Writing and the Web: The Editorially Review

Editorially.com logo

UPDATE 02/13/14: I am absolutely bummed to hear that these super-talented developers are closing the doors on this exceptional project on May 30th, 2014. Read more about why here.


Here’s my original review:

I spend a good amount of time on this site reviewing native text editor apps and I do so for good reason; generally, they simply work better, are often more stable, and they allow you to save/edit your work in a more convenient fashion via key commands (command S is way quicker than hunting and clicking a save button on a web page’s UI, for instance).

That’s not to say there isn’t a place in my workflow for web apps. I do occasionally use the web-based counterparts to the native apps I have at my disposal, but that usually is only if I am not at my personal computer. In short, if given the choice between Evernote on the web or Evernote on the Mac/PC, or iWork’s Pages on iCloud.com versus Pages locally, I’ll always go the local/native install route.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of web apps becoming the norm in the (probably very near) future, but up until this year, there really hasn’t been anything I’d have taken a chance with writing a post or short story in. I don’t think I’d ever trust long-form writing to a cloud-based service, but short form? Definitely, if something captured my fancy.

And it just so happened that an online editor did.

Enter Editorially.com

PC Layout

Editorially.com accomplishes so many things well that I am starting to wonder if they jacked into my brain specifically.

Editorially is a web-based text editor app for writing on and for the web (or offline too as it turns out, more on that below). Aside from a pleasing and intuitive UI, it’s feature set is what ultimately bowled me over. Here’s the laundry list of things that you get when you sign up for an account:

  • Baked in support for Markdown syntax (it’s supported beautifully and inline). If you’ve visited here before, you’ll know I’ve got a soft spot for MD and MMD and if you do too, you’ll quickly discover just how much Editorially was literally made with it in mind. Be sure to check out their Help page, it’s all kinds of useful.
  • Autosave. It autosaves constantly without lag and pretty much in real-time. I can’t stress how important (and impressive) this actually is. And if you lose your connection during an autosave? It’ll save a copy of your draft in your browser’s cache (modern browsers only). I mean, how cool is that?
  • Collaboration. Got a piece of writing that you want someone to edit or proofread? Editorially has you more than covered with inline comments, track changes with check-in-check-out editing. It’s quite simple for you to invite people to comment, discuss or even take control and edit your files! Give a person a control of your document and they get preoccupied and leave it locked? Not a problem! Ask for control back and if the document has been idle for over 60 seconds, it’s back in your hands.
  • Versioning. You can’t have collaboration without versioning. Editorially knocks this out of the park with a version created with each autosave. You can also diff and compare versions as well as add notes to specific versions to reference in the future. Cool in a browser? Yes. Helpful in making your forget you are writing in a browser? Definitely!
  • Activity Feed. Wondering if your editor/s checked and edited the document you invited them to view? Look no further than the handy built-in Activity Feed. It’ll tell you who edited what and when, as well as provide timestamps for when your document auto-saved.
  • Different Publishing/Export Options. A recent update gave folks the ability to post their markdown to WordPress (.com and self-hosted with Jetpack enabled) or to archive a copy of your work to a folder on Dropbox. I used both for the very post you are reading right now. Both export options worked flawlessly.
  • Other import and export options. But wait! There’s more! Currently you can start a new document by importing a plain text file (.txt, .md, or.markdown) and it’s even more robust in the export category allowing you to export to many file formats including .html, LaTeX (.tex), Rich Text (.rtf), Word (.docx) and even ePub (!?!). I do wish there was a PDF option but, frankly, I’m shocked a web app can do all of this already. That all said, the developers at Editorially are cooking up even more export options in the future and I can always export locally and print to .pdf easily enough.
  • Responsive Design. Somehow the folks at Editorially.com made their site and all of its functionality fully responsive. This means it’s thoroughly usable on a pc, tablet and yes, even a damn smart phone. As web developer and a writer, I seriously can’t believe they pulled it all off. It’s a joy to use and a sight to behold. Even if you don’t end up using their services, you owe it to yourself to check this site out on every screen you can find. If only to see the future of the web/web apps and how high the bar’s been set.

Changing hearts and minds…

As amazing as the above list of functionality is for me to recount, what caused me to pause and smile the most whilst using Editorially was it’s ability to make me pine for the functionality and usability found in a web app, to be in my native apps. If you write in Markdown, Editorially is a no-brainer. Hell, if you simply write for the web (or simply write), there is no reason why this couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be your go-to editor. My wife and colleagues and I use this to collaborate and edit each others work.  Furthermore, I am not ashamed to say that I use it sometimes just because it’s a joy to use. It represents a paradigm shift in my eyes. I really do think it’s the future in many ways.  In fact it wouldn’t surprise me at all if local installs of Office suites are extinct in a couple of years after using Editorially for a few months.

I wouldn’t have thought that a year ago, but I do now.

Obviously I’m a fan…

Clearly I’m smitten with Editorially and all they’ve accomplished. But don’t take my word for it. Go and sign up and give it a spin. At the very least I think it will change your stance on what web apps are capable of today, you sure can’t beat the price (spoiler alert: it’s free) and at best, it’ll give you a very capable alternative to mix things up in your writing workflow. I love it and I am willing to bet that you will too.

Interesting Ideas: “Knock to Unlock” software…

I’ve been using this for a little over a week now and while it does have some issues with the LE Bluetooth connection to my phone (iPhone5), periodically causing me to quit and relaunch both apps (on the Mac and iPhone)… I gotta admit, it’s pretty awesome when it works.

There is about a 10 second lag from when I open up my rMBP in sleep mode to when I am able to knock on my phone (yes, I timed it), but it actually seems much shorter than that. I imagine this would be quite handy for folks out there with iMacs that are always on, locked, with a screen saver. When my computer is sitting there, locked and at the ready? It works like a charm with no wait whatsoever.

Other things I noticed:

  1. People out there flipping out about knocking on an iPhone clearly don’t own one. You’d think they were hitting it with a damn baseball bat instead of the knuckles on your hand! Please calm down. You don’t have to knock that hard at all for it to work.
  2. The initial setup is a breeze once your computer recognizes and pairs with your phone.
  3. True to their site description, your phone’s battery life doesn’t take a hit at all. It is one of the first interesting (and awesome) uses of Bluetooth LE that I’ve seen to date.
  4. Check out their site: knocktounlock.com, there’s some fun stuff going on in there.
  5. Before you buy, make sure your computer and phone are compatible!
  6. If, for whatever reason, your computer doesn’t find your phone via BT, don’t worry, you can still type your password in. Though that admittedly will make you snicker and doubt your purchase.
  7. If this app doesn’t make you hunger for the day that NFC (near field communication) proliferates our lives and devices a bit more, I don’t know what will.

I really hope they continue development for this fun idea! As I said, when it works it’s a lot of fun to watch (not to mention it’s a legit time-saver)!

Sold!! Where do I get it?

  • For your Mac, it’s free here.
  • For iOS, you can find it here, for $3.99 USD.

Software: My Favorite OS X Text Editors to Date

For years now I’ve been… well… collecting text editors. The reasoning behind this “hobby” can be boiled down to the fact that I am a writer and I like different tools for different tasks. Also, having a web development background, I have a huge appreciation for good UI/UX. I love the idea that something as seemingly mundane as software can make similar tasks (like typing text) a joy or, at the very least, elevate them to something else entirely.

There are a ton of options to choose from out there. It’d be impossible to write about all of them. So in this post I’d like to tackle typically encountered writing tasks and my favorite text editors to date that I use to accomplish them.

Bit of a caveat – All of these will be for Apple’s OS X, though some of them are available for different platforms.

As I’ve mentioned several times on posts here on this site, I am not against the other operating systems out there. They all have their strengths. I just prefer OS X for my computing needs and have been using it for so long now, that I don’t even know much about any other platform anymore. I used to, but there is only so many hours in the day :). I’ll make a deal with you though, I promise to mention other platform versions when it applies.

That said, please know that I have zero experience with that particular version of the software.

Ok, enough jibber jabber, let’s get to it!

Writing Letters

Periodically I drop everything to write a long letter to someone and when I do, I don’t use a Mail app. I’m utterly convinced that the Mail apps around today were built only for quick responses back to people – the distraction of additional emails coming in, the clutter, it’s multi-column UI… it’s pretty much become a long-form chat client.

When I write a letter to someone I want the experience to be spartan, distraction free, with clean easy-to-read fonts, a full screen mode and little-to-no editor tools. Luckily, there are more than enough options out there! What I’ve been using is a combo of iA Writer and Ommwriter. I like to use iA for correspondences that need my attention but not an overly emotionally-infused response. For the latter, I use Ommwriter.

If you’re an Apple device owner, than iA is a dream come true, as there are versions of the app for your Mac, iPhone and iPad. All three sync with each other seamlessly, have a UI that is almost nonexistent, are light weight, support markdown syntax and save to a flat text format that is easy to export into an email (or CMS interface).

Ommwriter is a bit of different animal all together in that it offers its own distinct and custom UI/UX when you fire it up and use it. Undulating backgrounds, full screen mode, individual keystroke sounds, soothing music – it may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. When I write to loved ones I almost always use Ommwriter to complete this task. It does very, very little other than offer a unique writing space. But for letters that deserve your undivided attention? It’s perfect. I am not sure where development is on this one, but it’s currently available on iPad, Mac and Windows PC.

Writing for the Web

While I’ve written a good bit on this site about the virtues of Scrivener as a blogging platform I still am a huge fan of Mou which is a markdown editor I’ve also written about here. I do know there are a lot of excellent options out there for this exact task, but I’ve really grown accustomed to Mou’s aesthetics and it’s lightening quick preview pane that displays your markdown in fully rendered html as you type, with very little lag.

Mou App at mouapp.com (image linked to that very site).

It’s still in beta (and thus, free) but it’s genuinely polished enough so that you don’t ever notice that fact. The developer is really passionate about this editor too, which gives me high hopes for the future. If you write in markdown (and you should if you are writing for the web) and are a Mac user, than you can’t go wrong with Mou. It’s a joy to use and does what it does (process markdown syntax) exceptionally well. Feel free to read my previous review if you are interested and want to learn more about it.

Long-form writing

highres-scrivener-logo

To date, I do all of my long-form writing in Scrivener. It simply handles lots of text in the easiest and best way that caters to how my brain works. Watching all of those small chunks of text pile up into a project that exports beautifully as a whole into any file format you could need, is a beautiful thing to behold. I am unabashedly smitten with it and haven’t witnessed any other editor even come close to what Scrivener does. It’s my one-stop shop for about anything I write.

So if you can only afford one new text editor, Scrivener is what you should get. Not long ago I finished an entire 508 page novel in it, you can read about it here if you want.

Scrivener is available for Mac, Windows and Linux

Note taking

OS X's very own Reminders App

I am never picky when it comes to taking quick notes. That’s why I often use OS X’s Reminders or Notes apps. They are dead simple to use, quick to open and they seamlessly sync with my iOS devices which is key, since 99.9% of the notes I take I will more than likely need as I am walking around during the day.

Mind Mapping

highres-scapple-logo

Here’s another niche that has a lot of options out there (good ones too). I personally love the ease of use that Scapple provides. It super simple and intuitive to ease into and with an export to PDF option it’s easy enough to share with others. Add in its compatibility with Scrivener, and it’s a no-brainer for my workflow.

What’s great too, is that I know for a fact I am not even coming close to using Scapple to its fullest potential. But knowing that it caters to my needs quickly and easily makes it a perfect addition to my writing tool kit.

You can snag Scapple for both Mac and PC and there’s also a free trial for you to try it out if you are on the fence.

Using what works best for you

What I love so much about this golden age of apps is their ease of use, availability in app stores to download and the amazing variety of text editors that are there to choose from.

With so many developers out there clamoring to fulfill our individual needs (and our hard-earned cash), there is bound to be something out there for everyone. When it comes to writing, we are definitely all unique. What I use works for me, but may not work at all for you. I just sometimes find it helpful to read about what others are using and how they are accomplishing the writing goals/tasks in front of them.

If you have some suggestions, list them below in the comments. Let’s a get a complete and quality list here! Marked and Byword come to mind. Are there any others? Let everyone know!