Collaborative Writing Tools

Typing . . . collaboratively!

Jack Dougherty, a professor of educational studies at Trinity College in Hartford, has been working for the past couple of years on some fascinating collaborative writing projects. One is Writing History in the Digital Age, an open-review publication that reflects on the ways new writing technologies might change, or not, the most basic practice of historical research–writing. The other involves magic. That is, MAGIC, the Map and Geographic Information Center at UConn‘s library. Called On The Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs, the project features, in addition to many other forms of scholarship, these crazy linked maps that juxtapose aerial photographs of Hartford’s historical development with contemporary Google Earth images. (Stay tuned this spring for a forthcoming guest post on this work!)

Dougherty realized that many people might be interested in collaborative writing of this form, but might not know where to start. He also realized that, as helpful as some of the relevant tools are, they aren’t quite feature-complete yet. (As he put it in a meeting yesterday in New Haven, there might be some low-hanging fruit that a group of motivated people might be able to knock out–for instance, in a summer.) So, this week he launched Collaborative Writing Tools, a site that aspires to do two related things:

  1. Promote the use of CommentPress, Zotero, and Anthologize as platforms for collaborative writing, and introducing these free tools to interested newcomers, and
  2. Specifying lists of needed features for these open-source tools, and calling for participation in the ongoing development of these tools.

Now, it just so happens that these are also ProfHacker-beloved tools. CommentPress is an excellent platform for focused commenting on writing; Zotero is a superb bibliographic tool for teaching and research (getting started one and two; teaching with groups; Zotero Standalone–plus next week is practically Zotero week at ProfHacker, with 3 posts in the pipeline!). And Anthologize is a tool in active development that lets your WordPress blog become a book.

Dougherty’s site is itself an instance of CommentPress, showing off the tool’s ability to promote a focused discussion on a common goal. I’d encourage people interested in collaborative writing–especially but by no means exclusively humanities-types–to check it out, and, to the extent possible, contribute! Many hands make light the work, and all that. (And, more to the point–more voices about what needs to improve in the tools that many of use makes it more likely that those improvements will occur!)

What other open-source collaborative writing projects deserve attention? Let us know in comments!

Photo by Flickr user mandiberg / Creative Commons licensed

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