Etherpad is/was a nice little online tool that allowed writers to collaborate in real time. Thus made it very good for groups of people working remotely to brainstorm ideas or collaborate on creating a document. It also made it a popular app in schools where small groups could work together on a writing task and the teacher could correct, cajole and support on the spot. Everybody's edits showed up as a different colour and it was extremely easy to use with very few barriers to entry. Unfortunately, as with so many of these online tools, there wasn't really a sustainable business model to keep it going and the whole gameplan was to sell to someone with deep pockets. That someone came alang this week in the shape of Google who not only bought the product, but the whole development team too. Some would say that Etherpad was a simpler and better rival to Google Wave and they were just using their overmighty position to buy up a small but innovative rival. The more charitable might suggest that Google recognised talent and a great idea when they saw it and rewarded the creators accordingly. All well and good, but what happened next caused a minor web furore. They announced the demise of Etherpad. The word spread around Twitter like wildfire, and the number of negative comments on the announcement increased rapidly. Nobody held out much hope as the designers were doing what they always set out to do, and make a decent return on their investment. Everybody was pleasantly surprised when a new announcement was made releasing the code for Etherpad as an open source offering. It's now down to the education community to take the code on and launch a new "Etherpad" on a server somewhere and make it even better.
Obviously there is general satisfaction that a popular web tool has appeared to have been saved (as long as someone has the time/effort/technical know-how), however, it does expose the greater question, namely, how can we rely open content created in the Cloud when it is at the whim of the owners as to what happens to the platform that it was created in? 2 weeks ago I carefully planned my lesson for Ofsted using Quikmaps, a really simple Google Maps mashup that allows very easy doodling on top of a Google map. All was well until 30 minutes before the lesson when Quikmaps disappeared. Luckily for me I could do a quick rehash and work with Umapper instead (which I would have used anyway, but for a problem with saving the maps - you need to create individual user logins, something that you don't need to do with Quikmaps) and it all turned out fine. It turns out that Quikmaps hadn't disappeared for good, they'd simply scheduled site maintenance for when nobody would be using their application - Thanksgiving!
These 2 cautionary tales reinforce the need to plan for every eventuality when committing data and mission critical applications to the Cloud. How secure is your data? Can you export it? What happens when the web application front end goes down?
It seems that the Etherpad furore has resulted in a satisfying conclusion for all parties, but it's worth considering if you rely upon a particular web application (and it's free), how confident can you be in the long term future of that app?