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.

Software: Literature & Latte’s “Scapple”

Literature and Latte's "Scapple" iconScapple is a mind-mapping desktop client created by the geniuses at Literature and Latte, the same folks who are the masterminds behind my go-to, long form word processing program, Scrivener.

I had every intention of writing what will probably be a ridiculously long review of Scrivener (I’ve literally written tens of thousands of words in it after all) before I even mentioned Scapple. But then Literature and Latte went ahead and announced today on their Twitter feed that they were taking Scapple out of beta next week.

So, naturally, I thought I would help spread the good word.

What it does:

At its core, Scapple exceeds most at being very easy to use. You double-click anywhere in the window to create text objects (blocks or “bubbles” of text, images, etc…), and then you drag these text objects on top of each other to link them together with a dotted (or solid, or arrowed) line.

Seriously, that’s it.

Of course if you dig a little, you’ll find that there is way more that you can do with this powerhouse of an app! But I love, love, LOVE the fact that you can launch it and, without a tutorial, be making very quick and versatile mind-maps of anything in under 5 minutes!

I’ve used Scapple for mapping out chapters in novels I’ve written, making diagrams of floor plans, any kind of hierarchy I can think of and, with its ability to export to PDF, I’ve even used it professionally in my day-to-day!

Just Get it…

Like Scrivener, its strength lies in its core simplicity. If you need it for anything beyond that, the tools are there, patiently waiting. For that aspect alone, I give it my highest recommendation.

Next week the finished version will be available for purchase (L and L says it will be under $15) on the Mac, so go out and support it folks. You won’t be let down. I promise!

Here’s the link to the beta download if you want to give it a try before the official 1.0 release!

UPDATE – Download links:

And, as an added bonus, they also released a video tutorial on the basics (and some more advanced stuff) of what Scapple can do. So if you need further incentive, check out the embed below: