Publishing Platforms Still Fail Writers on Mobile
I like to write. Emphasis is important because that is exactly what I like to do. I do not want to make the writing process too complicated. I just want a blank canvas that I can fill up with some thoughts in the form of words. It should not matter then if I open it from a desktop or a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. A blank canvas, without any bells and whistles.
But even after 10 years of the whole smartphone revolution with the iPhone launch, it is surprising why the platforms that crown themselves as champions for writers’ interests still fail at enabling them to write on the go. The interface they provide are either too loaded or are just non-existent. For example, this is where Wordpress wants the writers to write at on mobile devices.
Can this be made any more clunky? Why does it need so many options? Why can’t words be interpreted as they are written1? Why does the interface still need to ask for all this added metadata - especially on a mobile device where the space is already a limited resource?
It’s just the same with many of the professional publishing platforms. They just have too clunky an interface. Squarespace, same. Wix, ditto. At least with these, it can be understood that the target user base just may not be the writers and the bloggers sort. A look at the templates that they provide and it is clear that they want to target the designers, the professionals in photography or the small businesses. However, irrespective of what sites their users own, they need to understand that they do write too, at times. And when they present their intention to do so, shouldn’t you provide the cleanest experience you possibly can? Why load them with too many choices?
Ghost comes closest to ticking all of the right boxes. It has a markdown based clean editing interface with a preview option. However, during my extended usage while I was hosting this site with Ghost, I found that the interface was a bit too buggy and a lot heavy. It tries to do a lot many things which it needn’t really do. When I write, I just do not need a constant CMS and metadata access for the post neither do I need a live preview of what am writing. Unfortunately, it just cannot sort out the minor niggles2.
And then there is the flag-bearer of writer’s messiahs - Medium. This platform impressed me with how clean the writing experience was. That was before I intended to do so on a mobile device.
Yep. No comments. “You can’t be a serious writer if you want to write from a mobile device. Get a typewriter and then we will talk. We are for the serious lot.”
“But there is an app for that,” you say. Yes, there is. But first of all, there is nothing the app does that cannot be fit in the web application. Secondly, the app itself is extremely limited. There is no support for series or publications, yet, for example.
This just makes no sense to me. I just cannot stress this any stronger - Do not neglect mobile. Today’s mobile devices (especially, the iPad) are getting a lot capable. There is nothing they cannot handle. A plain text editor should be a cakewalk. Alas, I still do hit such forced hinderances.
"Not Yet Mobile Friendly"! Sorry, in today's age that just makes no business sense. pic.twitter.com/DQjJArqNWj— Amit Gawande (@_am1t) August 22, 2017
Anyway, as an attempt to mediate, I propose the following guidelines for writing interfaces for all the writing/blogging platforms out there, especially on mobile.
- Interfaces need to be clean. Just let the text be written without any onscreen distractions.
- No toolbars, no sections, no configurations.
- If emphasis to the text needs to be added, let the word(s) be highlighted and provide the limited options then.
- If image is to be added, provide option as a shortcut (for example, long press on new line)
- Forget 1-4. Explore and enable Markdown with easy (not live, but closer to WYSIWYG) preview mode.
- Remember, many writers do prefer writing in dark. Preferably provide a dark mode.
Yes, just roll an empty screen with a blinking cursor3. Nothing more. Let the writers fill it up their imagination.
I understand it is Wordpress and hence there is a plugin for everything. But the point isn’t if a clean writing interface can be plugged into a platform. Point is why should there be a need for one.↩
Ghost is not an easy publishing platform to work with. You either need the technology inclination of a developer to self-host and roll your own instance of Ghost or pay way too much to get access to their managed platform (Pro) service. For comparison, it is cheaper to get a website with Squarespace with E-Commerce setup than to get an online blog with Ghost. That’s just not competitive enough.↩
Svbtle does it well. So does pen.io. Not sure why these services struggle to exist. They have understood what writers need the best. But they just couldn’t convince many to join them. Wish Medium and others learn from these and roll out some more writer friendly interfaces on mobile.↩