Document Collaboration in Real-Time with SubEthaEdit

Creating and editing documents has, understandably, been a fairly lonely task for bloggers. Fortunately, SubEthaEdit by The Coding Monkeys changes all that by giving users the power to collaborate instantaneously. Multiple people can create and edit content in real-time, and beyond being fun, it is extremely useful as well.

Recently, Macworld posted a video explaining the tools they use in their workflow, and the first tool they mentioned was SubEthaEdit. It came to my suprise to learn what was possible with SubEthaEdit—I already had the application installed, but I was unaware of the potential until after watching the video.

Only one thought came to mind—that’s freaking awesome!

The application has certainly been put to the test:

SubEthaEdit has been used to take notes together at conferences like O’Reilly’s OS X Conference, Open Source Convention, Emerging Technology Conference, PyCon, NECC, WWDC and Siggraph. With its new web page export feature you can store these notes with all collaborative metadata intact.

Still, we all must realize that doing anything over the internet in real-time is quite an achievement, but text editing has not received quite the attention it deserves. The question of whether or not there is a market for this right now is valid, and there are several technical challenges with real-time collaboration.

Regardless of the technical problems and awesomeness of it all, it doesn’t mean anything until you actually dig in and play. That is why I am here.



SubEthaEdit Interface

First impressions of SubEthaEdit based on the interface were not promising. This was so true that I actually have had the application installed for two weeks. I only used it yesterday after learning about some of its more interesting functionality.

Essentially, SubEthaEdit is a barebones text editing client with the ability to select several types of formats for editing text. C++, AppleScript, HTML, Python, Javascript, and many other programming languages are available. So, if you are also a programmer, you might appreciate the interface more than I would. All of that aside, it is still perfectly fine for writers.

The interesting part of the entire interface is the document access area (also called the participants tab. Within this area, you will be notified of people that can connect to your document to modify it in real-time, but you will read more on that later.

There is not much in the way of text formatting. However, you can modify the text editing environment to take on different color schemes and text fonts, but beyond that, there is not much to the editing experience. It gets the job done, but there are better and more visually appealing editors available like TextWrangler.


You don’t install SubEthaEdit purely for its text editing capabilities—you install SubEthaEdit for the real-time collaboration, and that is exactly what I am going to focus on here.

Let me answer the most obvious question first: how can more than one person possibly create/edit a document at the same time? Well, it isn’t as confusing as you would imagine. Editing can be done instantly, but you can lock out certain people from making changes to keep things simple. However, it never felt overwhelming, but I only had one other person to test it with.

SubEthaEdit always lets you know where your friend’s text caret is located at so the participants can avoid writing in the same area (unless you want to, which can be just as fun). It is quite fascinating to see where your co-editors will intend on writing, and you can also see when they highlight text.

When collaborating, all text is highlighted by default with a specified color which represents each person’s input within the document currently being edited. This is very nice for being able to tell which text has been modified by who. It also allows for corrections to stand out. Most of these features are customizable though, so if you prefer having only the text, it is only a few clicks away.

Regardless, it all comes down to the collaboration ability with SubEthaEdit, and this is the application to do that. It does it very well. Just make sure to save on occasion. I had an incident where I was writing a portion of this article and my girlfriend accidentally deleted the entire article. Thankfully, after restarting the document, I was able to restore the file I had saved earlier on. Other than that, everything was great.


SubEthaEdit will probably never have the lights shined upon it like Microsoft Word does, but this little application offers functionality that can’t be ignored or performed by competition. If you are working with a group of people and taking the work seriously, SubEthaEdit is an obvious investment.

In any other case, it is a fun application to try out with a few friends at least once. But $43.50 (considering exchange rates) is not worth it unless you are using it on a daily basis. There is a 30 day trial period.

Final Thoughts

I spent a few hours with my girlfriend playing with SubEthaEdit, and we had plenty of fun writing together in real-time. We used it more like a chat conversation than anything else, but I could definitely see the potential.

There are a few other projects that are attempting to do what SubEthaEdit has done. Gobby is the best competition available right now, but I have not tried it.

SubEthaEdit comes with a 30 day trial, and it can be downloaded here.

If you have any thoughts on live collaboration, please let them be known in the comments section. It is an exciting technology, but it still needs to be adopted by many users before developers will invest so much time trying to create this technology. Do you think you would use something like this in the future? Let everyone know!

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8 thoughts on “Document Collaboration in Real-Time with SubEthaEdit

  1. Thanks for mentioning that. I have heard of it, but never checked it out. I will do so when I get the chance.

  2. Coda uses SubEthaEdit as its text-editing engine, but in addition to that, you also get the ability to connect to a web server, a CSS editor (it’s not as good as CSSEdit, but it is nice), direct access to the terminal, real-time previews, etc.

    It’s $79, but far and away the best all-in-one development tool I’ve ever used.

  3. Don’t forget capitalization. 😀

    You do a lot better that Chris Garrett’s DSLRBlog.

  4. Yeah, your writing is pretty horrible. 😀

    @Everyone Else

    If you suck at writing and have to hit the delete key plenty of times, this might not be the application for you 😉

  5. lol…I didn’t mean to erase all of it!! :p anyways…..I thought it was fun, but kinda weirded me out that you could read as I typed it, okay really freaked me out actually :p I still think the interface is….well unattractive. In all though it is pretty cool

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