Closer to the Words

When planning for the website, I’ve done a fair bit of research into content management systems and writing tools. Actually, writing on the web is an extremely hard problem to solve. Why do most CMSes have an interface that looks like a plane cockpit? Categories, tags, trackback options, publish date, URL slug, we certainly need all of that, right? No. A blinking cursor, that’s all we need. Really? How do you import images then? And what do you do for formatting?

We put a lot of thought into how our sites look when people view our posts, but what about when we write it? Why does our content should be written in a little 500px by 500px box?

The Medium, Svbtle road

Many smart people are working to create the ultimate writing experience. Ev Williams, explains how they approached writing in Medium:

As I’m writing this, I see not just a WYSIWYG editor, I see the page I’m going to publish, which looks just like the version you’re reading. In fact, it is the version you’re reading. There’s no layer of abstraction. This is a simple (and old) concept, but I haven’t seen it in any other publishing tool—unless you count Google Docs and the like, where you’re basically always in editing mode (versus always in viewing mode). And it makes a big difference. Having to go back and forth between your creation tool and your creation is like sculpting by talking.

What if you could just write and not worry about anything else? That’s all good and great if you don’t mind your content being owned by someone else. And is the broswer really the best way to write text? I bet you spend 5 hours a day in an app that handles text way better than a <textarea> in a browser tab.

Content as files

The idea is to write your posts in your favourite text editor (mine is Sublime Text), press save and have a post online in seconds. That way, you’re not tied to any particular website and your content is not locked down in a database. As a side benefit, you get tab-triggers, markdown preview and syntax highlighting for free. What if you could just write and not worry about anything else? What if there was no website to login to. Truly no distraction?

To make that happen, you need a flat-file (that word again) CMS like Statamic or Kirby to interpret your files. By following the instructions on their sites, you can quickly figure out the file structure and have a local site up-and-running in minutes. But now, you need to make that live. Since having to FTP into your server to publish a post isn’t my definition of simple, I’ve found a better solution. You can install Dropbox directly on your VPS and have all of your website controlled via your Dropbox folder. To do that, check the tutorial on Kirby’s blog (it works with Statamic too).

Once everything is setup, you can add a post simply by dropping a file into your Dropbox folder. Neat, isn’t it? You can also write posts on iOS in iA Writer since it supports Dropbox. If you’re a bit on the OCD side like me, you can setup a Keyboard Maestro macro that handles creating the file, entering the correct metadata and putting Sublime Text in “distraction-free” mode. Having everything in Dropbox also allows me to have an up-to-date copy of everything on my website on all my machines. Hard to beat. That’s the best writing environment I’ve found, and if anything, it’s closer to the metal.