Yesterday on This Week in Google while I was complaining that Google’s acquisition of EtherPad should have been handled much more gracefully–by, you know, notifying EtherPad users before they shut down the service–EtherPad was doing an about-face. The collaborative text editor service will now stay online and open for new pads “at least” until the creators open-source the code, to ensure “no or minimal service disruption in the future.” This is exactly what they should have done in the first place.
EtherPad is a web-based collaborative text editor with a whole lot of ardent (geeky) fans, including John Resig of jQuery, who used it for project planning, and Jeff of the Wolfire Games blog, who used EtherPad in his blogging software to write posts. When EtherPad announced the Google acquisition on Friday, they said they were joining the Google Wave team and that no new pads could be created at EtherPad, effective immediately. The sudden service shutdown caused an uproar from existing customers and set a terrible precedent for web-based services. One of the biggest fears around moving data into web applications is that someday the service will shut down after you’ve become dependent on it. If Google wants users to get comfortable using web services–and obviously they do–it’s up to them to ensure transitions like this are smooth for users. I’m happy to see that EtherPad and the Google Wave team responded so quickly to the user outcry and left the service online for current EtherPad users to prepare for the change. They could’ve avoided betraying their users’ trust by handling it better to begin with; hopefully this experience will inform future acquisition transitions.
(In the meantime, I look forward to seeing how the Google Wave team incorporates some of EtherPad’s superior text editor features into Wave.)