Smart tools for smart writers

2012-06-06 19:03:19

My personal summary on the topic, in plain text, after the meeting. Thanks again to @xbelanch for giving me the opportunity to share, discuss and continue learning.

Defining the problem

  1. We keep using word processors from the past century, which were designed for paper and with the paper sheet as a logical unit of measure and unit of destiny, when most of the texts we write no longer have their end point in the printer: they are emailed, posted in blogs, in ezines, in the social networks, in virtual learning environments, etc.
  2. Traditional word processors’ file formats are the offspring of this received view. They are end formats that define what to print and aspire to the full control of the page. In this way, they hinder the insertion of the documents in other workflows: web publihing, ebooks, etc.1
  3. Last, but not least, the user interface of traditional word processors have become unnecessarily complex and confusing.

Proposed solutions

  1. The plain text (.txt) revival.
    • When writing, in 90% of the cases we don’t need anything else.
    • Plain text ensures:
      • Maximum compatibility between applications and operating systems.
      • Maximum portability between devices: computers, tablets, smartphones…
      • Maximum lightness of documents and applications.
      • And above all: document preservation!
  2. Semantics first: Markdown (and other lightweight markup languages).
    • WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get.
      • Today we don’t know where/how you will get the document: we use a multiplicity of media and devices to read and write.
      • “Desktop publishing” only made sense for documents that I was to print by myself!
    • WYSIWYM: What You See Is What You Mean.
    • Italics and bold, lists, sections and headings, links, footnotes…: in 99% of the cases we don’t need anything else.
    • It’s just text! Markdown Markdown keeps all the advantages of plain text.
    • Create Once, Publish Everywhere: export to all formats 2 required to insert the document in different editing and publishing ecosystems.
    • A time to write, a time to edit and a time to publish. Using the right formats and applications for each time.
  3. The wave of minimalist text editors.
    • A clean interface, text-centered and focused on writing.
    • Distraction free.
Editors Mac Windows Linux iOS Android Markdown
iA Writer    

And there are many more. Just search for ‘distraction-free editor’ o ‘markdown editor’ in the app stores or google.


Dropbox is at the moment the most successful solution.

  • It syncs documents between devices via the cloud.
    • Cross platform: Mac, Windows, Linux, IOS, Android…
  • It supports collaboration through shared folders.
  • It keeps backup copies of documents’ previous versions.

Google Docs/Drive?

  • Google Docs was born as a -limited, online- Word clone and it inherits almost all the faults of traditional word processors.
  • Docs and Drive imply de facto a cession of the ownership of documents: documents are not sync’d between devices, but live in the cloud and we at most can download copies.

Beyond Minimalism

And what about the remaining 1% of cases in which a complex project prevents can’t be comfortably managed using a minimalist editor and a small number of plain text documents? Should we then return to Word, as the prodigal son? The answer is no:

  1. Have you ever tried to copy from Word and paste in a blog, e. g. Wordpress?

  2. HTML, Word, OpenDocument, EPUB, PDF, etc.