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Collaborative working on texts


To develop specifications for suitable tools and ways of working to allow wide-scale participation in the collaborative elaboration of texts via the Web.


Much collaborative working takes place on the basis of texts. If we want to favour widespread collaboration and innovation, we need simple, easy-to-use tools for working together on texts that are preferably open source and thus don’t tie us to proprietary solutions.

The parallel with open source development

What if we draw a parallel between developing texts collaboratively and the development of open source software? In the open source process, any number of people can contribute to developing software by suggesting changes and improvements. These suggestions are incorporated (or not) by the person responsible for the project and made available as a new version of the software. In an iterative process, successive versions of the software lead to ongoing improvement.


In working on texts, we suggest that, rather than making changes directly in the text, contributors are able to make comments and propose changes on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. The work is organised around a project with a project leader who is responsible for periodically integrating suggestions into the base text and publishing a new version.

A core group

To organise work on a project, it is suggested that a small core group of people be formed that undertake to work actively on the project. These people are invited to participate on the basis of their competence in the fields dealt with. On the basis of their contributions to the process, others may be invited to join this core group. At the same time, all interested parties can contribute comments and suggestions via a Web interface.

A common space

The common space is the stepping off point for all projects using this technology in a given context (for example, for a particular institution). In the common space, you will find a description of each project as well as details of the person responsible for the project and a list of the group working on it. It is from here that interested parties can access a given project and contribute comments should they wish.

A project

A project involves working on one or several related texts with a shared goal and predetermined timeline. For example, the ideas expressed here are being developed within the framework of a project run by the Swiss National Agency for technologies in Education (CTIE) to draw up an action plan for piloting innovation in the education systems in Switzerland.

A text

In the context of a project, a text involves ideas, propositions, timetables, budgets, … related to all or part of the realisation of the project. Each text has a title and is associated with a brief outline of what the aim of the text is. Comments or suggestions can be attached to the text as a whole.

A paragraph

A paragraph is subunit of a text containing one or several ideas and possible developments on those ideas. Each paragraph has its own title. Comments can be attached to a paragraph. The paragraph is the smallest unit to which comments can be attached.


Comments are “paragraphs” that contain a remark or a suggestion about a given paragraph or text. Comments are provided by members of the core group or the general public. Comments are signed and dated automatically and are attached to the paragraph or text.

Comment mode

When using the “comment-mode”, comments appear after the related paragraph with the title of the comment as well as the name of its author and the date and time it was made. In the comment-mode, the reader can mark comments as read or flag them for future work. The reader should also be able to search within comments. The comment mode can be set to display only those comments not yet read. This personalised display in no way affects that of others.


To access the comment-mode, users have to create an account, providing their name and e-mail address. They are provided with a user name and password which they can use in the future to log-in and make further comments.

Intermediary versions

The project writer (or person responsible for a given text) up-dates the current version of the text on the basis of suggestions received both from the core group and the public and makes it available to the core group as an intermediary version.

Public releases

When a significant number of changes have been made, the project writer makes public the new version (numbered appropriately to indicate the current version). From that moment onwards, it is on this version that any subsequent public comments are made. However, earlier public versions and notes are archived and remain available.

Author: Alan McCluskey
Version: 1.0
Date and time: 11/03/02 15:46

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Created: March 11th, 2002 - Last up-dated: March 11th, 2002