First, let me supply a bit of background information. I write all the articles published in this newsletter, except for those articles that have a first sentence that says, “The following was written by...” or similar words. For short articles, I often publish them immediately. However, for the longer and more in-depth articles, I usually write the words and then send the proposed article to Pam, the editor for this newsletter. Pam generally performs her magic quickly, correcting spelling errors, syntax errors, and other changes, then sends the article back to me for approval. In the cases where the changes are minor, I usually publish the improved article immediately.
Pam’s editing becomes more valuable, however, when she critiques an article and then suggests major changes. She sometimes will point out that I omitted something important, and she also often suggests that I either simplify my original words or supply additional information to better explain a concept I wrote about. I find her advice and suggestions to be helpful. When we are not able to converse face-to-face because of our travel commitments, our conversations can become spread out over several email messages back-and-forth and occasionally by VoIP phone calls. This still works well when there are only the two of us involved. Each of us can always see the latest version of each document as we send the file in question back and forth.
Adding to the complexity of the tasks, I travel often, and Pam also is known to jump on airplanes occasionally, sometimes traveling internationally. Over the years, we have used several different techniques to send articles back and forth. We usually have used the old-fashioned and rather low-tech method of sending files by email. Indeed, this works well for back-and-forth editing when there are only two of us involved.
The problems increase, however, when a third or even more people become involved. For instance, Bobbi King often writes book reviews for this newsletter. Other authors occasionally contribute articles. Now three of us need to be involved in editing and discussing an article. Making sure that each person involved in the conversation is looking at the latest version of the file becomes a bit more difficult.
Now let’s expand the problem further. Let’s imagine that a group of authors are working together to create a new book to be published by a genealogy society, or that five or ten authors at some company are collaborating on a new document of some sort. For this discussion, let’s also assume that the authors are widely dispersed, possibly even located in different countries and time zones. They probably use a variety of different word processors. Some of the authors use Microsoft Windows while others use a Macintosh and perhaps one uses Linux. The problems of everyone collaborating and working on the same version of the same document quickly mushroom.
Quoting from the Editorially.com’s description of this new writing tool:
A Markdown-based writing environment lets you focus on the words and create clean markup easily; collaboration tools let you invite friends and trusted colleagues to review or edit your work; a document version system lets you mark points in a document’s history and compare versions to see what changed; notes and activity feeds encourage you to reflect on your work, for yourself and for others; and discussion threads recognize that the conversation around a text is just as important as the text itself.To be sure, Editorially.com is not the only method of simultaneously working with others on writing tasks. However, Editorially is different from most of its competitors. It is easier to use than the other products I have seen, and best of all is the price: free. The service, which launched in February, is still listed as being in beta, but I find it works well for me. I’ve been using Editorially for the last few days, and it has quickly become my preferred writing app. (I am writing this article in Editorially and will soon invite Pam to edit it.)
Inviting someone to edit a document in Editorially is simple: click on the “invite” icon, and enter the email address of that person. He or she receives an email message that contains a link to the article. Once he or she clicks on this link, that person sees the article on-screen.
Editorially restricts editing to one person at a time. However, other invitees can view a read-only version of the document and request control from the person currently editing the text. Editorially.com users can italicize, bold, strikethrough, or otherwise edit text without a “what you see is what you get” editor or clunky HTML.
All document collaborators, including editors and those who have been invited to a read-only view, are able to leave comments, see the document’s history and who has done what in the writing process, or change the document status from “Draft” to “Copyediting” or “Final,” among other choices. The process is similar to having a separate discussion board or forum for each document.
All changes are immediately visible to everyone. Each person’s changes are highlighted in a different color as well. It is quick and easy to view the latest document, either with or without the changes highlighted. Editorially.com also makes it easy to go back to previous versions of a document and see what has changed between versions, whether that’s a specific turn of phrase or dozens of additions an editor made to a piece. Changes can quickly be incorporated into the final version or undone, as the original author wishes.
However, everything is not perfect. I already stated that Editorially.com is extremely easy to use. That’s partially because it is a very simplistic word processor or text editor with a limited set of available functions. Again, users can italicize, bold, strikethrough, or otherwise edit text but not much else. If you need fancy formatting, columns, graphics, spreadsheets, automatic generation of indexes or table of contents, Editorially.com is not the tool for you.
Next, Editorially.com does not include a spellchecker. I consider that to be a minor problem since I use Firefox as my web browser, and it automatically spellchecks all documents as I write. For me, having a spellchecker in Editorially.com would be redundant. However, anyone using a different web browser or even a Firefox user who has the spellcheck option turned off will be without spellchecking capabilities.
NOTE: Other web browsers may also have spellcheck capabilities. I don’t have a list of those that do versus those that do not.The Editorially.com collaboration service still is obviously in beta and does have a few bugs. The one bug I have seen a few times is that my cursor occasionally disappears. That is tough when trying to back up and insert new text. The cursor apparently is still there, but it is invisible. I found that if I close the document and then re-open it, my cursor re-appears. However, this isn’t a very good solution, and I bet it will be corrected before the beta period ends.
Another item I think could be improved is the email notifications. If any of the collaborators makes any changes, an email notice is sent to all the other collaborators but often not for several hours. I would prefer to see those notices be sent immediately.
Finally, Editorially.com only saves files as simple text files or as more sophisticated HTML files. I rather like the HTML format as most of my articles are eventually posted on the newsletter’s web site in HTML. Saving the file as HTML works well for me, but I suspect most users would prefer .DOC files for use in Microsoft Word and most other word processors or in .RTF (Rich Text Format) that can be read by almost all word processors. Another method is to simply copy-and-paste everything shown on the screen into whatever application you want.
All in all, I like Editorially.com. It is simple although a bit buggy right now. It has simplified the process of writing and editing files for Pam and for me. It may or may not do the same for you, depending upon your requirements.
You can learn more at http://www.editorially.com.