Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

are these apps changing the way we write?

I’ll admit to some disappointment with this essay on new writing tools by Paul Ford — Ford is a smart writer and the topic seems a good fit for him, but I don't think he gets as deeply as he could into the legitimacy of the claims made by the makers of some of these writing tools.

As far as I can tell, the tools that he examines either aren’t really about writing at all — for instance, Ghost is an environment for publishing stuff online, stuff that you might write anywhere else — or they amount to taking already-familiar desktop writing tools and putting them online to make collaboration easier. That’s about it.

Not an inconsiderable achievement, mind you. Consider Editorially: it takes a practice that some of us have been following for several years now — writing in a plain-text editor with Markdown syntax which you can convert later to HTML or .doc format — , situates it in a super-attractive editing environment, and encourages sharing your writing with collaborators or editors. If I wrote regularly that way, I’d love Editorially.

Fargo does much the same for outlining — though outlining doesn’t seem naturally collaborative to me, so I’m not sure what the use-cases for Fargo are. But just as Editorially won’t be new to you if you’ve been following plain-text gospel, Fargo won’t be new to you if you’ve used, say, OmniOutliner or, if you’re a real oldtimer, the greatly-lamented DOS-only GrandView. In short, even if the tools you make are really cool, you’re not “reinventing” writing just by coding them in HTML5 and putting them in the cloud.

But I do think that a handful of recent apps have indeed made some significant innovations in writing technology, and I’ll talk about them in some near-future posts.


  • Dr. Jacobs,

    Have you used Ulysses III as a writing program? Its integration of the file-browser/organizer and Markdown editor has really changed the way I write. There's a 1.1 release due out this month that should expand exporting options in some really exciting ways. I'm dying for something that can supplant WYSIWYG word processors without sacrificing compatibility, and I have high hopes that this is it.

    fyi: http://www.ulyssesapp.com

  • Yes, I've used it, but I think Ulysses 3 is a big step back from Ulysses 2. I may get to that in a future post.

  • I've spent the morning playing with the 1.1 update, and I can tell you, the use of style-sheets for exporting to pdf and rtf makes it a best-in-class program. I haven't seen another Markdown text editor that gives you the kind of flexibility in exporting to a printable format that Ulysses III now does.

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