Coauthor collaboration/discussion forum
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Coauthor is a tool for group collaboration, discussion, keeping track of notes/results of meetings, etc. Its primary goal is to ease multiauthor collaboration on unsolved problems in theoretical computer science, so e.g. you'll find LaTeX math support; hopefully it will have applications in other fields too.

Coauthor screenshot

Features So Far

  • Live updates/redraw of everything, thanks to Meteor. If you're looking at a problem and someone posts/edits something, you see it as quickly as they see their preview (roughly 1-second delay). You should never have to hit "reload" (except in case of a bug).

  • Real-time editing of messages in the style of Google Docs/EtherPad (Operational Transforms), if people feel like editing together (useful if e.g. working on a proof together). When editing, you see near-instant updates from the other side(s). Keep track of authorship by who is in edit mode at the time. Also you get live previews with ~1-second delay, after the data has round-tripped with the server. (1 second delay is to reduce the crazy number of "old versions" that will get saved -- server only pushes after document has not changed for 1 second.)

  • Three formats for writing messages (and easy to add additional formats). All formats support LaTeX math (via $...$, $$...$$, \(...\), \[...\], or \begin{align/equation/eqnarray}...\end{align/equation/eqnarray}) via KaTeX, so math mode supports this list of supported functions. Macros defined with \gdef can be used throughout one message.

    • Github-style Markdown (default), e.g., *italic*, **bold**, ~~strikethrough~~, # Heading, ## Subheading, `code`, > Block quote, ```multiple lines of code```, links via [text](url), images via ![caption](url), lists via * or 1., tables, etc. Also supports all LaTeX commands listed below that start with a letter (notably, not accents) and math mode.
    • LaTeX, limited. Beyond extensive math mode support (see below), the following features are supported in text mode; feel free to ask for more. %..., \def\macro{...}, \let\macro=\mac, \protect, \emph, \textit, \textup, \textnormal, \textrm, \textlf, \textmd, \textbf, \textsf, \texttt, \textsc, \textsl, \em, \itshape, \upshape, \rmfamily, \lfseries, \mdseries, \bfseries, \rmfamily, \sffamily, \ttfamily, \scshape, \slshape, \rm, \normalfont, \md, \bf, \it, \sl, \sf, \tt, \sc, \bfseries, \itseries, \mdseries, \sffamily, \slshape, \scshape, \ttfamily, \uppercase, \MakeTextUppercase, \lowercase, \MakeTextLowercase, \underline, \textcolor{color}{text}, \colorbox{backcolor}{text}, \url, \href{url}{text}, \pdftooltip{hovertext}{text}, \raisebox{amount}{text}, \par, \BY{...}, \YEAR{...}, \chapter, \section, \subsection, \subsubsection, \footnote, \includegraphics[width/height/scale]{url}, \smallskip, \medskip, \bigskip, \noindent, \", \', \`, \^, \~, \=, \c, \v, \u, \H, \textasciitilde, \textasciicircum, \textbackslash, \textellipsis, \dots, \ldots, \&, \$, \{, \}, \%, \#, ``, '', ~, --, ---, {, }, \\, \item; \begin/\end for environments verbatim, enumerate, itemize,    quote, tabular (basic),    equation, eqnarray, align, problem, question, idea, theorem, conjecture, lemma, corollary, fact, observation, proposition, claim, proof.
    • HTML, sanitized. The following tags are allowed; feel free to ask for more. <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, <h4>, <h5>, <h6>, <blockquote>, <p>, <div>, <span>, <a href/name/target>, <ul>, <ol start>, <nl>, <li>, <b>, <strong>, <i>, <em>, <u>, <s>, <strike>, <del>, <code>, <hr>, <br>, <table>, <thead>, <caption>, <tbody>, <tr>, <th>, <td>, <pre>, <img src/alt/width/height>, <video controls>, <source src>; attributes title, style, class, aria-*. Also supports LaTeX math mode.
  • CodeMirror editor supports syntax highlighting, block folding, bracket matching, line numbering, light and dark themes, spell checking, "regular" keybindings as well as Vim and Emacs keybindings (if you've ever needed rectangular selection for e.g. ASCII art).

  • Messages are organized by groups (intended to correspond to groups of people who meet), so it's easy to share material with everyone in the group. But it's also possible to share part of a group (only certain threads) with specific users, for visitors or paper merges etc.

  • Sorting of threads within a group by title, creator, creation date, last update, number of posts, number of positive emoji responses, or whether subscribed (by clicking on the corresponding column, once for default sort order and again for opposite sort order). Intelligent handling of numbers while sorting, e.g. "9." comes before "10.". Deleted messages always sort to the very bottom; minimized messages always sort near the bottom; and unpublished messages always sort near the top.

  • "Live Feed" to watch messages as they get changed/posted. Useful for projecting the latest activity onto a big screen while a group is gathered and some are maybe editing.

  • "Catchup on Recent Posts" to see all messages since a particular date/time (including relative specifications like "1 week" or "12 hours"). Useful for progress reports since the last meeting.

  • Threaded message organization, with arbitrary tree structure (root messages, replies with arbitrary depth). You can focus on the subthread rooted at any message (click on the arrow), or fold away the contents of a subthread to focus on the rest (click on the minus sign). Folding with the minus/plus sign is a local and temporary change (resets when reloading the page), while minimizing the message makes it start out folded for all users (e.g., when a discussion/question resolves and is no longer important, but you want to preserve it for future reference).

  • Dragging messages to change the parentage/hierarchy, or move their position within their parent. You must drag onto the table of contents on the right; you can drag from the table of contents, or from the right-arrow of a message in the main view. Dragging directly onto a message makes the dragged message the last child, while dragging onto the slot before a message makes the dragged message the immediately preceding sibling. Dialog confirms move.

  • Tags: attach an arbitrary set of strings to a message. Find other messages with the same tag by clicking on a tag.

  • Emoji for super-short responses that show appreciation but don't cause email notifications or take up much space. (Like Github and Slack.) Hover over an emoji to see a list of people who added the emoji; click to toggle your own status. Emoji are positive (purple) or negative (red). Positive emoji on root messages are counted on the group page, enabling a simple voting system for e.g. which problems to work on.

  • Search across an entire group, or across all groups, for posts by keywords using the search bar at the top. Search for a word as a (whole) word, prefix*, *suffix, *substring*, or prefix*suffix. Lower-case letters are case insensitive, while upper-case letters are case sensitive. Restrict search to title or body via title:... or body:... (default is to search both). Negative match with minus sign (e.g., -word excludes documents with whole word). Search for a regular expression via regex:.... Use quotes ('...' or "...") to search for phrases or regex:"..." to search for regular expressions with spaces in them; normally, spaces act as an AND query. Connect words/phrases with | to get an OR query instead. tag:... does an exact match for a specified tag; it can be negated. is:root matches root messages (tops of threads). is:file matches file messages (made via Attach). is:deleted, is:published, is:private, is:minimized match various states of messages.

  • User search: find posts by a particular user by clicking on their username. Search for your own posts in a group by clicking the "My Posts" button.

  • Statistics about user's and all posts within a group, by day, week (with configurable week start), month, year, or hour within a day. Your own statistics are available via the Statistics button on the group page, while other users' stats are available from their user page.

  • Permanent URLs for all messages, groups, etc., for easy emailing etc. (but other than group name, not revealing, so only those with permission can open). Links to other messages via specical coauthor:xxx syntax. Drag messages (via their arrow icon) into other messages to make such links.

  • Files (another type of message) can be attached to other messages, as another type of reply. You can click on the Attach button to select a file to attach, or drag the file from the operating system onto the Attach button. Similarly, files can be modified by clicking the Replace File button or dragging a file onto that button. File messages can have title and body too; title defaults to the filename. Image/video files (including PNG, JPEG, SVG, MP4) are displayed inline. Images automatically detect EXIF orientation, and can be further rotated by multiples of 90 degrees in edit mode. PDF files are rendered using pdf.js, only when visible on screen, and displayed inline with page-turning buttons.

  • Messages can start/be marked Unpublished (not yet finished) or Deleted (mistake / no longer useful). In either state, the message is hidden from people who are not authors (an author is someone who has edited the message), @-mentioned (via @username), or superusers. The default published state is initially true (so everyone sees the new message and live updates immediately), but can vary by user (e.g., if they are "shy" and only want to post finished thoughts).

  • Threads can be marked as allowing public replies only (the default, for maximum collaboration), private replies only (useful for solved problems/puzzles, to prevent accidentally spoiling the fun), or public and private replies (useful for feedback on lectures, for example, which can have varying relevance to the entire group). Replies to replies inherit the public/private state of their parent. Superusers can see all the messages and change them between public and private. Private messages can @-mention another user (via @username in the body) to allow them to see and jointly edit the message.

  • Email notifications for subscribed threads, clustering together all updates since the last email, with a maximum lag a specified number of hours or minutes (default 1 hour). Each user can specify in Settings whether they are, by default, subscribed to all threads or none, both globally and local to each group. Either way, the default can be overridden in the group view using the checkbox on the right (checked means "subscribed"). Users can choose in Settings whether to receive notifications about their own edits.

  • Time travel: You can drag through history and see past versions. In general, there should be good, automatic history tracking of everything.

  • Permissions can be specified for each user at the group level (typical case --- user can access the entire group of messages), at the thread level (user can access only certain threads within group), or at the global level: just click "Users" in the appropriate view. Levels of access:

    • read: see the group and read the messages (otherwise invisible)
    • post: create new messages, replies, etc. in the group
    • edit: modify other people's messages
    • super: somewhat dangerous "super" operations like history-destroying superdelete, history-creating import, and the ability to see other users' deleted messages
    • admin: administer over other users, in particular setting permissions
  • Superuser operations (only for superusers):

    • Import from LaTeX document with figures attached as a ZIP file
    • Import from osqa's XML dump, including old edit history
    • Superdelete (permanently destroying a message including its history)
    • Setting the default sort for a group

User Tips

  • On Android, the Chrome browser with SwiftKey keyboard seems to work best for editing messages in Coauthor. (Firefox and Gboard have cursor positioning issues.)
  • LaTeX mode supports LaTeX accents (like \'e), but other modes do not. To easily type accented characters (e.g., on Windows where this is not easy), try this Chrome extension or this Firefox extension.
  • Conversely, if you're on modern MacOS, holding down letter keys will bring up an accent tool instead of repeating the key. If you'd rather repeat the key (e.g. for Vim mode), follow these instructions: defaults write NSGlobalDomain ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false then restart your web browser.


See detailed installation instructions.