Bullet-ahead technique for shared authoring

This post is about a workflow challenge when collaboratively editing an online document, say in Google Docs, and a fix for that challenge.

To set up the problem, imagine that Bob and Carol are editing a document containing an itemized list. Carol adds a bullet item and starts typing. Meanwhile, Bob gets an idea for a second item and places his cursor on the line Carol is typing:

Bob wants to add content while Carol is typing

While Carol continues to type, Bob hits Enter to add a new bullet item, breaking the line Carol is typing:

If Bob hits Enter to add a new list item, Carol’s sentence breaks but continues

Now Carol’s line is broken and Bob is no closer to being able to start typing. Frustrating right?

If Carol notices that Bob is waiting to jump in, there’s a simple step she can take to make space: hit Enter, type an ellipsis (…), repeat a few times, and then place her cursor back where we was working, and continue on:

Carol can make space for Bob by adding a few additional list items and then returning to typing

Now, Bob (and others!) can grab a list item and start typing. I call this the “bullet ahead” move. By the way, the ellipses are not strictly required, but Carol must type at least one non-whitespace character after each list item, in order to avoid breaking the list.

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