What is your text editor for?

What does it solve?

The web is only dynamic because it allows us to input data. Although data comes in many forms, the most prevalent and simplest is still text. Text can be written using a keyboard, real or virtual. Whether you want your users to write you a message, or add content on the page like Facebook, you need an input box where they can type.

For a quick and dirty little comment all you need is a text box on the page. But if you want to write a long piece, an article let's say, you need a text editor.

The quick and dirty is something like Facebook or twitter:

Facebook twitter box

Quick Text boxes

Note that here you are not expected to spend more than a minute or so to write your content. So they make it as simple as possible. You have no access to formatting tools whatsoever. You can write content while you are waiting in line at the dmv, walking on the street, dare I say, even while driving (though failure results in death).

But a longer piece that requires more than one sitting to write will require a text editor. A text editor can be a full blown application that allows you to create a complex document easily. Any blog engine comes with a robust text editor.

Wordpress text editor

WordPress uses TinyMCE

When answering a question on stack overflow, you get a light editor.

Stackoverflow text editor

Stackoverflow uses their own Markdown Editor

The more involved your article is, the more complex the text editor becomes.

Stackoverflow text editor

Good Ol' Ms Word 97

In our modern times however, we get a new online text editor everyday. They promise to do one thing, and do one thing right. Allow the user to write. They present them self as a Text Editor for long complicated pieces, at the same time they wear the quick and dirty UI of the small not too important comment.

You get less distraction, but at the same time you get all the distraction in the world. Because, well, these editors live on the web. When I designed this blog, the intention was to spend more than a few minutes at a time writing. So I spent some time researching for a text editor that would be the most convenient. Needless to say my search was interrupted many times by the distraction of finding a cool link on the internet.

If being on the browser yields doing things other than what I intended on doing, then I was failing at the basics. So for the first few years, this blog had no text editor. Instead, all the blog posts where written right here on gedit:

Gedit multiplatform text editor

Good Ol' Gedit

Gedit is a text editor. I save all the articles in a folder synced with dropbox so when I use a different device I can launch gedit and continue writing. But in the end, it is just a plain text editor with no particular features.

Writing anything that is longer then a comment is a process. Usually mine goes like this:

Where most online editor fail, is that they assume that you are going to write and publish in one go. And second, this is not their fault, with an online editor you are always one tab away from YouTube.

In the 4 years that I have been blogging, I have never used my online text editor for writing. Only for the occasional editing when I find a typo.

The final writing is going to end up online, but the process of creating the content is mostly done away from the internet.


Benjamin :

Interesting, I very much use the draft functionality in wordpress, and I heavily use the revision system.

Though to be fair, occasionally I'll write in an offline editor, but that's usually if I'm without internet e.g. flying, and I tend to write markdown whenever that happens.

But my process is pretty much the same, I start off by writing, often leaving behind marks where I need to find sources or rewrite, then I start researching filling in my marks, etc.

Ibrahim :

I especially like the ability to have a revision history of an article on wordpress. I used to use svn myself. It's only that I am very easily distracted when I am online. So I use the online editor only at the end to fix aesthetics and such.

Let's hear your thoughts

For my eyes only