2013-04-23

Co.Labs

Rundown: New Writing Tools For Curated Web Publishing

Who saw it coming? Writing, editing, and even curating content in the browser is suddenly a hot space for companies and individuals.



Word processors have become passé. Maybe in an office environment it’s okay, but not for online publishing. We’ve all spent too much time writing directly in the browser to go back to the old ways—writing on the desktop and then cut and paste your text into a CMS. If you're writing for the Web, there's a good chance you're also writing on the Web.

With so much being written on the Web, what have we got to show for it? Wordpress, Tumblr, and the like have millions of users cranking out billions of words of content at their sites, but there’s no sense that the whole is any bigger than the sum of its parts. Millions more are using legacy blog systems, which is great for gaining experience, efficiency, originality, and even for finding one’s writing voice. But there’s still something missing—Curation!

What Web writers need is exposure, and there are a number of well-funded and thoughtfully designed new sites that intend to do just that. We’ve examined the contenders to see how they compare in the next stage of online writing: distribution and discovery.

Medium is a site for both writers and readers, especially readers of contemporary writers. The emphasis is on quality, and the site uses a mixture of staff curation and user recommendations to select the best, most compelling posts for its readers. Evan Williams, who famously created Blogger, has refined his original quick-and-easy blogging concept to create Medium. It’s a much more refined site, which is evident even in the design. Medium’s font choices are impeccable, and they’ve used negative space to give every page an elegant, relaxed feel. The 'blog' was the catalyst that gave vision to those with creative tendencies—blogging was accessibility, not the revolution. The revolution hasn't happened yet, but it's coming.

Fargo takes the Google Docs concept of sharing and turns it up a notch. It also takes the idea of a Webapp and turns it down a notch. Fargo is the latest incarnation of Dave Winer’s Idea Processor. It’s ultrasimple and available free as a public beta. It saves everything, often and automatically, to your Dropbox folder. The service is brand-new, but there are already plug-ins to transform content into presentations and several popular formats. Winer isn’t revealing his long-term plans, but this is obviously just the beginning.

Hackpad takes the basic Google Docs idea and adds agile collaboration. If Fargo is on the simple end of the spectrum, then Hackpad is on the opposite: Comparable to Microsoft's Onenote, it includes features for inline audio and video, as well as annotations, a particularly welcome feature. Want to collaborate? Share the unique URL and anyone who has it can join the editing party; and Hackpad tracks every change by person and by line.

Svbtle is where my blog lives: An invitation-only platform that puts a dress on the old style of blog. A self-described "new kind of magazine," Svbtle puts simplicity and tips of the hat ahead of features and comments. Mostly tech-oriented in content, the site gives writers a pleasing platform and presents content in a clean window for relaxed reading.

While not a blogging platform, Marco Arment’s, The Magazine is similarly of the new magazine sort. It’s published biweekly and includes several edited, long-form reads per issue. The theme is distinctly by geeks, for geeks, but the subject matter can be quite wide-ranging.

Even Tumblr appeared to be heading towards heavier curation; no longer though, judging by the recent demise of its Storyboard project and the laying off of all its in-house editors.

Draft is not so much a reader-facing site as a writer's safe haven. Designed as the place someone would do all their writing in private, Draft has a version control system that allows editing without the risk of overwriting the previous version. You can also import and export documents to other appropriate destinations like Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive. But the feature that sets Draft apart is the ability to pay for a "college-educated staff under strict NDA" to copy edit documents. Five dollars gets you 15 minutes of editing work and $10 (cheap!) gets you 45 minutes.

Individuals, by way of these startups, are finally starting to come together to out-publish traditional publishers. After a decade of amateur blogging tools, it’s finally true that anyone with passion, endurance, and a message can be a professional publisher.


Tyler Hayes contributes to Hypebot and does interviews for NoiseTrade's blog. He often writes about music and the impact tech is having on that industry, which can be often be found on his personal blog, Liisten.com. Tyler also runs the site Next Big Thing which ranks user-submitted links for an interesting hub of music-related content.

[Image by calsidyrose on Flickr]




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