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Cheers, Editorially. Now what?

As you probably already know, Editorially shut its doors at the end of May. It was a sad day for us, and a lot of other people who had grown to love the service and the great experience it provided. Even though they announced the news in February, we were using it even in the last week of May. That’s how much we liked it.

Editorially was a tool that you might throw into the category of collaborative writing apps, but it was unique in a lot of ways. For one, the user experience was fantastic — it got so many things right, and it was a pleasure to use. In a nut, you could write in Editorially, invite others to join the document and make inline changes and write comments, and then export to a variety of formats (or just copy and paste the plain text, like we did.) In our minds, Editorially was the end-all-be-all collaborative editing environment for the written word.

We used Editorially for everything. It fit all of our needs, and we haven’t found anything we like as much.

Alternatives?

In our search for something to fill the gaping hole that Editorially created, we found some informative roundups of possible alternatives. I really like the pieces that Paul Lloyd and Benjie Moss wrote.

Some of the tools that were mentioned were already on our radar, and some were news to us. One common alternative that seems to have been mentioned everywhere (ad nauseum) is Google Docs. Yuck.

In order to understand what we want in an alternative, it’s important to understand what made Editorially so awesome.

What made Editorially awesome

Bar none, Editorially provided the best, most pleasant user experience of any of the collaborative writing web apps we’ve used. Some of the alternatives come really close with feature sets, but Editorially implemented them in ways that created delight.

Here is a list of the things that made Editorially awesome, and we’d like to have in an alternative:

  • Markdown editor with real-time formatting
  • Inline image previews
  • Version control (for making inline text corrections and changes)
  • Ability to write comments in the sidebar on selected text
  • Ability to respond to comments left by other users
  • Overall comments on the document as a whole, as well as document status states (draft, reviewing, final, etc.)
  • Easy to invite collaborators

Real-time collaboration (like Google Drive and iCloud) is a popular feature these days, but it’s not something we want. It’s nice to be able to lock a document while someone is reviewing or revising so that we can keep track of everything. We’d also be happy if a tool came along that let us work with Dropbox as a back-end service, insert comments with Markdown code, or use any writing app we want. But those are wishes, and we know it.

Here’s what’s available

So, here’s a look at a few of the alternatives that are currently available.

  • Draft.in: This is the closest alternative to Editorially that we’ve tried. Draft is a great tool that’s updated very frequently. Based on features alone, Draft is just as good (if not better) than Editorially. Even so, the user experience is lacking and this makes for some frustrating writing and editing sessions. It just isn’t as easy and delightful to use, and that’s something that is important to us. We’ll definitely keep our eye on it. The constant development and availability of a paid plan make it promising in the future.
  • Prose: Prose is a tool that sits on top of your GitHub account and applies the same methodology of code source control to the process of writing. It looks interesting, but it’s too developer-y for us. We need something that’s easy to set up and easy to bring in contributors quickly.
  • Penflip: Penflip is a tool built by Loren Burton full-time, so that’s an interesting reason to take a serious look at it. It has many of the features that we want and looks promising. It’s next on our list to try. At first glance, you might think that Penflip also operates on GitHub, but that isn’t true. Loren is building this tool from scratch and is taking cues from GitHub to craft the user experience. Even better, there’s a paid model and the ability to work offline.
  • Poetica: Poetica is unique in almost every way compared to the rest, but it’s so novel that we can’t ignore it. It’s not a true writing tool in the sense that you start writing in another tool, such as Google Docs or WordPress. Once you’re ready to collaborate and edit, you launch Poetica through the Chrome extension (yep, just Chrome). Where Poetica really differs from the rest is the editing interface. It uses editing symbols and notations that you see on real paper — things like struck-through words, bubbles with lines pointing places, and traditional copyediting marks. I haven’t seen a lot of these symbols and marks since college. Not really something we’ll use, but it’s interesting.
  • Typewrite: Typewrite is a well-designed real-time collaborative writing app, but it lacks one key feature: commenting. It has a lot of other great features, such as Markdown formatting, versions, and Dropbox syncing, but the ability to comment is a must-have. Typewrite is also a young app and currently offers no paid plan, but we’ll keep our eye on it.
  • Dropbox for Business: Announced earlier this year, Dropbox for Business touted some document collaboration in the marketing materials, but didn’t offer many details. Then, they bought Hackpad — a well-designed collaborative writing and editing app. It’s a long shot, but it will be interesting to see what Dropbox does with this new acquisition over the next few months. If the functionality is only included in Dropbox for Business, then it’s far too cost-prohibitive for small teams.
  • Google Docs: Sigh. Google Docs feels like the tractor beam on the Death Star when it comes to collaborative writing apps — you don’t want to use it, but you have no choice. This is what we’re using for the interim until we discover something better. Basically, Docs is a full-blown word processor and is over-kill for our process.
  • Quip: Quip was recommended to us on many occasions, and for good reason. It looks great, has a boatload of features, and plenty of device support. After looking into it further, it appears to offer the same experience and features as Google Docs, which is too much for us. It seems like their target market is large corporations that want Google Docs-like functionality without letting Google into their corporate networks.

Conclusion

There’s no clear winner here. We’re using Google Docs for now and we’ll keep our eyes on all the developing options. Editorially was popular enough to garner several posts about its demise. Surely someone out there is listening and will develop something similarly awesome.