Such is my influence over the writing universe that after I posted a favorable review of Editorially — a brilliantly collaborative online text processor — the company promptly went under.
So much for the power of the pen.
Fortunately, the online text processor lives on; Draft and a new entry called Beegit are online text processors designed from the ground up to excel in high-volume collaborative writing environments — especially when the words are headed to online destinations.
In other words, they’re ideal for use by a lot of contemporary writers.
These beasts offer version control, simple change tracking, inline comments, automatic notifications of changes, production metrics, and formatted text files (via the universally accessible Markdown text markup language).
Draft is nice, but Beegit seems like the more elegant choice — the one better suited to production environments (for example, it can “compile” multiple documents into a single document).
Made to Collaborate
No matter how many editors or writers are fiddling with a story, Beegit and Draft maintain one file — one clear version of the truth.
Users see the comments made by others, largely eliminating the nightmare of a writer confronting four separate (and contradictory) sets of notes.
More importantly, Beegit and Draft offer powerful version control; you save versions of your story as it progresses, and compare them side-by-side (with changes highlighted).
If things have taken a wrong turn (or the office intern offers up a grammar lesson by removing every contraction), reverting to a prior version is a simple matter.
This is the kind of powerful version control that programmers have embraced for years. Why not writers?
In fact, Beegit and Draft are built atop powerful programmer’s version control/development platforms, and it’s no accident.
Programmers type more than writers, collaborate more effectively, need to incorporate feedback from multiple sources, and must maintain one inclusive source file — a fair description of the emerging online content operation.
What About Solo Writers?
In the interest of using my clients as crash-test dummies, I threw Draft at two of them (Beegit had not yet launched). One saw the potential and the other couldn’t grasp the concept.
Neither wanted to learn something new.
Corporate clients using MS Word probably won’t change. But these aren’t Beegit’s targets.
In an email, Beegit’s J.D. Eaton said they were aimed at “Online content production environments (both local and distributed), particularly where teams are creating web-first content. We’re gaining real traction with teams working on content marketing, blogs, public relations, product documentation and consulting.”
Last year, I consulted with an organization who wanted to dramatically increase their contact with the outside world — most of it via online channels.
They were considering a team of three outside writers and a handful of internal content sources, plus a pair of editors. Copy would flow through editors and multiple reviewers (technical and otherwise).
Once I explained the difficulties they were going to experience passing MS Word files back and forth (even in Dropbox), they saw the potential of Draft (Beegit hadn’t launched, but it would be my choice today).
How did it work? Sadly, we’re still waiting; organizational changes mean the project hasn’t begun.
The Way You Don’t Want Things To Work
I can relate a horror story.
A former client relied on a traditional MS Word workflow for their copy, which was destined for print and online destinations.
Documents reviewed by multiple people often accumulated conflicting comments; the writer was forced to sort them out, often under deadline pressure.
To make matters worse, the “final” document was anything but. Any last-minute changes made on the printed newsletter were rarely reflected in the MS Word document.
If a document was accessible, changes were sometimes made by tardy commenters after copy had gone online.
There was no notification of changes. No version control. No handling of contradictory comments. And no “single version of the truth.”
As a result, the online and print stories weren’t always identical. And reviewers whined because their changes weren’t reflected online.
In the case of print copy, it became easier for me to ask the designer to export the newsletter stories as text (she was not excited by the extra work), and format them again for online destinations using Markdown.
It was a workflow based in the 1980s, and it was not only inefficient, it introduced errors.
To that mess, imagine introducing a handful of outside writers, an extra editor, and technical reviews.
The Impact On My Work
I still write my copy in Markdown using powerful programmer’s text editors.
One click converts that text to online-friendly HTML. Converting to a corporate-friendly Word document is only marginally harder.
If I found myself working in a production environment, I’d joyfully paste my Markdown-tagged copy into Beegit, and let the collaboration begin.
Writers collaborate more than ever and our words are typically headed online, but by and large, we’re still using (or are forced to use) tools designed in the pre-digital, made-to-print era.
Time to move into the 21st Century.
Try them. Even if you don’t adopt one (a lot of folks are perfectly happy collaborating with Google Docs), you’ll know what’s available should the need arise.
Keep writing (but not in memo processors), Tom Chandler.