Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, March 19, 2007

Collaborative Document Writing: Online Word Processor Puts The Turbo On Comments Features - Coventi Pages

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Web applications continue to grow in number, offering easy ways to work both on and off-line with your documents and opening up more opportunities for online collaboration. A new online word processor promises to bring document editing to the next level, by adding precision commenting features that set it apart from the existing slew of collaborative writing applications out there, and the good news is that it is entirely free.

Photo credit: Didier Kobi

We have come to expect the option of being able to go online, work on a document with colleagues, and interact with one another to some greater or lesser extent. The ability to either enter into real-time chats or leave comments for your co-workers makes this process a lot easier, eliminating the need to send emails back and forth, or use an IM client alongside your document editor.

However, very often the comments that you can attach to your collaborative texts are either made within the body of the text itself, or else generalized and applied to the whole document. If you want to leave a note about a particular line of text, a poor choice of wording, or a specific inaccuracy very often you find yourself out of luck. You can:

  • make the change for yourself, which isn't always appropriate to the situation
  • add a comment in the body of the text, which crowds the document and breaks up the smooth reading process
  • leave a comment in a chat or comments dialog, but with no way of anchoring that comment to the text you're referring to

But these problems have been overcome with the launch of a new tool that lets you quickly highlight words, sentences or entire passages of text in your documents, leaving your comments in an easy to navigate sidebar.

If that doesn't sound exciting to you, it could be that you haven't had much use for collaborative writing applications in the past.

The fact is that when you are writing as a team or editing one another's work, the need to make clear and specific comments to the text becomes crucial. Obviously it is not always appropriate to head straight in and correct or comment everything you see, nor anyone is going to be happy with formatted fifty-page report all carved up with in-text comments.

By adding a simple feature that acts as a cross between Microsoft Word comments and an instant messaging application, this new online word processor allows you to collaborate with precision, whether you are working together at the same time from different locations, or asynchronously from completely different time zones.

Coventi Pages vs. the competition


Coventi Pages greatest strength is the ability to quickly highlight and annotate documents by leaving text-specific comments 'in the margins' as it were.

The Coventi team, illustrating the major differences between their product and those of their competitors, draw the analogy of scribbling in the margins of a hard copy document.

The Coventi team points out that the vast majority of online collaborative writing tools take a wiki-approach to documents - i.e. everyone is considered a co-author. When you work with a wiki-based platform like SocialText or Near-Time, the fundamental premise is that anyone with access to a document can go in and edit it - you are working within an open collaboration space. Also Google Docs & Spreadsheets works in a similar way, but allows you to invite people either as collaborators, or as viewers, who can look at documents without being able to edit them.

Coventi Pages takes a different approach, and one that is based on the principle that the vast majority of uses for a collaborative writing applications will not include open co-authoring, but rather one or two key authors supported by others that may leave comments on their documents. Examples of this scenario might include:

  • A teacher or lecturer giving feedback on their student's assignment
  • A consultant making suggestions and comments on a client's document
  • A manager highlighting required changes to a member of their team in a corporate report
  • An editor giving blow-by-blow critique and feedback to one of their writing team

These situations do not call for a co-authoring approach, or that of a locked-out viewer reading through a document with no ability to suggest changes, but rather a simple way to add comments, suggestions and feedback without changing the text itself. Coventi Pages is built around this need.

Ownership of the document remains that of the original author, but consensus-building and discussion are foregrounded, rather than bolted on as an additional feature.

As is often the case in real classrooms, newsrooms and offices, suggestions are made to the original author of the document, so that they can go away and implement the necessary changes themselves.

This is a fundamentally different approach to that of the open wiki, which can very often leave some participants reticent to introduce changes for fear of getting it wrong or treading on someone else's toes.

Key features

Coventi Pages highlights discussion above all, but this one among many useful features inside this nicely equipped online word processor.

Coventi other key features include the ability to:

  • Either start a document from scratch or import a Word document file from your desktop
  • Save your documents to Word files for off-line editing
  • Leave comments in real-time by highlighting a section of text and typing your ideas into the margin
  • Filter and organize comments to easily find your way around a document
  • Click on a comment and automatically zoom to the part of the text under discussion
  • Create multiple drafts of the same document, each with its own unique comments stream

Further to these facilities, the core feature-set you would expect from any word processor is in evidence with font selection, color and size, spell checker, cut and paste editing, insertion of images, alignment, undo and redo, and bulleted lists.


Layout is simple, with your document on the left, and sharing and commenting facilities in the sidebar to the right.

Navigation is all through simple tabs at the top of the document, where you can move between revisions and drafts, as well as being able to view the people with access to the document.

The interface in action

Coventi Pages is very easy to use and set up. Creating a document you are asked whether you want to upload a Word file, or open a blank page to begin with. From there you can get stuck in on writing or editing your document, or start inviting people to join you in your collaboration - all from the same screen.


Setting access levels

Once you have sent out email invitations to your collaborators, you can assign each person one of three levels of access to the document:

  1. Owners can invite people to the page and manage their roles. They can also create discussions on page content and revise the page in draft mode
  2. Authors can give feedback on page content and revise the page in draft mode
  3. Reviewers can give feedback on page content

This flexibility is welcome, allowing for granular levels of access not seen in competing online word processors. This is undoubtedly one of the key selling points for Coventi, along with the aforementioned precision commenting features.

Let me show you at how the commenting process works in practice:

Adding comments


Adding comments is very straightforward and basically involves highlighting a section of text. As soon as you have dragged your mouse over the text you want to comment on, and you have let go of the mouse button, you are given two options in a dialog box that opens right next to your cursor. You can:

  • Create a comment - which automatically highlights the text you have written and opens up a new dialog for you to leave your comment in, over in the sidebar. Here you have an optional subject heading, followed by ample space to leave your comment, and even the ability to spell check it before you submit
  • Suggest an edit - which opens up a slightly different dialog in the sidebar asking for your suggested edit and an optional reason for your suggestion. Again, you can spell check your note before submitting it.

Working with comments

If you opted to receive updates, you will be notified of each comment or editorial suggestion with an email. This feature can be turned on or off with a simple check-box at the bottom of the document, which is further testament to the simplicity of design featured in Coventi Pages. Throughout the process there is no need to go into endless sub-menus: everything you need is there, right in front of you from the word go.


Comments appear alongside your document in an easy to navigate sidebar. From here, you can quickly locate comments in a number of ways. It is possible to:

  • Differentiate between comments and suggestions for edits by the fact that both have their own distinctive icon that appears in the sidebar list above the comment text
  • Filter comments by individual author or all participants
  • Filter comments by whether they are closed - i.e. you have made the requested changes - or open, in which case you haven't yet acted on their advice
  • Sort comments by the latest changes or their sequence within the document

Furthermore, each paragraph that has been commented on has its own discrete bracketed footnote-like number at the end of the final sentence. Clicking on this number will automatically filter comments down to just those pertaining to the paragraph in question, helping you to narrow down what could turn out to be a long list.

And when it comes to commenting and arranging your comments, it is as simple as that.

Comparing revisions

In a similar way to wiki software and some of the better collaborative writing tools, Conventi Pages allows you to compare revisions of your document, and will highlight changes that have been made as you compare two versions.


Text that has been added between revisions of the document is highlighted in green, with text deleted displayed with a red strike-through. In this way, you can keep tabs on exactly which changes you have implemented between revisions of a document, and this can prove to be useful for those that might want to check up on whether necessary edits have been put into action.

Furthermore, revisions can be quickly scanned through at any time using a drop-down menu just above the document, once you have saved your latest revision.


System requirements and pricing

Coventi Pages is free to use.

To put Coventi pages to use you will need one of the following browsers:

Presently Coventi-generated files can currently be imported and exported only to the Micrsoft Word .doc file format, but Coventi claims to be working on other document formats as well for future implementation.


Chief among Coventi Pages strengths is the inclusion of its precision commenting feature, allowing you to highlight words, sentences and passages, and attach comments to them in an easy-to-navigate sidebar. This is a feature that sets the free Coventi Pages apart from its key competitors in the world of online collaborative writing tools.

While other tools will allow you to leave comments in the body of your text - which can clutter the document - or in a separate comments or chat dialog box, these comments are not directly connected to highlighted text. If, for example, you had a fifty-page report and wanted to leave a comment on a particular section, you'd be sorely out of luck. Anyone hoping to find the text that you had commented on would have to trawl through the whole text and find it without any support.

Coventi Pages changes all this, providing a highly welcome feature to anyone working in a collaborative writing environment, whether editing colleagues' work, leaving thoughts and comments on a client's proposal or giving feedback to a student's assignment.

This really ought to be a default feature for any online word processor, and we must credit Coventi Pages for being a true pioneer on this front. I have no doubt that this feature will be soon cloned and integrated by some of Coventi nearest competitors.

The other key difference between Coventi Pages and other collaborative writing tools is the emphasis placed on a single author's ownership of a document, with others permitted to comment on rather than being allowed to alter text.

This is a fundamentally different approach to the more popular 'wiki way' favored by other applications, in which all contributors are considered co-authors with equal rights to modify a document.

The principle here is that in many situations it is inappropriate to go in and change a colleague's document, but perfectly reasonable to leave comments as to how it might be improved. Coventi Pages emphasis on the dialog created through precision commenting reinforces this relationship.

In short, if you are looking for an easy way to leave either synchronous or asynchronous precision comments in collaborative, online documents, Coventi is well worth checking out. By thoughtfully integrating a well designed commenting feature with in-text highlighting, Coventi Pages makes the collaborative writing process a lot easier, and a lot more precise.

This makes for a refreshing alternative to the other collaborative writing web applications currently available, and by virtue of this subtle but significant difference I can see a range of possible uses for Coventi Pages not currently met elsewhere in the market.

Additional resources

If you would like to learn more about Coventi Pages and other collaborative writing tools, you might want to check out the following links:

Coventi, Inc. will cease operations on
February 1, 2008. At that time, you will no longer be able to log in
to and access your documents.

If you have important documents on Coventi, please log in before
February 1 and download them to your local computer. You can do this
easily, by navigating to your document and selecting "Download
Revision" from the "Options" menu at the top of the screen. You may
download the document to Word (.DOC), OpenDocument (.ODT), Adobe PDF,
Rich Text (.RTF) or Plain Text (.TXT). For assistance, please contact

Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and first published as: "Online Collaboration: Word Processor With Precision Commenting Features - Coventi Pages Is Here"

Readers' Comments    
2007-04-26 05:37:33


I really like it!
My only pain, that I can not import a list of e-mail adressed.
I have to give it one-by-one

2007-03-19 23:57:30


This is really cool application. I've used it a few times. It does much more than just combine IM with word - you can have multiple conversations on-going and track the conversations as you edit the document.

posted by Michael Pick on Monday, March 19 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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