Markdown Anywhere: Writers On The Go
One of the powerful features of Markdown is it allows you to work anywhere and transfer your documents anywhere. Here are some apps that let you do that.
I write on the train on my laptop. I also write on my phone if there’s not a seat (and if my phone doesn’t break, which it did last week. Grumble). I could also write on my desktop computer at home of course. And all of my writing would be synced between these devices.
These are some examples of apps and tools that help you do that. There are many more, but these are notable examples.
Draft – an online Markdown editor
- Where to get it: At the Draft website
- Price: Free (pay for a review of your text, or donate)!
- Good for: Long-form writing, todos, anything really as long as you have an internet connection.
Yes, there are Markdown editors you can use in your browser. The advantage of this being you can do your editing from any machine.
Plus, with the wonders of things like Dropbox integration (see below), you can even have that editor synced to a file on your computer.
Draft does that, and a lot more besides. It can sync with dropbox, Evernote, Google docs and more.
But that’s the least of its features. First, the Markdown stuff. It supports all of the usual Markdown editing, plus a rather nifty todo format, and some export tools.
Versioning is supported, allowing you at any time to mark the current state of your document as a draft. You can then compare the two versions, and coloured highlights point out the differences.
Versions are presented next to each other in a way that allows you to scroll back in time.
Similarly, you can invite someone to collaborate on your document. They save their changes in Draft and you get to decide what changes to include (again using the handy comparer).
All of this is wonderful, but perhaps the killer feature is the ability to (for a price – the rest of it is free after all) ask a professional to take a look at your work. It’s dead cheap, which does make me question the quality of the critique you’ll get. If someone out there has tried this I’d like to hear how it went.
Still, assuming this is as good as it sounds it’s an excellent feature. The professional’s comments and changes go in the collaboration feature so that you can review them.
It is under active development too – a couple of weeks ago I got an email informing me of a new “Hemingway” mode (you can’t delete, only write more!) and a daily quota features, amongst others.
All that, and it follows the excellent design principal of looking sparse but lovely, allowing you to concentrate on writing.
I’m hoping for an offline mode in the future (or maybe a fancy Chrome packaged app) – I would totally use this if I didn’t do nearly all my writing on the train.
Markdown on the go
Editorial for iPad
- Where to get it: The App Store. Here is Editorial’s offical site.
- Price: $4.99/£2.99
- Good for: On-the-go writing, or scripting the bejeezus out of your iPad.
This is a new one, and I understand it has been highly anticipated for a while. The reasons for this are probably not the reasons we’re primarily interested in it. But more than that later.
As a Markdown editor alone, Editorial has a few great features going for it.
It has the usual preview that shows an HTML view of your Markdown formatted text. More than that though, it shows a preview in the editing pane itself, so you can easily see your bold, italicised, or heading text as you edit.
You can skip between sections of your document using a dropdown that recognises all of your Markdown headings – handy for longer documents.
It also has a Markdown keyboard – an extra row above the usual keyboard with some Markdown-friendly shortcuts.
Other very useful text editing tools include snippets, which are easy ways to add bits of dynamic text (like the date for example), and text expansion – shortcuts to longer bits of text that you use a lot but don’t want to type out every time.
Adding to these functions is autocompletion – a shortlist of snippets shows up when you type its first two letters. You can click on the snippet you want to save you typing it, or it can act as a guide so you know you’re typing the right thing.
Editorial syncs with Dropbox (see below) and it goes a little further than some in including support for Dropbox versions. This means you can see older versions of your document in Editorial. There is a handy colour-coded (deletions in red, additions in green) comparer so that you can see how older versions compare with the current version.
All of these are great features for writers, but there’s another huge feature that I’ve been steering clear of. I’ll summarise it here, but it is the thing that sets Editorial apart from nearly every other app for iPad. If you want to read a very comprehensive write-up of the app, Federico Viticci’s review of Editorial is as thorough as it gets.
The feature is workflows. If you’re familiar with Apple Mac’s Automator feature, it’s a bit like that. Workflows can be constructed with a drag-and-drop interface, and can interact with the text of your document, the clipboard, Editorial’s built in browser, and ultimately other apps on the device.
This means you can do things like write a blog post in Editorial, and click on a workflow you prepared earlier to send it straight to your WordPress blog and publish it.
I won’t talk any more about it because it’s a little beyond the scope of this post, but needless-to-say it makes this a very powerful app and could change the way you use your iPad!
- Where to get it: the Write page on the App Store
- Price: $1.99/£1.49
- Good for: Editing short text on the go.
Write has a fairly typical feature-set for a portable Markdown editor, but (as is often the case with mobile apps), the implementation sets it a step above most others. The app is well-presented, and some thoughtful swipes and holds here and there give the sense that this was truly designed for mobile rather than something shoehorned onto a small screen.
An extra keyboard row gives access to keys that are usually on secondary keyboard screens. A swipe on the row will reveal a Markdown-specific set of keys.
As you might expect by now, there is a Markdown preview.
Something which I always appreciate on an iPhone (or iPod Touch) is extra cursor-control. You hold down on a key in the middle of the new keyboard row and drag your cursor around from there, meaning your view is less obstructed. It still doesn’t beat arrow keys for fine control, but it’s a step up from Apple’s solution.
It works with Dropbox (see below) so everything’s synced, although I believe you have to choose one folder within your Dropbox for it to work from.
Draft for Android
- Where to get it: the Google Play Store
- Price: £1.69
- Good for: Editing short text on the go.
First, some clarification – this is nothing whatsoever to do with Draft as mentioned above. they are completely separate and as far as I know the developers of each have never met.
Draft for Android is a functional Markdown editor. You pick a dropbox folder as its “home” and can create Markdown documents in there. You can also move stuff around in as many subfolders as you like.
Being an Android app, it supports widgets, allowing you quick access to new notes, or to fill a whole home screen with a particular document (I like to have my todo list front and centre).
It’s not the prettiest of apps, but it does a passable job. There are some settings so you can play with the look to get it working nicely on your device, but there are niggles. The settings to the preview don’t seem to carry through to the widget for example.
As you might expect from a mobile app, it’s perhaps not suited for writing for long periods, and going through a longer document is a chore, but it’s good in a pinch. You can edit later.
I’ve mentioned Dropbox before. Basically it acts as a normal folder on your computer, but everything you put there gets updated in the cloud. This means it can be accessed from the web, shared with others, or modified by authorised apps.
There are now many online cloud storage solutions to choose from. But because it was there first, Dropbox has the advantage of being integrated into many different apps. This is especially handy if you want to edit documents on your mobile device (which won’t have direct access to a local Dropbox folder like your computer has).
It’s great for sharing, but it also works as a backup for your files should something tragic happen to your hard drive. It even includes versioning and keeps deleted files up to a month (or unlimited for a fee).
If all that sounds a bit weird and confusing, don’t worry – it’s easy as pie. Just think of it as a shared folder and you’re most of the way there.
And that’s it! No more Markdown posts!
But, I may update these from time to time, because I’m a bit in love with Markdown (can you tell?) What I need is feedback from you lovely people. So…
Over to you:
What are your favourite mobile or online Markdown editing tools? Got any Markdown tips you’d like to share? Don’t be shy, let us know in the comments! Maybe I’ll add your suggestion to the list.