Finding a Quiet Place
The internet can be a boisterous place. For something created to obtain information and education, a lot of it’s content is simply distraction. As soon as you go online, news outlets, businesses, and friends on social media are vying for your attention. The sites are in a state of constant innovation — creating new ways to get ahead of the competition, ways to garner more traffic to their own homepages. And with an estimated 2.94 million internet users between 2000 and 2015, it’s probable that you’re never alone during your time online. This ignites the search for the quiet places on the internet; somewhere to slow down from the rip-roaring speeds of this life, on which we’re ever-increasingly dependent. A place to inspire creativity and allow for exploration. If you’re still searching for that place to be alone, where you can organize your thoughts or inspire new ones, then the search ends here. Welcome to Onword.
When you enter the url, www.onword.co, this is the screen that greets you. The minimal design highlights the site’s purpose and trademark — to just provide a place to write. The introduction provides examples of uses for the site, like drafting blog posts and keeping lists, and reminds us that since it’s online, it’s mobile. You’re immediately invited to join, but only by connecting your profile with a Twitter account. While this doesn’t allow Onword access to update your profile, post tweets, or follow new people, it does import and automatically set your Avatar photo, and use the Twitter handle for your username in the account. After single-click sign-up, we’re taken to a page with a sole option in the center — create a new document.
The page includes a blinking cursor and a blank white screen that’s itching to be filled. It is ultimate freedom; that white space can become anything. It’s enticing, you almost didn’t realize you had something to say until the screen welcomed your thoughts. The top banner contains a link back to the homepage in the left corner, and a “log out” button next to a symbol that resembles the easily-recognized “Settings” icon in the top right. But this feature actually controls the “Toggle Focus Mode.” When activated, both the top and bottom banner, which includes document options, disappear. This enhances the sense of privacy, and therefore sincerity from the user. For another pleasant surprise, the typography within the document resembles that of a typewriter. This seems to be reminiscent of a simpler time, where one could sit down and write without interruption or distraction from the machine. And just like the typewriter, Onword embraces their lack of formatting options. The document will appear just as you’ve written it, with no design embellishment or accessory.
As you introduce new projects, the documents will show up in a list with three options — Edit, View, and Delete. Edit takes you back to the original “writing” space, while View and Delete do just as they imply. But don’t be fooled by our world full of auto-saves and easy recoveries. In Onword, a deleted document is gone forever. You are asked once if “you’re sure you wish to delete,” and then what’s done can’t be undone. I also learned the hard way that if you leave the writing page without pressing save, your entire work will be lost. I suppose this should be intuitive, but I was still disappointed there was no retrieval system, even for documents that had been created at an earlier date (as much as I love Queen, typing the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody three times was not my most productive 20 minutes.) It cast a shadow of finality and fragility on a site that had seemed innocent just moments before.
One of the obvious draws of the site is the opportunity for solitude. However, this creates a discrepancy within the site: the documents can be “made private,” but there really isn’t another option. There’s no way to share; no “friends” to view, or newsfeed on which to post. The site is one to draft, not publish. This, of course, cuts down the distraction even further, as well as lowers the pressure of writing. There are no expectations of the craft when no one has access. But whether this is a positive or negative is the prerogative of the user.
At the bottom of every page, minus the writing/editing space, there are links to the ‘Help,’ ‘About,’ and ‘Account’ pages. Most of the features on this site are simple. Each step is prompted with a clear, logical instruction, and usually includes only one button to press. So the Help page, instead, offers an apology.
This was the first place I noticed the causality of Onword. It was created and operated by one guy, Daniel Eden, who seemed insistent that his users to feel comfortable with the site. He uses very informal language with a very personal, one-on-one tone to offer help. He includes links to the site’s twitter, as well as his own. He even embeds his email to give users direct access to ask questions. This made me reanalyze the homepage, which I realized was also very accessible. The introduction is short, not even using full sentences. It feels very conversational, very personal, which seems intentional so the user feels more free in his or her ability to write.
The rest of the Help page consists of a tutorial for Markdown — a text-to-HTML conversion tool for digital writers. It gives step-by-step directions on manual instructions for basic formatting features, like paragraph breaks and headings. And if that isn’t simple enough, a link to Markdown itself is included in the section heading. Once there, the site will take care of the conversion for you. So while you can’t share directly from Onword, it does offer the first step in publishing. It encourages you to do so.
As mentioned before, simplicity is one of the finest features of Onword. But this does constrain the ability to cultivate ‘advanced users.’ Everyone starts on a basic level, but that’s where they stay. There’s no “premium” version with more features, no incentive to keep coming back, other than to write. Perhaps that’s enough to attract new users or ensure the return of those that already have an account, but it does diminish the opportunity for users to establish a long-term presence on the site.
While there is no official mobile app for Onword, it is still quite mobile friendly. The site appears in the same form with the same functions whether you’re logging in on a desktop, cell phone, or tablet. This echoes one of the original benefits of the site: adaptability. It’s an electronic notebook, using the storage within the web, rather than your own hard drive. And like a real notebook, it’s easy to get rid of if you grow tired of it. When looking at the ‘Account’ page, you’ll, again, see only one option.
Though some websites make it difficult to delete your account, hiding the option several steps down the rabbit-hole that can be the Personal Settings tab (ahem, Facebook), Onword stays honest with it’s users. It is as simple and easy to use as possible, keeping all options out in the open.
This reminds us why we came to the site in the first place — not to be overwhelmed with an onslaught of information, headlines, or likes; not to be distracted from creation with cat videos or work emails; and not to be dissuaded from honesty by fear of rejection or inadequacy. We don’t want get lost in the thundering clatter that is produced by our rapid-paced, instantly-gratified 21st century, so we came to curl up in this place and enjoy the quiet. To open up to ourselves, and finally take the time to get it all down. We came to Onword to think, to be, to write.