“Almost no one writes alone – even if they think they do”

Poetica’s blogTeam content collaboration for WordPress

Three things that will surprise you about how you write
We’re re-thinking some of the fundamentals of what it means to collaborate using technology. Our insights about how technology needs to change are based on hundreds of face-to-face conversations with many different types of users, writing in a variety of scenarios: from editorial teams to marketeers.

Whilst some of those use cases are incredibly different, some of the fundamental behaviours are the same. Here are the big ones we’ve found that aren’t obvious:

1.) Almost no one writes alone – even if they think they do

Ask someone: “do you collaborate on your writing?” and more often than not, the answer will be “no”. Then ask them to describe their process for creating the last thing they wrote, be that an email, blog post, business document, newsletter, website copy – from first idea to final punctuation. Here’s the standard response: first, they start writing in whatever editor they prefer. (More on that in a moment). Then they might show it to someone they trust – depending on what it is, just for a first “is this ok-ish?” run through. They’ll do that by email, or copy and pasting into Google Docs or maybe face-to-face. Then they’ll send it round to a larger group for comments – again, via email, Google Docs or sometimes instant messenger. Rinse and repeat till it’s finished. In other words, people who don’t recognise that they’re “collaborating” are actually working with between one person and a many-person team who will cast their eyes over and provide input on whatever it is that they’re writing.

The best technology we currently have to support that interaction that almost everyone does is email. There’s a huge opportunity here that’s been over-looked.

2.) People use multiple text editors

There are a lot of places that people like to write: Word, Google Docs, email, content management systems such as WordPress, Evernote, TextEdit, a vast array of code editors, specialist editors such as Scrivener or Final Draft – the list goes on. There isn’t one reason that you choose an editor: work dictates it; it’s the industry norm; it supports a particular formatting you prefer; you like its ‘distraction free’ mode etc etc.

But the key insight is that few people use only one. Even if you have a preferred place to draft, you’ll use something else to share or publish. For this reason, getting users to switch text editors – or switch to one – is really difficult. That’s why we’re designing Poetica so that you can install or embed it into your existing preferred product.

3.) Typing something together is actually a rarer use-case than you’d think

Google Docs took Word and put it online. In doing so, it added one key feature: the ability to type at the same time as someone else. This removes a particular kind of hassle: creating a document where you want lots of people to contribute different parts. That’s great for making lists together or collating individual pieces of work. But if you want to really collaborate and have a conversation around a piece of text, it doesn’t help much. In fact it can make things more confusing, because anyone can change anything and you can’t tell what’s happened.

Whilst it’s useful to all be able to work on something at the same time, the features that really make collaboration possible are the ones that we’ve focused on in Poetica, such as inline editing and commenting, intuitive version control and the ability to add these features within your existing workflow.

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