Despite the many tools already available for collaborative word processing, most people would still rather e-mail different versions of a document to each other. TextFlow, a new Web-based word processor from Swedish company Nordic River, hopes to change that by making collaboration easier and letting users benefit from its features even if their collaborators use other word-processing software.
TextFlow is just the latest Web-based word processor to arrive on the scene in recent years. Others contenders include Writely (later Google Docs), Adobe’s Buzzword, and the Zoho suite from AdventNet. But Tomer Shalit, CEO of Nordic River, hopes that TextFlow’s powerful approach to online collaboration will set it apart.
The most obvious selling point of TextFlow is the way that it merges multiple versions of the same document into a single version with suggested changes arranged side by side. Users can merge documents edited using TextFlow itself with ones written using Microsoft Word. When multiple versions of the same document are imported, TextFlow uses algorithms originally developed to compare DNA to identify the differences between each version of the text. The software classifies changes made to sentences and those made to entire paragraphs or sections of a document, and it can also track when a paragraph has been moved to a different section. TextFlow assigns a different color to text from each version of the document and organizes the changes on a single page. A user can select which version to keep by moving her mouse over a suggested change and clicking to accept or reject it.
“Having one integrated view is certainly an advance,” says Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner Research, who follows Web applications. By addressing the confusion that can occur when multiple users edit a single document, he says, TextFlow has hit upon “a definite small problem.” However, he notes that the advantage may be short lived, as competitors could add similar functionality.
Another subtle but important advantage to TextFlow is that it’s built to play nicely with users who haven’t already signed up to employ the service. A user can export a document from TextFlow to another format, or send a link to the TextFlow version to a collaborator, who does not need to sign up for an account in order to view and edit it.