Social media, blogs, enewsletters, websites and other forms of online marketing are evolving faster than you can say “Tweet me.”

Evolving right alongside them are the tools developed to help online users get the most from the online space.

With one critical exception.

Where are the modern word processors for today’s online copywriters and marketers?

The simple, intuitive Bluefish editor interface.

Where is the text processor designed specifically to help today’s online copywriter craft web copy, blog posts, enewsletters, landing pages, tweets, online articles and other projects – and then get it where it needs to be with a minimum of fuss?

Where is the ultimate online text processor?

In case you’re wondering, that editor would include features like:

  • Speed
  • Toggled HTML markup (toggle between code and live views)
  • Toggled “cleanscreen” for fire-hose writing
  • Enough formatting to prettify documents for clients (including sample landing/Web pages with graphics represented)
  • File and project management (“projects” or “sessions” are a good start)
  • Live word/character counts
  • “Post to blog” feature (including category/keyword/SEO stuff)
  • “Post to social media” feature (Twitter, etc)
  • Killer window controls (cleanscreens, notes, split screens, synchronized scrolling, folding, tiled views, etc)
  • Note/URL management (organize research)
  • Integrated time tracking/management (admittedly optional)
  • Integrated submission tracking (nice, but optional)
  • Powerful text manipulation tools
  • Macros, snippets, word completion and all those other useful toys
  • Cross-platform capabilities (Mac, Windows & Linux versions)

I’m sure there have been a few others I’ve thought about and then promptly forgotten, so feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.

What Are Writers Using Now?

I danced around this subject in a post touting the programmer’s text editor as the best writing tool for today’s online copywriter.

I suggested the programming editor’s lightning-fast response, simple HTML markup tools and the “session” feature – which opens and manages multiple files at the same time – offered online writers the best tool available.

It’s still true.

Which is really too bad.

We need something we can call our own.

Blog editors help make blogging easier, but fail everywhere else.

A programmer’s editor makes online writing easier (basic HTML tagging), but they’re not aimed primarily at writers, and it shows.

And full-blown word processors format your text nicely, but are essentially closed systems, and do a poor job of preparing copy for the web.

They insert all sorts of web-unfriendly formatting codes, and their reliance on a “paper” model doesn’t really meet the online reality.

In simple terms, they’re great writing tools – and they were perfect when I wrote copy and sent it to clients, who printed it and passed it around – but increasingly, they’re becoming relics of the paper era.

Which is not what this post is all about.

The ugly truth is this: Writers have yet to see a single “online writer’s editor” that offers everything really needed by today’s online copywriter.

It Almost Exists… Almost.

All the above bits and pieces already exist.

Just not in the same piece of software.

Komodo Edit by ActiveState

Komodo Edit is the closest I've come to a real online copywriter's editor

For example, Windows Live Writer is a good blog editor (despite a funky interface).

Yet it falls far short for most other tasks (like writing website copy).

Some word processors can act as virtual databases for the files, notes and links related to a single project (Scrivener on the Mac), though they seem better suited to longer works (like novels or white papers) than online copywriting.

Hosted processors (like Google Docs) offer some of the above, but I find them irritatingly logy at times, and lacking in the text-manipulation power features I’ve come to love.

And while programmer’s editors (I’m writing this in one) offer many of the target features, they’re often complex, offer features writers don’t need, and lack refinement (you can’t send a client a formatted .rtf document for review).

And I haven’t found one that simplifies posting directly to a blog or microblogging service.

In other words, we’re not there yet.

The Power of Projects For the Online Writer

Most programmer’s editors offer a “Project” or “Session” function, which allows you to define groups of files, opening them all at once.

That’s incredibly useful for today’s online projects, which are composed of many discrete bits of copy.

I recently worked on a product/web launch project, and as I wrote new copy for the project (or added notes from meetings), I’d add the new file to the project.

In the morning, I’d simply open that project, and voila – every file associated with the project opened in its own editor tab.

I didn’t have to dig for notes, or to see what I’d already written – a huge timesaver over the course of the project.

I could even keep multiple projects open in separate editor windows.

Is There a Future For the Online Writer’s Editor?

Of course, no writer thinks their word processor/editor/pen is ever exactly right, which is one of the neuroses that defines us as writers.

(That’s just the way it is.)

And since I run my writing business on Ubuntu Linux (instead of Windows or Macintosh), my choices are limited compared to most.

I can’t guess at the size of the online writer’s market, though I have to believe there’s potential for some entrepreneur – or a truckload of good karma for some group of developers who go the open source route.

And the person that gets there first will enjoy an early adopter bonus.

Here’s What I Want

When I write a blog post (or email, or web copy, or landing page, or…), what I really want is something that stays largely out of the way – until I need some help.

In other words, I want to write the text quickly (maybe on a cleanscreen), massage it, quickly insert HTML tags where needed (including formatting, links and images), and get the text where it needs to be.

That copy could be cut and pasted into a web page, posted to a blog, or turned into a passably attractive pdf file for a client.

If it’s an article, then I want – with a click or two – to record the date it was submitted (maybe to a magazine, but possibly to a group blog).

Along the way, I’ll want to quickly check my notes and related files.

Perhaps use some of its more powerful features (macros, snippets, etc) to edit the text. Even add ideas I stumble on along the way to an idea “tickler” file.

And then record the time invested writing it.

The tool to do all that simply hasn’t been invented yet.

And I’m starting to wonder if it ever will be.

And in truth, I’d be satisfied with a text editor that toggled between HTML code/live views, made applying formatting easy, helped me manage project files, and then simply got out of the way.

A Few Programmer’s Editors

I’m writing this post on Cream – a friendlier version of the very-hard-to-use, steeper-than-Everest learning curve VIM text editor.

Cream does many things wonderfully, largely adheres to modern interface standards (like command keyboard shortcuts) and it’s fast.

It also can’t quite hide the powerful-yet-user-hostile VIM engine underneath the hood, so it’s not exactly user friendly.

Old school, but powerful: the Cream editor puts a friendlier face on VIM.

In fact, it’s decidedly old school in function and appearance – not a deal-breaker for old geezers, but a tougher sell with today’s crowd.

Others (Komodo Edit, Bluefish, Ultraedit, Kate, etc

Active State’s Komodo Edit: Komodo offers many of the bullets listed above, though at the expense of speed and footprint (it’s a little slower, but can be configured to do almost anything).

Komodo’s available on Mac, Windows & Linux, and like Cream, it’s free. (Gotta love open source.)

Bluefish (Linux/Windows HTML editor): A fast, easy-to-use html editor with a streamlined, intuitive interface, Bluefish might be the best choice for writing posts and web pages.

Kate Editor (Linux only): Writers using the KDE desktop in Linux might find exactly what they need on their desktop; the Kate editor is a sweetheart, but a powerful one.

I’ve also tested the low-cost UltraEdit (another cross platform programmer’s editor) and found it a good choice (lots of folks love it).

Some jokers will no doubt suggest the granddaddies of powerful text editors: the original VIM or EMACS editors. Admittedly powerful – and configurable enough to do almost anything – both offer what I’ll term “user-hostile” interfaces along with a learning curve you’ll appreciate the very first time you fire one up.

In other words, we’re still waiting.

Today’s online writers and copywriters desperately need something that’s keeping pace with our changing needs. When will we see that editor?

Keep writing, Tom Chandler

An “I Forgot” Update: Matthew Stibbe of Bad Language also touched on the editor vs Great Big Word Processor subject a while ago, and pointed to the blog of a noted sci-fi author who uses a programmer’s editor, went astray, but now finds himself back behind the wheel of Vim (the text editor running beneath the Cream editor mentioned above).