In my Observer column last Sunday I likened the process of writing using a word-processor to that of sculpting. The description was based mainly on my own reflections of how I work — plus fleeting glimpses of other writers caught in the act of composition. But then I came on Etherpad — a web-based tool for real-time collaborative writing. This has the added feature of being able to play back the process of composition. I hadn’t seen this in action until I turned to Paul Graham, one of my favourite online essayists. His most recent one is about a clever policy idea he’s been advocating — that the US should grant a special kind of Visa — called a Founder Visa — to immigrants who want to come to the US to start companies. There’s a link in the piece to an Etherpad playback of how the essay was composed. It’s fascinating to watch. And it is indeed like sculpting.
LATER: One of the questions every web company should ask itself periodically is: “what’s our plan if Google enters our market?” Bang on schedule for Etherpad comes Google Wave which claims to provide real-time collaboration — and not just with text but with what the company calls “rich media”.