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Etherpad is a real time collaborative editor. Etherpad can and has been used for the following: 

  • Taking minutes for online or offline meetings, workshops or any event that you want to make note of
  • Real time or asynchronous, text-based planning of projects
  • A tool for education and reflection
  • Collating resources, research and other forms of data 

If you want to test out Etherpad there are may installations that are open to all. These include: 

    Etherpad Lite or Etherpad?

    Etherpad Lite is an almost complete rewrite of a different but similar EtherPad software called EtherPad. They are based on different technical foundations and written by different authors. While the original EtherPad had quite big system requirements, Etherpad Lite is written in a way that makes it much easier to set up and maintain (server side javascript). 

    The original EtherPad software is no longer promoted or updated. As such, many people use the Etherpad to refer to Etherpad Lite. Given that the home page for Etherpad Lite is Etherpad.org we will do the same in this guide.

    Common Features

    Because Etherpad is software that can be installed on many different servers in many different places, there are different features that may be enabled. Here are some of the most common features.

    Creating Pads: Normally, it is possible for anyone create a new collaborative document, known as a "pad". Each pad has its own web address (URL) , if you are sent this URL then you will be able to edit the pad.

    Clear Collaboration: It is possible to see changes being made by other people in real time. Each participant is identified by a color and a name.

    Chat: By default there is the ability to 'chat' with other people who are using the pad.

    Recording Revisions: The pad is saved at and participants can permanently save specific versions checkpoints at any time. A time slider allows anyone to explore the history of the pad in a very user-friendly way. 

    Exporting work: The text contained in the pad document can be downloaded in plain text, HTML, Open Document, Microsoft Word, or PDF format.

    Technical Overview

    Etherpad is a real time collaborative editor. Etherpad is written in a way that makes it easy for developers to maintain and add new features. It does this via a full-featured plugin framework, because of this Etherpad has many available plug ins. Once you have Etherpad installed it is possible to for the administrators to visit the plugin page and take control.


    Etherpad is designed to be easily embeddable and provides a different ways to allow web applications like WordPress to manage pads, users and groups. Etherpad comes with translations into most languages. Users are automatically delivered the correct language for their local settings or change changes settings manually.

    Case Study: P2PU.org Community calls

    Etherpad is used as a tool for the Peer to Peer University community for their "community calls" and on going planning. Invites with a link to the pad are circulated. While other tools are used the pad is the key tool. A link to a Google HangOut (an online chat tool), links to additional pads detailing past meetings and projects.

    Using Etherpad helps to removes the barriers to entry. anyone can click on the link and start editing. For this community there are conventions to the use of the pad. One of those conventions is to make it clear to see who is editing what part of the pad, new users sign in as attendees to  link their names to what is written.


    The pas is used in combination with voice and text chat. Sometimes the talk will go quiet and people will concentrate on adding information to the Etherpad adding it form memory, cutting and pasting text from from different sources or linking out to more in depth information. The weekly meeting process encourages the disparate team to pool information to have it visible in one space. The real time element focuses attention on the task and ensures that there isn't a project drift in terms of not finishing the work in time.

    Case Study: Pirate Pad and pad.riseup.net

    Etherpads have been used by many activist communities. Often these pads are not secure in the sense that they are password proteced but they do offer the possibility of anonymouse collaboration. Two commonly used pads are pad.riseup.net and piratepad.net. Pads have been used for a wide variety of causes from Anonymous to co-ordinate hacktivism 1  to groups in Spain for civic action. 2  

    Unlike a tool like Google Docs where users need to log in to collaborate, this is not needed for Etherpads. While most large scale services log information like the IP address (identifying addresses) of connecting users, it is possible to configure an Etherpad server to keep not record of the users who connect to it.  But this removal of logs and the lack of user log ins make these pads practically anonymous.


    There is more written on the security elements of Etherpads later in this guide.   

    Case Study: Primary Pad

    Primary Pad is an installation of Etherpad set up by a teacher who saw the value of pads for school-based educators. The list of potential uses listed on the Primary pad include: 

    • Generating ideas and lists
    • Collaborating with others on one document in real time
    • Sharing pieces of information when working in a group or collaborative environment
    • Improving important typing and written skills as well as critical thinking
    • Task management
    • Story writing

    The site contains links to other resources which outlines ideas 3   for how Etherpad can be used in the class room. 4  

    1. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/what-its-like-to-participate-in-anonymous-actions/67860/^
    2. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/05/german-police-seize-pirate-party-servers-looking-at-anons-toolkit/^
    3. http://digitalclass.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/two-uses-of-etherpad-in-the-classroom-to-promote-higher-order-thinking-skills/ ^
    4. http://ideastoinspire.co.uk/presentations/primarypad.htm?iframe=true&width=720&height=579^

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