The year’s 1981. A newly incorporated computer company in Washington State decides to make a word processor to give people a reason to use computers. Launched for DOS in 1983 and the original Macintosh two years later, Word became the #1 way most people around the world write on their computers for over 30 years, and counting.
Word’s nice, in its own ways, but it’s designed for the world of the 1980’s, and the most important way to share documents of that day: paper. It’s designed to format documents for print, not digital sharing. Word has even made the transition to the web, but it’s still focused on print documents laid out on a virtual piece of Letter or A4 paper. Google Docs and other online word processors are no better suited for today, centering still around publishing on paper.
The year’s 2013. We need a word processor, one designed for online publishing that lets you write anywhere, save your files online, and collaborate with others.
That app is here, and it’s called Draft.
The 21st Century’s Word Processor
Word and Google Docs have print covered. If you want to type up a quick document, change your fonts and colors and add clip art, then print it out and mail it or hang it up, they’re perfect for you.
Most of the writing we do on the computer doesn’t ever get printed, so we need something else. We need a quick way to write, anywhere, that automatically saves our writing and lets us jump back to a previous version if we mess something up. Sure, we still need formatting, but we need it in a way that works with the web. Then, we need an easy way to save the stuff we write to the places we really save documents — Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, or just to our hard drive — as well as a way to publish it online.
How about all of that, with collaboration built in so you can build documents together with your colleagues or get input on what you’ve written? That’s exactly what Draft brings to the table. It’s what a writing app in 2013 should look like.
All of Your Drafts
Draft is one of the easiest web apps to get started using. You can create new documents in the app, or you can import your plain text and markdown files from Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box.net, or even import notes from Evernote to edit in Draft. Draft uses the awesome Filepicker.io service to open and save documents to your online storage, and it works great. Make the changes you need to your documents in Draft, and they’re automatically saved back to the original document in your other online storage.
Or, you can edit text from anywhere on the web with the new Chrome extension. If you’re typing in any text box online — say, a comment form, or even the Gmail new message box — you can select the Draft button and start editing in Draft. It’ll send any text you’ve already entered to draft, and let you keep writing. Draft will automatically save your text, and when you’re done, you can quickly send it back to the web app you started in. And it worked perfectly; I haven’t had any trouble with it so far, something I can’t say for most online writing apps.
Writing Your Drafts
Writing in Draft is much like writing in a nice text editor like iA Writer or Byword on a Mac. As seen above, you’ll be writing in a clean interface that mainly just shows your text, along with a word count in the bottom right corner, and a draft button in the top right. It uses Adobe’s Source Code Pro font by default, but you can tweak it to use any font, font size, and background color you want in the settings.
You can include Markdown formatting in your writing, which Draft will just save as plain text by default, or you can export in HTML to publish online. Then, you can preview the document, complete with formatting and any images you’ve added (which you’ll need to upload those to another service first, such as CloudApp or Droplr, then add them as links in your document). Just press CMD+R (or CTRL+R on a PC) to see the formatting, and press it again to go back to writing. Saving is just as easy; press CMD+S to save a draft of your document.
Drafts are, not surprisingly, the biggest differentiator in Draft. You can easily save major drafts of your document as you’re working, in addition to the automatic saves Draft will do regularly as you’re typing. Then, from the Drafts link in the top right, you can see all the previous versions of a document, and download a copy of it or revert to that version. Draft works really, really well at comparing previous versions, and the interface makes it far easier to compare changes than any other app I’ve ever seen. Word only makes it easy to compare changes of two versions; in Draft, I’ve looked at differences in over a dozen revisions of the same document.
Drafts are nice for your own documents — I’ve accidentally deleted stuff from my own work more times than I can count — but they’re especially nice with Draft’s built-in collaboration. You can send a link to your document to anyone to get their feedback on it, or just let them help you write the document. When they’re done, you’ll get a notification, and you can choose which of the changes you want to add to your own document. Best of all, you can even ask a pro from Draft itself to edit your document, starting at $5. That’s quite a neat business model for a writing app.
When you’re done, you can save your document to your computer, your favorite online storage account, or just leave it in Draft. Or, you can publish it directly to your WordPress or Tumblr blog, making it the word processor for the way we write in 2013. The saving options are in a menu in the top right of Draft’s editing screen, in a menu that’s reminiscent of the Office 2007 menu, only with a flat text-based design that’s done very nicely.
Draft is really the writing app I’ve been waiting for. I can’t get over the fact that it works so nicely with other online storage accounts; this is how all web apps should let you save your files, so you really own the stuff you make and don’t have to worry about losing anything. And it works so great for collaborative writing and editing, I’ve already started using it with some of our AppStorm writers.
It’s how collaborative — or individual — writing should work today, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to improve going forward. It’s free for now, but it’s one free service I’d pay for in a heartbeat if it goes pro. Draft’s that good.