In a previous post, we discussed the benefits of collaboratively writing papers and proposals.
Now, let’s talk tools to help you write collaboratively. This proposal season, I experimented with several different tools, and dragged my collaborators into the experiment. I tested out Google Docs (Kelle’s review),ScribTeX (Jane’s review), and Dropbox (Kelle’s review). There’s also ShareLaTeX, which I haven’t tried yet (Has anybody? Please report!) So now I’d like to compare the strengths and weaknesses of these tools, and seek your feedback about what tools are working for you to get those proposals and papers written.
- Easy to upload individual files or zipfiles containing whole projects.
- Good LaTeX compiler that fixes many problems.
- Supports two different LaTeX engines: LaTeX and PdfLaTeX.
- Trivial to grab the whole project (for archiving, or to compile on your computer), using the Download button or a one-line Git command.
- Good at handling simultaneous editing. Almost always successfully merges simultaneous edits, and if it can’t, shows you both versions and asks you to decide.
- not free (nor is my time). $6/mo.
- Beautiful support for collaborative editing.
- You can see what your colleagues are typing and pointing.
- Most people already use googledocs or google, so hopefully they won’t complain about having to register.
- Telescopes don’t release proposal templates in this format. But they do release templates for Word and LaTeX. Should the community ask for GoogleDoc templates?
- Default template makes it hard to count pages against the page limits (ahem.)
- Works for any filetype.
- Free for smallish size.
- Public folder makes it trivial to share files you want to share.
- Can share a folder with anyone willing to get an account.
- Dropbox is intolerant of simultaneous edits (because files are its atomic particle, not words.) So it’s dangerous to simultaneously edit a Word file, for example. As such, better for back-and-forth collaboration, rather than collaborators working in parallel.
- Same toolkit can be used for sharing lots of other science products — codes, catalogs, data products.
- Intolerant of simultaneous edits. As such, better for back-and-forth collaboration, rather than collaborators working in parallel.
- Different tools vary in how hard they are to learn. I’ve found Git quite easy.
So, AstroBetter readers, what are your comments? When have you found collaborative editing helpful? Are there hidden dangers? What strengths & weaknesses have we left out?