Penflip, the writer-friendly GitHub

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 4.04.52 PMThe average number of authors per research papers has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. Naturally, writing papers became more collaborative, each researcher contributing to their area of expertise. But collaborating on a document is not always easy. Multiple Word documents sent back and forth by email,  text highlighted in all the colors of the rainbow to track who changed what in the text… Lucky for us researchers, over the past few years, a number of online tools have been developed to make collaborative writing a pain-free experience.

Inspired by the GitHub platform that allows programmers from around the world to collaborate on software code, Loren Burton developed Penflip. Penflip provides a web-based text editor that includes basic formatting options (bold, italic, lists, links..). You will not find advanced formatting options commonly found in other editing software such as Word or Google docs. But Penpile’s strong point lies somewhere else:  its advanced version control system.

In GitHub, large chucks of code can be extracted from a program, edited, then accepted back into the program while keeping track, line per line, of changes made. Github could in principle be used for text editing, but the whole platform has been designed for coders, with technical jargon that will scare many away. A writer-friendly version of GitHub was needed: Penflip.

Here is what the interface looks like. Pure and simple.

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After each modifications, additions are marked in green, and subtracted text is crossed out.

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Penflip offers many interesting features such as:

  • The ability to integrate mathematical formulas using MathJax.
  • Chapter management that allows to create chapters that can be easily drag & dropped to reorder.
  • Inline comments to discuss specific pieces of the text.
  • Discussion tools to share ideas and comments.

The free version of the tools is limited to public documents, meaning anyone could access your articles. A $8/month fee will give you access to private documents and premium support.

Note: another GitHub for writer is SciGit. The service is on hold for the moment, but keep an eye out for its return.