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Automerge: A New Foundation for Collaboration Software

A talk at Computer Laboratory Systems Research Group Seminars, Cambridge, UK, 25 Nov 2021


Software for real-time collaboration, such as Google Docs, Overleaf, Figma, or Trello, has enabled many people around the world to continue working remotely during the pandemic. While this software is very valuable, it is also fragile because it relies on centralised, trusted cloud services. If the company providing the cloud software goes out of business, or decides to suspend your account, the software stops working, and you are locked out of all of the documents and data you ever created with that software.

Local-first software is an effort to make collaboration software less dependent on cloud services, and Automerge is an open-source library for realising local-first software. Automerge provides a shared JSON-like data structure that several users can update concurrently, and which automatically merges those updates into a consistent result. It provides data formats for efficiently storing this data and syncing it between users. It seamlessly supports both offline work and live real-time collaboration while online.

Automerge is the result of years of research on Conflict-free Replicated Data Types (CRDTs). In this talk we will explore both the theoretical foundations of CRDTs, their practical applications, and the ongoing research in this area.