Exactly three weeks today, editorially.com will shut its doors for good.
The announcement was made back in March, and was greeted with both surprise and disappointment by the community. The reason given was that Editorially had over-extended itself, hiring too many staff and failing to reach the number of users necessary to run as a viable business.
It’s a stark lesson for those that dream of making it big in the dot com world: building the perfect product does not guarantee billionaire status, or even a profit.
In the weeks that followed the announcement Editorially’s loyal fanbase waited expectantly to see which Internet giant would arrive with a seven figure check and snap up the obviously brilliant application. As time passed, the prospect of a rescue looked less and less likely, and writers, editors and marketers are now waking up to the probability that in 21 days, a key part of our workflow will be gone forever.
We’ve been using Editorially to handle all content on WebdesignerDepot for more than six months, and in that time it’s become a go-to tool helping us improve editing, work more efficiently with authors, and deliver better content; there are several areas in which Editorially excels that we’re looking for in a replacement:
- firstly, Editorially allowed you to write quickly by fully embracing markdown;
- secondly, it provided a simple versioning system;
- thirdly, it provided a simple to use highlight-comment-collaborate system;
- finally, its export to HTML and export to WordPress features were reliable.
As a personal preference, its UI was also pleasantly minimal, compared to desktop solutions like Word or Pages that feature dozens of formatting options, the focus on content made for better writing.
The good news is that there are alternatives to Editorially; the bad news is that none of them fill the niche quite as elegantly.
Draft is an browser-based app that takes a similar UI approach to Editorially by presenting text with little extraneous functionality. Where Draft varies is its approach to version control; Draft displays edited versions alongside the original and then prompts the document owner to accept or reject the suggestions by collaborators.
Draft supports markdown and its export options are at least as good as Editorially’s if not better.
Where Draft loses points is its UX; it carries out its tasks with none of the sleekness of Editorially. For example, markdown syntax isn’t styled as it’s typed. Speaking as someone who edits a lot of technical text that requires extensive formatting, this is a definite pain point.
Penflip (free – $22/month)
Penflip is another browser-based app. It aims to be the GitHub for writers and its UI is not too far removed from Editorially’s, although not as minimal it does a great job of allowing the writer to focus on writing.
Penflip also highlights markdown syntax so that content is prioritized. It’s a small detail, but it’s small details like this that make a difference when you’re working with an application for extended periods of time.
The obvious downside to Penflip is the pricing structure; free for public projects, if you want to keep your writing private until it’s ready for consumption (which all writers do) then you need to pay $8/month for 50 projects or $22/month for 150 projects. It’s not actually the cost that is a concern but the maximum number of projects. 150 projects is simply far too few; if they introduce an unlimited project option then my interest will definitely be piqued.
Trialling Penflip it feels more collaborative than some alternatives. It’s very good, but the GitHub style branch merging feels like it’s geared towards teams of writers rather than writers and their editors.
Typewrite is the new kid on the block, just a few months old, but already looking very promising.
The UI is minimal, and the markdown formatting is also there. The developer is passionate about creating a tool for collaborative writing and it’s always encouraging to see someone innovate towards a goal rather than towards a fast buck.
The catch with Typewrite is that it’s unfinished: the DropBox syncing that’s advertized as a feature is still being tested, and even the export to HTML option isn’t complete yet. It’s all coming, but will it be ready in under three weeks? I doubt it. To make matters worse, Typewrite is designed and built not by a fully funded team, but by a single individual. Hats off to him, it’s a great product so far, but it will inevitably take some time for him to build, test and deploy everything he plans.
It disappoints me to say it, because Typewrite has the best writing experience, but it’s not ready. If you’re looking for a solution in 2015, check out Typewrite, it’s probably awesome.
Google Drive (free)
Google Drive is the grandaddy of all collaborative writing in the cloud. There is real-time collaboration, plenty of storage and it’s part of Google’s ecosystem — if they go under we’re all in trouble.
The big flaw with Google Drive is its lack of markdown. Google Drive is effectively a word processor; it’s Word but online. The collaboration is in place, but the myriad of options means that you’re likely to spend all your time selecting a nice typeface for your footnotes instead of focusing on content.
I’ve used Google Drive many times for sharing documents, and whilst it’s excellent for simple lists and spreadsheets, for anything creative it is woefully ill-equipped.
And the rest…
There are plenty of other options for simply writing: StackEdit appears to be excellent if you don’t need collaboration options; Jetpack Markdown is a great WordPress plugin for anyone who just wants to write in markdown; onword is great for anyone who just wants to write.
As for collaboration, there are a few companies seeking to develop the field: Quip allows general documents and notes to be stored together; Hackpad offers tons of features with the reliability of Dropbox (who have just acquired them).
Ultimately, no one has managed to combine writing and collaboration as elegantly as Editorially. The decision as to where to move our writing and editing has been tough and we’ll probably still be debating the problem in 2 weeks and 6 days. In all likelihood we’ll fall back on a number of different solutions.
It’s rare that a single app receives such unanimous praise, but Editorially seems to be universally popular. Its functionality was (and is, for the next three weeks) simple and reliable. It excells at improving the number one element of the Web: content.
Whilst we’ll have to accept that Editorially has gone the way of the dinosaurs, let’s hope that there’s an investor somewhere with an eye for an auspicious opportunity who can pour resources into one of the alternatives and fill the sizeable hole in the market that Editorially leaves behind.
Featured image/thumbnail, writing image via Shutterstock.
Ben Moss is Senior Editor at WebdesignerDepot. He’s designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. One of these days he’ll run a sub-4hr marathon. Say hi on Twitter.