We (a group of scientists) plan to co-author an open, online book. The idea is to collaboratively write an ebook hosted on a website, which is open for the public to read and comment. We are now looking for a web platform that has the following desired features:

  • Entirely web-based
  • Though we are all proficient in LaTeX, we would like to write in a simpler mark-up language, e.g. Markdown.
  • Very good support for typesetting and displaying mathematical equations in LaTeX format: i.e. MathJax.
  • Good support for references (e.g. refer to a certain figure, table, or section) and citations (e.g. from BibTeX).
  • Collaborative editing: like in Google Docs, preferably with a revision history feature, but not required.
  • Allow commenting on each section or each paragraph (preferred but not required).
  • Besides HTML (web), can export to PDF and ebook formats.
  • Free or open-source, installable on our own host.
  • Preferably data can be backed up on Dropbox, github, or the like.
  • Preferably can embed interactive applets (e.g. Java, Python) because we'd love to have interactive examples and exercises in the book.

We found Authorea, which has most of the features we want, except that it is not really open and we can't install the software platform on our web host. In addition, though Authorea is good for writing articles, we don't know if it is up to the task of writing an entire book.

Do you have any suggestion for a web platform that satisfies our desired features? Of course, we can always write the book offline in a traditional way, then publish it online; but we think that with current technology, there would be a much better and modern solution.


UPDATE: added a desired feature for references and citations.

  • How about using a CVS like Git or SVN along with LaTeX or Markdown? Aug 17, 2014 at 17:11
  • We'd want something more accessible, like an editor on our website that we can directly edit the text, and see the result easily. Also important is the ability to add comments to each section/paragraph by us as well as the public.
    – Truong
    Aug 18, 2014 at 8:17

3 Answers 3


BookType appears reasonably suitable, and it requires that you install it on your own host. Actual book editing can be done online or off since it sort of tricks everyone involved into a git workflow. It's open-source: github.

Short of not being able to install it on your own host, I'm not sure why Google Docs doesn't satisfy your conditions. I think it (or a similar online office suite) are the closest you're going to get to public commenting at an arbitrary level unless you roll your own CMS like drupal or MediaWiki and do a little work finagling all the other features you want into your setup.

  • 2
    Welcome to Software Recommendations Stack Exchange! This post does not contain enough information to be considered a high quality answer. Please read our discussion on what makes an answer high quality to see if you can incorporate some of these improvements into your answer - most especially going over the list of identified features the questioner requires to confirm whether or not BookType matches Aug 20, 2014 at 2:36
  • 1
    We know about Google Docs, and are using it regularly. But it does not satisfy our needs for this project. See my question for a list of desired features.
    – Truong
    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:34
  • math formulas in Google docs are cumbersome, limited and low-quality. Can't find documentation on math in Booktype but apparently they do use MathJax for high quality output. Oct 16, 2015 at 8:29

SageMathCloud was fully open-sourced in 2014 but hosting your own won't be easy — existing documentation is tons of work for running a cluster on Google Compute Engine.

  • Entirely web-based.
  • Offer shell access (in browser and probably ssh too) for advanced needs — install software, run custom builds etc (each project gets an isolated linux user).
  • Collaborative editing of LaTeX as well as Markdown with MathJax rendering - both with preview pane.
    • Collaborative editing of Sage and IPython notebooks! Writing a whole book inside a notebook is not yet a mainstream workflow but people have definitely done it. It lets you mix Latex, markdown, HTML and code examples.
  • References: no special support in the editor/preview I think. LaTeX/Bibtex obviously works. Shell access lets you use any tools e.g. Pandoc to build output.
  • History support and builtin full-project backups. Not sure about external backups.

Applets: I suppose you'll want to write markdown with fragments of HTML. The markdown preview code probably sanitizes "dangerous" HTML but it shouldn't be hard to disable that in the source.

PDF/ebook: LaTeX editor obviously lets you download PDF, otherwise don't rememeber if it has anything builtin. I believe that for a serious book project you'll want a custom build script anyway. If your HTML has interactive visualizations, how will you want to translate them to PDF/ebook?

There is IIRC no builtin commenting. There is chat but it's not tied to a specific file and I don't think the discussions are saved. For author-to-author commenting I'd write them as part of the document (todonotes latex package or some textual convention in markdown).

But if you're looking for commenting by the public, opening an account and navigating the huge system is too much of a hassle. You'll want a commenting intreface built in to the public HTML you produce.

  • Are you familiar with the Stacks Project? It's a huge collaborative math book with public commenting and permanent references system (so citing a theorem written 5 years ago still works). Even if you won't use any of their tools, I recommend you *talk to them** about their experience of running a commentable science book.

I saw there is also ShareLatex which has the features:

  • Entirely web-based
  • Latex based (no markdown for the moment aas)
  • Collaborative editing with a revision history feature.
  • Free or open-source, installable on our own host.
  • Dropbox support

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