instead.

There's no better tool for text collaboration right now.

I've been using it for my interview transcripts. With Etherpad, I can let 12 people on Mechanical Turk each transcribe a 5-minute section of my interview. And they can all be on at once and none of them needs and account.

I can even hit the play button and see how they work: http://mixergy.etherpad.com/ep/pad/view/23/latest

Does anyone know of a similar tool that provides the "replay" feature for text editing? I don't actually need collaboration, just screencast-like replay.

I don't understand all the negativity about etherpad being killed in this thread. Sounds like an opportunity to me...if you reckon it's so useful, and google are going to kill it, then go build etherpadv2 and charge for it. :)

As it happens, anyone knew an Etherpad replacement or alternative?

Squad is one of my passion projects. And while I love it, I've never really thought of it as a competitor/replacement for EtherPad.

Squad serves a great purpose for developers working together on code, but it isn't embedable, and doesn't do wysiwyg text formating. It's focused on syntax highlighting and opening and saving local files. So for some it may be an alternative, but not for everybody.

I actually did a ton of research on this a few weeks ago to figure out which collaborative editor to embed in my blog, and I'm sorry to say, EtherPad is 100x better than the nearest competitor, which is probably Google Wave or Google Docs.

Frankly, the best alternative is to try to scrounge around for old EtherPad URLs and just reuse them until March. :(

If you have a mac, then you can purchase SubEthaEdit. That's what EtherPad was based on.

This seems to me like a classic case of a company buying another company just for it's patents. I'd be willing to bet that the main reason Google is buying Etherpad is their synchronization patent and any other patents Etherpad owns that cover the functionality of Google Wave. Google probably won't use any of the Etherpad code in Wave.

> A number of ex-Googlers are AppJet executives, including CEO Aaron Iba, CTO J.D. Zamfirescu, and COO Daniel Clemens

Goodbye Google, hello Google again.

So, they had to leave Google to be able to create something Google wants enough to buy?

What does that say about Google going the way of Microsoft or $any-other-big-company?

They're shutting down etherpad. They can't have wanted it that much, surely :/ Maybe they just wanted the employees back, or wanted to kill potential competitors.

Anyone hearing anything on their valuation? Have the details of the deal been disclosed?

The only thing that doesn't suck about this is that appjet consider it a good thing. I hope they get piles of cash from it.

I kind of wish I'd got the private network edition and a handful of perpetual licenses before they pulled the plug though.

I also wish Microsoft had licensed Etherpad technology for use in Sharepoint - goodness knows, it could use the improvement. Google Wave must already have piles of web/ajax developers.

Congrats to the team, but it's a shame Etherpad didn't survive on its own IMHO. I thought premium accounts etc were coming?

TechCrunch is claiming 8 figures, which would be a bit high for a simple talent acquisition. Seems like a talent+tech acquisition, more along the lines of FriendFeed than Parakey or Pownce.

Edit: Parent formerly read: "...Seems like PR spin. Instead of shutting down a startup and going to work for big.co and risk being called out as a failure, work out a deal with big.co to 'aquire' the startup then shut it down. Maybe we need a new word for a talent acquisition, where the startup is shut down and just acquired as a more optimized way of hiring. ..."

Sorry for the edit, I decided I don't know enough about why Google would buy it to comment. I would think they have a good amount of talent/tech already working on wave.

Perhaps more a 'buy to kill potential competitor'?

Still sad to see Etherpad die :/

I am somewhat interested in their comet container which is based on JVM + Rhino. I am guessing they've rolled their own (using their raw NIO or Netty), rather than go with Jetty's "Continuations". I wonder if there's any chance Google will open source it, much like Facebook outsourced FriendFeed's Tornado?

I am also curious about their distribution model (how do you provider a consistent experience if this is to run on multiple machines?) -- or lack thereof (do they use load balancer "magic" to ensure that all collaborating on a single specific session go to a single machine, potentially creating hot spots)?

Ugh. I use etherpad. I want my etherpads to keep working! Argg

(end of selfish rant, congrats btw)

We've been working on a solution with Operational Transform as well... but looking at the kind of demand you guys have for it, sounds like we (and other startups) should rush to fill the void left by Etherpad.

Great for the team, but this sucks as a user. I've come to frequently use Etherpad for ad-hoc chat rooms, and now its impossible to make new pads.

I really hope EtherPad doesn't go the way of Jaiku. I really liked the product.

As a startup founder I'm happy to see financially successful exits. But as a user I have to wonder whether the software I like is a mere byproduct of an elaborate job application process.

I have never used Etherpad, and from the comments I'm a little saddened to find that now I can't check it out.

Does anyone have an old Etherpad that I can play with, or even just a video of how it's used?

Here's a test pad: http://etherpad.com/FQMBcRK9x2

Thank you! This is actually quite interesting since it's a meta-conversation about Etherpad, and Aaron of Etherpad includes this:

"Edits to the document are represented as mathematical functions that can be applied in any order, and have other special properties that make this realtime."

Unfortunately I don't have the math background to really connect what that means.

Congratulations Etherpad!!


Why does everyone assume google will destroy the clean interface of Etherpad? Why, instead do people think the Wave interface won't be customizable, since it is an open api?


"""The Google Wave API is an open platform allowing developers to extend the functionality of Google Wave itself . . ."""

Hopefully one of their former customers with a copy of the "Private Network Edition" will leak it for posterity.

Well deserved. Etherpad is one of those products that really impresses you. You guys have earned it. Cheers,

It seems like most of these guys came from Google in the first place, must be an interesting experience to leave a company, found a new company, and then have that company bought back. (I know it happens quite a bit)

What's the point in shutting it down? Will Google buy every company that creates an editor like that? That can't work well forever.

I was wondering what the competition between those two would be...I guess there won't be any!

Anyone know if more information will be released on the algorithms they use(d)?

If they tell us the $ figures, I am sure you will be motivated enough to discover the algorithms all on your own in an instant, or at least I would :-) High rewards have a tendency to induce epiphanies.

[Edit: Here is how I think it works, from my brief 2-day usage of it.

Comet: persistent connection between client and server.

First client connects to the server and creats a session. Server creates a "channel" with a file-handle/chan-id. Subsequent clients follow a URL to join the channel.

Without the live editing, you can see how any write in one client's textarea can be sent to the server and broadcast to all the channel members.

To allow for live editing, server keeps a "buffer" for the channel, initially empty.

All clients have onKeyPress or similar keylogging javascript event handler. A client might do internal buffering, say up to N characters or up to an X terminator (space maybe)

At the start, the server sends a test packet to each client and sees how long it takes, for timing purposes, call the time it takes to get a PONG response L for lag. So in the future, when a client sends a text snippet, it's timestamped, and the server subtracts the lag to get the actual sending time.

On the client side, display is refreshed after server response. When you type something, it's being rendered by the browser, but once your buffered input is sent, and the server responds, the display is refreshed by client-side javascript, which also keep an internal "document text model".

The server sends updates to your client's text model, and the view is rendered from this model. This allows the server to do all text-rearrangement on it side, so javascript isn't tasked with sorting time-stamped strings.

Along with timestamps, each text segment is also ID'ed by user, this allows the rendering engine to assign colors to the text.

Just wild speculation after giving this no more than 5 minutes of thought and another 10 to type it.


Sadest thing I have heard in a while. I guess I'll give squadedit a try now.

Anyone know if these guys will be moving to Sydney to join the Wave team?

Congrats guys! Make cool stuff, and people have to pay attention.

They should pull a foursquare ;-)

Congrats to J.D. and Aaron.


Congrats guys!


Fuck this. Part of starting new things is to disrupt the status quo. At this point google is the status quo and they are not disrupting anything so the EtherPad guys are just douchebag sellouts.

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