Fidus Writer is an online collaborative editor especially made for academics who need to use citations and/or formulas. The editor focuses on the content rather than the layout, so that with the same text, you can later on publish it in multiple ways: On a website, as a printed book, or as an ebook. In each case, you can choose from a number of layouts that are adequate for the medium of choice.
Academics need to cite other academics. The rules for how this is done correctly are quite complex. The 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago, 2003) fills 956 pages, and describes just one of several of the more commonly used ways of styling in text citations and bibliographies containing books, web pages, conference abstracts, etc. correctly. In recent years, several bibliography managers have appeared for programs such as MsWord to handle the details of citing correctly. Problems arise when one shares a document that includes a bibliography created with one such product with a collaborator who doesn’t own this program. Of the online editing solutions, none so far have managed to create a bibliography solution of the kind that academics need.
Academics need to collaborate when writing texts and books. Collaboration features are needed for formal peer-review processes as well as informally, for example, when texts are written by more than one person. Sending documents back and forth between people who have different versions of their editing software installed creates a mess, as formatting rules have changed between major iterations of most of such software. It therefore depends highly on everybody using the exact same version of the exact same software. And only one person at any one time can edit the document, before sending it to their colleague.
Collaborating on a text via a web interface is a much smoother affair. Everyone will automatically see the document in the same way and everyone will have the most current version in front of them. Collaborators can even write in the same document simultaneously!
Semantic editing and publishing in multiple locations
Editors traditionally let you change the font size and type for each letter, word or paragraph of the text. The result is a document that looks the way you intended to in one output format (for example print) but there is no good way of converting it to other formats (such as a website, an ebook, etc.) automatically. In a semantic editor, instead of changing the formatting of individual parts of the text directly, you tell the computer what that part of the text is. For example, you may specify that a certain line of text is a subheading. The computer then applies the appropriate styling to that line, and retains the information of what that line of text was. When you later ask the program for an ebook or website version of the document, it will use a different, more appropriate, style for all the subheadings in the text. also, say you change your mind about what font you want to use for subheadings — this can be done through one central setting for the entire document! More recent versions of word processors have started implementing some parts of semantic editing, but the support is rudimentary and the combination with the editor features to allow direct style changes that everyone is used to means that documents are generally a mess, using both types of styling and consequently conversion to other formats cannot be done easily.