Most papers are now written collaboratively, and collaborators are often located in different places. I have always used version control systems for my documents and code, and have also found version control critical for collaborative software projects, but it seems many researchers in theory avoid their use for writing joint papers. To convince my collaborators that version control (revision control) is a good idea for working together, there seem to be some prerequisites. It is not possible to force everyone to worry about a specific set of conventions for line breaks and paragraphs, or to avoid tab/space conversions.
Does someone offer free hosting of small shared document repositories, with text-document-friendly version control that can handle word-level diffs (not line-based)?
If not, then I would welcome other suggestions that are based on experience (let's avoid speculation, please).
I was thinking of Git, Subversion, Mercurial, darcs, or Bazaar, set up to handle word-level differences with wdiff, together with a simple way of setting up access secured by public keys (for instance via ssh). However, none of the version control providers that I looked at seem to offer anything like this. For scientific collaboration the "enterprise" features stressed by many of these companies are not very important (lots of branches, integration with trac, auditing by third parties, hierarchical project teams). But word-level diffs seem critical yet unsupported. In my experience, with line-level diffs for text files, everyone has to avoid reformatting paragraphs and editors that change tabs to spaces or vice versa cause problems; there also seem to be many spurious edit conflicts. I have used wdiff and latexdiff quite successfully to help with manual merging of changes previously, so I am hoping a word-level diff would reduce such problems.
See related question at MO about tools for collaboration, and related questions over at TeX.SE, about version control for LaTeX documents and LaTeX packages for version control. See also the SVN Hosting Comparison Review Chart for a large list of hosting providers, for just one of the main version control systems.
Edit: Jukka Suomela's answer to the TeX.SE question "Best LaTeX-aware diff and merge tools for subversion" seems to be the best suggestion so far, covering how to interpret the deltas on a word level. Moreover, Jukka has explained how the differences between successive versions on the repository end are separate from the user-level differences used for conflict detection and merging of changes. Jukka's answer at TeX.SE explicitly excludes simultaneous edits and merging, relying instead on the traditional atomic edit token to avoid edit conflicts. Clarifying (and modifying) my original question, is there a way to ensure that edit conflicts can be resolved on a word difference basis, rather than on a line difference basis? In other words, can
wdiff or similar tools be integrated into the conflict detection part of the version control tools, similar to the way end-of-line differences and differences in whitespace can be ignored?