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.

The Web: The Current State of RSS

IconAs many of you might’ve heard in the last few weeks: Google’s “Google Reader” service is going bye-bye. .

But that doesn’t mean that RSS is going with it.

While I am not terribly surprised in this day and age by how many people have no idea what RSS actually is, I am very surprised by the amount of folks who think that RSS, as a technology, is synonymous with Google’s Reader service.

This notion couldn’t be further from the truth!

As it turns out, our valued RSS feeds are very much alive and well.  It’s just the medium that we all (myself included) chose to read all of these feeds in, that is going away.

So now all we have to do is choose an alternative.

Since I am in the same dilemma that many of you are in, I thought it’d be a good service to show the services I’ve been thinking of transitioning to. Here they are in no particular order of importance:

  • Feedly.com – These guys’ membership EXPLODED after Google’s announcement. Their service will take care of your mobile RSS fix, with apps on the all major mobile platforms. Desktop and laptops will have to live with the web client but from what I’ve seen, that experience is clean and pleasant to look at.
  • Newsblur is a bit more hardcore for RSS wranglers, but the added functionality comes at a price ($2 a month for anyone with more than 64 feeds) and, worse, they are no longer accepting free accounts for folks with less (a restriction that is, for now anyways, temporary). If you are willing to pony up the cash though, they offer a lot of great functionality that many other web-based services don’t, like nested folder structures for folks who like to organize their feeds, feed refreshes every minute, built in keyboard shortcuts and native mobile apps for both iOS and Android. Not bad!
  • UPDATE 06/20/2013: Black Pixel just launched the public beta of NNW 4.0. To check it out, click here to download.  –  For a Mac user, NetNewsWire is a great alternative. Die hard fans got a good shot of adrenaline after Google’s news dropped. The company that bought NNW, Black Pixel went somewhat dormant after their purchase years ago, but now with a major competitor out of the way they are gearing back up to fill that gap.  Having used NetNewsWire on my Mac and iOS (iPhone and iPad) platforms in the past, I am very comfortable in saying that, as an application, it’s a solid product! But it’s missing a very crucial bit of functionality still: feed sync between desktop and mobile platforms. This was the main reason I ditched their product years ago and it’s still the reason why I hesitate to go back. Still, they are making a renewed commitment to bringing reliable sync to their platform, so it may be worth jumping back in. If feed sync isn’t important to you at all, I can heartily recommend this service without hesitation.
  • Also in the Apple-only arena is Reeder which, up until now, has been pretty much solely catering to the Google Reader platform. The developer of the app Silvio Rizzi, has now come forward and made commitments to a multitude of feed alternatives to quell his rabid fanbase (both of which my partner in crime and I are a part of). I have the utmost trust in Rizzi’s skills. Hands down, if you are an iOS/OSX fan, the attention to detail that he puts into is native apps is far and away the best RSS experience I’ve experienced to date.  If he delivers on his promises (and I have no reason to believe he won’t) we Mac users will be well cared for.
  • Another paid web-based client that is getting some attention is feedbin. Like Newsblur, Feedbin also charges $2 a month, but it’s layout is super clean, it’s got tagging for organization, lots of import options and claims of being super speedy in its feed delivery! I haven’t used it personally, but a lot of developers I admire are getting behind them.
  • The last option I will offer is from the folks at FeedAFeverFever got a good amount of attention for its novel approach at serving up your RSS info.  Some of the attention was good, and some of it was a bit mixed. Still, I wanted to offer it up as an alternative because it’s always worth checking out the folks who are trying to do something different with a service you and I use every single day.
  • UPDATE 03/28/13 – A great recommendation from wordshepherd.comThe Old Readerhttp://www.theoldreader.com –  “It looks and acts very much like Google Reader pre-Google+, before they nuked their sharing tools. So you can follow your friends’ shared items, and comment on them, all in a self-contained, curated ecosystem.” – haven’t checked this one out yet, but I certainly appreciate the social aspects involved in this implementation. Sometimes things don’t need fixin’! Thanks David!
  • UPDATE 06/26/13Digg Reader also launched their own RSS Reader today! It’s super stripped down, but with Digg integration baked in. So if you are into Digg and want that service wedded to your RSS addiction than click here. There’s also an iOS app, with Android love  “coming in the next few weeks”.

So, those are just a smattering of the “Google Reader replacements” I’ve encountered that are getting good or, at worst, interestingly mixed press. The web-based options will always be your best ally because they are OS-agnostic. If you can find one that also offers a quality native mobile OS experience, than that will always be the icing on the cake.

If you have any alternatives that I missed, please add them in the comments below! I’ll update the post immediately with your recommendation and a link back to your site! ;)

In the meantime, good luck with whatever alternative you go with! I will certainly offer an update with whatever I end up choosing.

Honestly, the key thing to remember is that you don’t have to say goodbye to those web sites out there that have given you content in the past that you enjoy on a sporadic non-Twitter-like level.  They still exist and, in most cases, are better than ever! :)

RSS on the web hasn’t changed at all.  Far from it.  If anything, it’s just being given that all-too-rare opportunity to evolve!

The Web: App.net Goes Freemium…

App.net_logo

I’ve been curious about App.net since it’s inception. When it was announced it made quite the splash!

Ok So What Is It?

For those who don’t know, App.net is an alternative to Twitter (a service that’s made some questionable changes of late), that’s subscription-based, ad-free and, up until now, somewhat of a “gated” community.

The subscription format, while keeping them afloat, also crippled the much-needed adoption that the service needed to continue (speculation of course, but at the end of the day you need people to, you know, actually use your service).  Well, that all changed today when they added the long-awaited “free tier” to their account offerings.

But I Like Twitter. Are there many differences between the two services?

Thankfully, to the average Twitter user, no.  After all, to compete with Twitter you wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel and luckily they don’t. So don’t worry, the usual ingredients are here: posts (like tweets, only with a 256 character limit), replies, favoriting, reposts (identical to retweets), the developers/API’s aren’t beholden to anyone and there are no limits to development on their platform.  Also, and this pretty important: they will never sell your personal data, content, feed, interests, clicks, or anything else to advertisers.

They also have a veritable army of apps for phones, tablets and pretty much every desktop OS out there.

Ok, so if I get an account, what do I get?

The free account gets you the following:

  • Free tier accounts can follow a maximum of 40 users
  • Free tier accounts have 500 MB of available file storage
  • Free tier accounts can upload a file with a maximum size of 10 MB

Yes, it’s limited, but for a lot of people (myself included) this all they will ever want out of the service at first. Let me kick the tires a little, give it a test drive and if the service is worth the time and I need the premium options being sold, of course I’ll subscribe. But I am glad I don’t have to, just to simply get through the door.

So I know they took a good bit to get this point, but as far as I can tell, the wait was worth it.  I’ll give a follow-up to this post after I’ve used the service for a few weeks, but I can already tell you this now, if they can get the buy in?  Just from the very brief usage, I can tell that Twitter will have a viable competitor on its hands.  

And really, at the end of the day? If all else fails, having a good competitor might make Twitter that much better. Everyone wins when these news service rise and compete.

All right I am IN! Where do I get a free account?!

As of today you can only get a free account via and invite from an existing subscribed user. I personally got mine by logging into Twitter (oh the irony) and searching for “app.net”.  That brought up a TON of people offering invites!  

So go get ’em folks! Check out the service and find out what all the hubbub is about!

The Web: ThisIsMyJam.com

In the hopes of mixing things up in this space, I plan on putting up some “What I Like” posts that will talk about anything and everything that I am currently enjoying quite a bit. Think of them as one shot reviews of things, services, web sites, gadgets, books, beer, hiking gear, tea/coffee, movies, really anything! These types of post are aimed at being a snapshot of what ever is striking my fancy at the moment.

In the end, my hope for these posts is to bring your attention to something that maybe you have never seen before that I hope you would enjoy (like I do).

So! Shall we? Yes? Sweet!

Today’s Topic: is a little gem of a social web service called “This is My Jam”. It’s a relatively new web site (it’s still in beta actually), but it started getting wider adoption at the beginning of this year.

This Is My Jam

What’s it Do?: it allows you to choose a song as your “jam” and it posts the tune up for the world to see (and your followers) for as long as 7 days before it asks you to choose another one. It also allows you to display your curated picks on Twitter and Facebook, if you like. The final icing on the cake? You can also listen to a stream of your followers selected “jams” as well!

I particularly like this feature because when your friends or like-minded followers create a playlist for you, it affords all kinds of fun and surprising music possibilities! It’s eclectic, engaging and, most importantly, fun!

Ok, but how easy is it to use?:

  1. Log into the site at thisismyjam.com
  2. Search for and pick a song to share. Preview it if you’d like.
  3. Write a quick blurb about the song and why you chose it (this is optional).
  4. Post it.

The Verdict:

That’s it! It’s an über simple service and I think it’s simplicity is it’s greatest strength. It serves only one purpose: to help you share your favorite tunes with the world.

But even the simplest ideas can fall flat if the implementation is poorly thought out or awkward. Thankfully, the folks behind TIMJ made the user experience and interface clean, simple and nice to look at (always a bonus). It also takes very little time to use (the last thing you or I need is another social network taking up your time).

In a world of bloated and complicated everything-and-the-kitchen-sink web-based services, it’s nice to see one that has taken a simple idea and implemented it so well.

As I said before, it’s still in it’s fledgling stages and while plenty of people use it, I wouldn’t say it’s thoroughly caught fire yet. But regardless, check it out, sign up, create an account and invite your friends! You’ll be sharing AND discovering new music in no time, I promise!

One con? I do wish they had a mobile app, but I don’t think that’s not a deal-breaker. The best picked tunes are the ones you are sitting down and listening to anyways.

So that’s it. If you like it, drop me a line on Twitter (the “follow” link is above in the header if you feel so inclined). Honestly, if you are music lover, I can’t imagine you being let down.

Here’s my TIMJ link: http://www.thisismyjam.com/thaddeushunt

Enjoy!

Tad