Scribbler: A Markdown and Fountain Editor for the Web

I’m always on the hunt for good plain text editors. I use them for just about everything now: I write in plain text for every one of my clients and for my own personal website. I even use Fountain, a Markdown-inspired plain text plain text syntax, to write movies. On my Mac, I’ve got a bunch of different apps that handle this kind of thing, but I’m not always on my Mac when inspiration hits. I’m not necessarily on my iPhone or iPad or Android devices either. Sometimes, I’m at a library.

So what then? I’ve been looking for a great plaintext/Markdown/Fountain editor that can handle all my needs that exists on the web. I haven’t found the perfect one yet (and really, what is perfect?), but Scribbler is so close that it’s nearly frustrating. Read on to find out why I think you might want to bookmark Scribbler.

Setting Up Your New Home

Scribbler

Scribbler

Setting up Scribbler is easy. The service logs you in to your Dropbox account before allowing you to create a user ID with Persona, which is really fast and simple. From there, you’ll just activate your account via email. You have to log into the service every time you use it, but you only need to set up Dropbox once per computer.

The only problem with the Dropbox setup ends up being the core problem with the app itself. Scribbler creates a subfolder in your Dropbox (inside the Apps folder, if you’re looking), and stores all of its files there. You can’t get access to files stored anywhere else, which is a shame because it prevents me from using Scribbler when I only need it. I have a lot of folders and subfolders in Dropbox for all my different work, and Scribbler’s method is similar to Apple’s iCloud: if I want to use the service, I have to use it for everything.

There is, however, a folder system in Scribbler. You can create new Projects, which are essentially folders, and store as many individual files in a project as you like. If you need to work with these files outside of Scribbler, they’re still accessible from your Dropbox account, so long as you can access Scribbler’s subfolder.

In a unique twist, Scribbler also provides a Scratchpad for each document if you want to make notes but don’t want them to be a part of the final product. There’s also a place for Research. It’s as easy as grabbing a link and pasting it over there. You can give it a title, a description and even a tag if you want to make it more easily referrable (of if you’re collecting a ton of research). I can think of a few major Mac and Windows apps that I wish had functionality like this, and I’m really impressed to see it in a free service.

The Writing Experience

Beautiful Markdown writing

Beautiful Markdown writing

What really matters though, as with any writing app, is the experience of writing in the app itself. Scribbler uses an unsurprising typwriter font that isn’t particular beautiful or particularly ugly. It simply is. It’s very neutrail. In fact, the entire website is very neutral.

Every major feature of Markdown is supported. If you want to preview some of your work, you can do so with a simple click (and the Preview mode is really nice). In fact, some elements of Markdown format are presented in a live preview. If I italicize or embolden words by placing asteriks around them, they’re displayed that way. Headers are coloured in blue so they’re easily identifiable, and each new paragraph is given a number for easy reference.

Previewing your writing

Previewing your writing

I think writing in Scribblr is actually a joy, and I’ve been doing the majority of my freelance work in it this week. It’s a nice interface that’s very black and white, which makes it superbly readable. The font isn’t unique or new, but it looks good on my MacBook Pro with Retina display and my older iMac.

Subscription Model

The folks at Lemur Labs have to make money somehow, and although Scribblr is offered as a free service, there is a paid service. Right now, the only purchaseable model is called Scribblr Plus. It’s $25 a year, which isn’t much if you love the service, and it gets you support on the web and via email (the free service only includes web support). Also, it gives you access to Wordsmith, a power tool that lets you define words, find antonyms and synonyms, and even rhyme words. Basically, it tries to help you find just the right word when you need it.

I’m not sure how many people will need Wordsmith. For Mac users, the dictionary is built right into the OS and is accessible with a single right click. But those who need it will appreciate it, and those who appreciate the service might want to support the people behind it.

Finding Room For Improvement

All that being said, I’m not sure that the app is for everybody. Scribbler does a lot of things really well, but I think that, in an attempt to do maybe too much, it stifles some of what it could be good at. As an example, I’m able to post whatever I’ve written in Markdown format directly to a blog. I punch in my blog’s address and login code. That’s great for a personal blog, but most of my employers require me to provide the HTML. I can’t copy and paste HTML into a different tab; only the Markdown text.

Beyond that, when I’m writing a screenplay in the Fountain syntax, the Preview mode doesn’t seem to properly format it. Instead of centering the names of speaking characters, the Preview forces them to the left. It’s a small quibble, but it’s going to frustrate many writers who just want to be able to see how their work will look exactly on the printed page when it’s ready to go. (Not to mention a lot of the Fountain syntax isn’t presented as well as it is in a native app like Slugline.) I wish I could recommend this as a go-to app for screenwriters, but as it is, I feel like it will only suit them in a pinch.

Final Words

I really like Scribblr. I think it’s one of the better online text editors that I’ve found, but I’m not sure I can recommend it for everybody. It’s frustrating to me that, although I’m not locked into Scribbler’s service, I am locked into their Dropbox folder. I wish there was a Copy HTML function and that the Fountain syntax had better support.

That being said, for people writing their personal blog or for on-the-go writers who want a simple web app to get some writing started in while they’re on the road, Scribblr might be just what they need. I highly recommend bookmarking the service (I have), but I only cautiously recommend making it your full-time writing tool.


Summary

Scribbler is still in beta form, and it's an impressive beta. It's a great place to start writing, but some professional web writers and many screenwriters are going to find it missing essential features in their workflows

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