EtherPad is a real-time, collaborative document editor. Sure, there are similar products on the market, but unlike, say, Google Docs or the eagerly anticipated Google Wave, EtherPad is the only “real time” editor available now. Changes are instantly reflected on every participant’s screen (Google Docs has a pesky 5-15 second delay) and thanks to color-coded text, you can actually see who is making what changes.
EtherPad is a completely autonomous word processing platform, which means no sign-ups, no accounts, no permissions. You can invite anyone to participate by sending them the URL. It’s worth noting that there is an email invite feature, but it’s not required. As users populate the “pad”, they see a common editing screen, where they can type directly or import a document, as well as a list of current editors and a group chat window. EtherPad offers an infinite undo history and easy access to document revisions. The editing functions are pretty limited (bold, italics), but you can export the final product in plain text, HTML, MS Word, or PDF, and style it further. Your document and its multiple revisions will remain on your pad forever, however, since there are no accounts, the only way to access your work is through your EtherPad URL – lose that, and you could be in trouble.
The idea here, plain and simple, is collaboration on demand. You can connect team members, clients, or any other outside party as they work on a creative concept; augment a team meeting or teleconference with shared notes that participants can take with them; hold a large brainstorming session; or just edit documents simultaneously. The list goes on and on.