Although multimedia content is getting easier and cheaper to produce by the day in terms of the technological support available for it, the art of writing is still a huge force to be reckoned with.
It does not matter if you are a student fielding assignments on one hand and planning projects on another, or if you are an entrepreneur trying to launch your product in a competitive market; chances are that writing, either by yourself or through collaborations, is essential in the recipe for your success. A daily journal, a project report, a blog as an international branding platform: there’s always writing, writing and more writing involved.
However even when we know how crucial writing is, technology has, for countless years, trapped us in the black hole that is Microsoft Word. Despite not using half of its functions, the program still graces us with a myriad of settings, tools and preferences that lag the program. To collaborate, different document files have to be ping-ponged multiple times.
We had no other choice. We made do.
Or is it?
In the past several months, tech giants have been abuzz with the idea of revolutionising the outdated writing and collaborating system. With the huge success of the Medium and Ghost platforms, Silicon Valley has finally caught on to the idea of developing web-based word processors.
Although there are quite a number of apps created to fill this technology gap, three specific web-based apps caught my attention: Draft, Editorially and Quip.
In this article, I will make comparisons between them in terms of:
- Design & Ease of Use
- Editing & Publishing
So without further ado…
Design & Ease of Use
All of the three applications are built upon simplicity and minimalism. Features that are not needed for producing content are removed, and all features that are used are tucked away behind shortcuts and toggles. What is left behind is a beautiful, distraction-free writing space.
It is a tough call because they are all almost identical, but if I had to choose one, I would choose Quip. Instead of having the user remember shortcuts to insert links or images, Quip activates a mini menu of tasks using a simple “@” command. Additionally, a toggle on the right of each paragraph helps to edit the text to become headlines or even bullet points or checkboxes.
Editing & Publishing
Quip’s editing function is pretty limited — there is no way to automatically retrieve past versions of a draft, and the content can only be exported as a pdf. However, Quip allows multiple collaborators to work on a draft at the same time as it only locks the paragraph that is being edited, instead of the entire draft.
On the other hand, Draft and Editorially are pretty similar. Both apps allow the writer to save multiple versions of a draft, and to compare the changes made between different versions. The final content can then be exported in various formats, including text, pdf, html or ePub, and it can even be published directly to CMS like WordPress or Tumblr.
The difference between the two lies in this: with Draft, when a writer collaborates a draft with another person, a copy of that draft is made and changes are made on that copy. The writer is then able to accept or reject each individual change. With Editorially, only one person is able to edit an entire draft, and the editing is done directly onto the original draft. To view changes, one would have to look at past versions of the draft.
Hence, to me, Draft is the smarter way of doing editing when collaborating.
Quip has an awesome in-built conversation thread function (which works like a Facebook messaging system), but it lacks a context-aware commenting system. On the other hand, Draft has a context-aware commenting system, but does not have a place to have discussions separate from the text content.
Editorially has both a conversation thread function and a context-aware commenting system. Win!
Up to this point, Draft and Editorially are almost head-to-head in terms of design, ease of use, version control, editing and collaboration. But Draft actually has a lot more tricks up her sleeve.
With Draft, you can upload or link to a video or audio to the app for transcription purposes. Additionally, there is also an analytic function that keep tracks of the number of words you write daily (very useful for those with a target number of daily word count). And then there’s the Hemingway mode that prevents you from editing anything until you are done writing the content.
You can even pay a professional to edit your content for you at a low price! To view the entire list of features for Draft, click here.
Winner: Quip & Editorially
Draft is free to use if unregistered, and US$3/month if registered. I would not recommend using it unregistered though, because the entire app is created and maintained by one person, and I believe he should be paid for his hard work.
Quip is free to use for unlimited documents but capped up to 5 users for collaboration (which should be more than enough). For those who need more than 5 people to collaborate, Quip offers an alternative paid Business Plan.
Editorially is free, at least for now.
Draft currently has the most features and its creator, Nathan, is regularly adding new features based on user feedback. I used to write with Draft to collaborate with other writers, but as the US$3/month fee did not sit well with some of them, I have since moved to Editorially. If US$3/month is not an issue for you, I would totally recommend giving the app a spin.
I currently use Editorially when collaborating to produce online content, as it allows me to seamlessly export my content to WordPress or ePub with just one click. Additionally, the context-aware discussion system allows my editors to give specific feedback, which makes it easier for me to edit my articles.
For school purposes however, Quip is my first choice as it has a standalone app — available on Android, Windows and iOS — that allows me to create documents offline (spotty wifi on campus). Personally, I use it to take down notes and create to-do lists for assignments and projects. My group mates and I use Quip’s built-in conversation thread to hold online meetings, and use the same document to record minutes and assign tasks. The folder system helps to neatly compartmentalise my notes into different modules.
In the end, the decision of which app is the best all boils down to the kind of features that you require, your design tastes, and how deep your pocket is. I feel that all of the apps above have their own unique pros and cons, and that you should try them all out to have a feel of what works and what does not.
I hope you benefited from the above article, and may the apps make it easier for you to write well and collaborate better. If you have any other questions or know of any other collaborative writing apps, feel free to share with all of us in the comments!