New Online Authoring Tools for Collaborative Manuscripts

Crossposted from the Scimatic blog.

Our friend Kaitlin Thaney (@kaythaney) pointed out a newly funded collaborative editor company Authorea (@authorea) . Authorea would seem to be in competition with writeLaTeX (@writelatex) to corner the market on browser-based collaborative editors.

These types of programs solve a number of major pain-points:

  • The utter hell that is MS Word with change-tracking enabled. Both products update the manuscript in real time. Authorea offers git based revision control.
  • Precision formatting. WriteLaTeX uses LaTeX markup to create the document, be that a CV or research paper, and it comes pre-loaded with a number of templates for specific journals. Authorea seems more focused academic journals and will export a LaTeX file, compiled PDF or Word doc based on a selected style. I’m sure both companies are adding more styles for more journals.

WriteLaTeX supports, obviously, LaTeX. Authorea supports Markdown, HTML, LaTeX and a number of other formats, within the same document (although each block can be only in one format).

The look of the manuscripts in both editors is great. Authorea shows an example from CERN (featuring my old friend Theo Alexopoulos) where the plots are crisp and the math equations look great. Authorea’s live editor allows you to lock and then edit a block of text (typically a paragraph), and it is the live updated in the web view after the edit is complete. It appears Authorea uses the fantastic MathJax package to show equations derived from LaTeX. WriteLaTeX shows an editor side-by-side with a preview window in the browser for live updates.

There are a number of other nice features, such as GitHub integrations, but the main issue will be if it’s worthwhile to subscribe to a $5-$25 per month SaaS plan to write an article, as compared to a Google Doc, or a plain LaTeX file in a git repository.

An interesting issue will arise if GitHub itself decides replicate some of these features. They already have fantastic Markdown support, do awesome revision control, and support prose comparisons. GitHub also has made a commitment to science and scientists, so if there were to add LaTeX for math editing, they could get into the manuscript game as well.

New Online Authoring Tools for Collaborative Manuscripts