I’ve always been in the lookout for tools to make niche writers’ lives easier. Screenwriting is a product category that I’ve become really passionate about. It’s an area of interest for me — screenwriting is a hobby of mine, and I’d love to see the tools used to write them improve. After all, we’ve all been stuck with the same few standards for years — Final Draft being chief among them
Final Draft is really unwieldy, though. It’s one of my least favourite programs, and for a while, it was also one of my most used. Today, I spend a lot of time using apps like Slugline, which use a fantastic Markdown-inspired markup syntax called Fountain (developed in part by John August, the writer of Big Fish). But for many people, a new syntax can only do so much in our Internet-based world. Enter Writer Duet, an online screenwriting app built for writers who want to collaborate on the go. Read on to find out what makes this product so unique in a sea of contenders.
Writer Duet is, first and foremost, a writing tool for screenwriters that’s hosted on the Web. It has two major impetuses that it has to beat if it’s going to be successful. First of all, it has to work. This can’t be a poorly-coded web app; it has to do its job well. Secondly, it has to be familiar enough that it’s easy to use. It’s almost an inside joke amongst many screenwriters I keep up with that they’re very slow to adopt any new technology or program — there’s a reason the industry standard still makes screenplays look like they just came off a typewriter.
The first order of the day is making sure the app works. Writer Duet is one of the most stable web apps I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. It records every keystroke without fail. One could argue that it’s very easy to build a web app for writers — after all, text entry isn’t computationally difficult, per se — but when you add screenplay formatting, things could get really messy. Thankfully, Writer Duet is as well-coded as it gets.
I’ll talk briefly about file support, which I know is important to many of us: Writer Duet supports Final Draft, Fountain, Celtx, Word, and PDF for uploading and downloading files. In case you’re wondering, yes, that does mean this is a free way to convert from PDF to Fountain or from PDF to FDX (and it does it pretty well to boot).
The app is also going to be pleasantly familiar to anybody who’s used Final Draft. Unfortunately, I did not find a way to turn on Markdown formatting, but the app does use Courier Prime instead of Courier (which renders much more nicely on modern high-resolution screens) and supports all the familiar keyboard shortcuts Final Draft users will remember. The app autosaves work as you go, and manually saving allows you to keep versions for later comparison.
There are some other small touches in the app that make it feel more like a desktop app. On the Mac, the Command, Option, and Control keys each show different shortcuts that most Mac users will feel right at home with. Pressing Tab changes a field from Dialogue to Action or Character, etc., just like it would in Final Draft.
In other words, the writing experience is rock-solid. Everything here is exactly how you’d expect it.
All that being said, the real draw of the app is live collaboration.
This is where things get really interesting. It’s in the name, of course, so you’d probably expect Writer Duet to encourage collaboration between a couple writers. It does this really well. Sharing a script with a writer sends them a link to join in the fun, and you get to see as all their changes happen live. So whether you’re sitting side by side or half a continent away, this works really well. It’s not as fast as Google Docs, but it is faster than, say, Apple’s Pages in the Cloud.
You’ll see a live cursor and words will disappear and appear as changes are made. What makes this work so well is the way that the app highlights the changes. It’s a little reminiscent of the change tracking in Microsoft Word, but unlike the highlights in that program, Writer Duet slowly allows highlighted changes to fade so you can focus on the words. It has to be seen to be understood, but it works really well and I think it looks pretty good too.
The script itself is otherwise private. I emailed a script to a secondary email account to try it out. All the tertiary features are available to every writer, but links to participate are generated by random access codes. SSL security is heavily employed throughout the site. Secondary authors can also print and export scripts.
You can also chat with collaborators, including a group chat with all of them. You can video chat or text message them individually as well, so it’s easy to keep in touch if you’re working together and need to hash some story points out.
What all this means, in combination, is that it’s the richest collaborative screenwriting experience technology allows at the moment. It’s a great way to work together and get a script done, and I can highly recommend it without any trace of a second thought.
Beyond that, though, a part of me wonders if it’s really going to be any good for the solitary writer. It’s certainly meant for collaboration, and while it’s a great free service, I’m not sure it could replace your screenwriting workflow as it is now. It’s not meant to replace everything though. One of my favourite parts of Writer Duet is how hard it works to keep your workflow as seamless as possible.
Into the Future
The next step for Writer Duet is a desktop app, which is being funded on Kickstarter. That’s wonderful, but I’d love to see an iPad app first. I think the tablet market could really benefit from a good cloud-based screenwriting app. As a web app, Writer Duet is off to a great start. I’d like to see some small adjustments. As it currently is, full-screen isn’t supported in Safari 7. Uploading a new file replaces the current one, while I think it should actually create a new file (or at least ask what your intention is first, so important work isn’t lost). I also wish the app offered a way to work in Fountain.
But that’s a small complaint. For what it is, Writer Duet is painstakingly realized and really easy to work with. (As a bonus, it’s even optimized for high-resolution Retina displays on the MacBook Pros!) For writing partnerships or teams — especially those in the television industry — Writer Duet is a must-try.
There’s so many new focused writing apps for the web this year, it’s hard to keep track of them all. But they almost all have one thing in common: they require you to use Markdown for formatting. You could just write in plain text, but if you want italics or bold text, or just want to add a list or a link, you’ll have to use Markdown. It’s not hard to use, per se, but not everyone loves typing extra characters for formatting. That’s why there’s still the tried and true rich text formatting like you’d see in Word, Pages, and even the Gmail editor. It’s just not something most focused writing apps use these days.
If you love rich text editing, and still love focused writing apps without all the clutter and nonsense, you’re in for a treat. The brand-new drft is just what you’ve been waiting for, and we’ve got exclusive invites for our readers. (more…)
Collaborative writing has been one of the many things the web was supposed to simplify, and yet it’s still as broken as it’s ever been. Live co-editing like Google Docs offers only works for a very few niche scenarios, and newer tools like Draft and Editorially only work great for one writer and one editor giving feedback on a finished work. And the old style of emailing documents back and forth — or the slightly updated version of saving them to a shared Dropbox — is still far from ideal.
There’s one tech tool that’s seemed promising recently, though: git. The geeky version control system used most famously by GitHub is designed to let software developers collaborate on code, and is the very reason people around the globe can contribute to open source projects. Code is just text, of course, so earlier this year two dozen mathematicians wrote The HoTT Book collaboratively using GitHub. That was quite an undertaking, both for its unprecedented collaboration and for using git for writing even when it wasn’t exactly designed for it.
But what if GitHub was reinvented around writing? That’s what Penflip, a new git-powered writing app, aims to find out.
Web apps are typically single-purpose: you use one app for one thing. That’s in sharp contrast to most desktop apps, where you might use the same app (hello, Excel!) for dozens of different things. Being focused is great, but it can also sometimes be limiting.
Take Microsoft Office Access, for example. For years it’s been the go-to app for small businesses when they need a new form-driven internal app. Instead of buying some new app, anyone with the tiniest bit of computer skills can put together a custom solution without too much trouble. It might not be as powerful as a full-featured app for the same purpose, but it gets the job done without too much trouble.
Papyrs, an intranet tool we covered a couple years back, has recently added a new Apps mode that makes it easy for anyone to turn a Papyrs form into a custom database app. It’s Access, reinvented for the web.
Web apps, for the most part, have taught us that we didn’t need all the features rich desktop apps offered. Most people don’t need every feature in Word, so Google Docs or even simpler tools like Draft were enough. Mobile apps have mostly continued the trend, with apps that have far fewer features.
The Lucidchart team has shown us, though, that web apps don’t have to be basic. Their web app takes on Visio and OmniGraffle — and does a great job competing. And now, they’ve made yet another full-featured app for the web, this time to revolutionize rich print and digital publishing with the brand-new Lucidpress.
If your library is anything like mine, it’s likely filled with great books that you’ve only half-read. You bought them with the best of intentions, but it’s just hard to find the time to read all the books that come out. Plus, it can be rather expensive to keep an up-to-date tech book library.
Safari Online, started in part by O’Reilly Press, has been the online tech library of record for years, with an extensive catalog of books from O’Reilly, Wiley, Peachpit, and more for your online reading pleasure with a subscription. And now, they’ve reinvented themselves with the new Safari Flow. More than an online eBook library, it’s an attempt to make longform books relevant to the Twitter generation of professionals.
In the past couple of years, cloud storage has become more and more popular with people. There are so many different options to choose from: Dropbox, Bitcasa, Box, Google Drive and so on. One of the many advantages of cloud storage is that you can easily share a document with someone else. For example, if I create a document and put it into Dropbox, it is very easy for me to share a link with someone. I don’t have to type out an email and attach the document to it. That process, although easy, can be cumbersome and has some definite downfalls.
Now days, with so many people using cloud services, you almost expect most people that you share documents with to be using them. The problem though, is that there are so many different services to choose from and not only that, but what if you are sharing documents back and forth with someone who isn’t using a cloud service you are using?
Let’s say, for example, that you are using Dropbox, but the person you are wanting to share files back and forth with doesn’t use a cloud sharing service. That can definitely be a pain for you and the other person. That’s why today I am going to be reviewing a web application that will let anyone upload documents to your cloud service, whether they are using it or not. Let’s take a look at EntourageBox and see how the cloud can make you collaborative.
Along with spreadsheets, presentations are one of the main “attractions” of the corporate-style workplace (warning: sarcasm). These multimedia productions should be engaging, but sadly, few of us have the presence of delivery, nor the content, to provide something truly compelling for the audience.
And then there’s the start-to-end in-computer construction and delivery of a presentation, which can often be a struggle — magnified, if you need to collaborate with colleagues. Within a team, the collection and organization of the required media can be a stilted process if you are working remotely, and getting the finished product to function properly anywhere outside of your chosen native software is often the cause of much frustration.
Bunkr is a new web-based platform which is hoping to ease most of these presentation-related pains. The French startup aims to provide all the tools needed to create your slideshow, from the cherry-picking of content, right through to the publication of your masterpiece in browser-friendly HTML5. But can one cloud-based service really offer the all-round game to make presentations easy?
Web-based note taking and writing apps are a dime a dozen these days. There is no dearth of choices irrespective of whether you want a quick & simple note-taking tool or a feature-packed writing app with more functionality that you can shake a stick at. Then there are bells & whistles like mobile access, synchronization with cloud services and more.
Wri.pe is a fairly new app that tries to do a lot of those things in the attempt to become your go-to service for all writing and note-taking needs. It is a simple, web-based, mobile-device ready note taking tool with a page-full of features to boast of. I took it for a drive to see if it replaced any of my staples. Here’s what I thought.
There’s nothing worse than suffering from writer’s block when you have deadlines looming large. As much as I try to keep my head above water, there are days when I just can’t seem to put my thoughts in order and get my assignments out the door. Thankfully, I’ve found a few ways to cope; my favorite way to deal with a difficult article is to create an outline of what I’m writing.
An outline is essentially a hierarchical set of ideas or notes, which can have as many or as few levels as you want. This is a great way to jot down all your thoughts for a piece, organize and arrange them and create a structure before you actually begin to write. There’s indeed an app for this, and it’s called Fargo.