glitch digital
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glitch digital

A smarter editor

One of the proposals for “things glitch.digital should build in 2016” is a smart editor for journalists.

The proposals published so far have focused more on systems for broadcasters, informed by my exposure with the issues in that space at the Beeb, but a smart editor is one that should have more relevance for a wider audience — potentially anyone who writes articles online.

What do I mean by a “smart editor?”

An editor that uses continuous analysis of what you’ve written so far to suggest improvements as you type and help you write better articles, more quickly. It might look something like the mockup below.

Doesn’t this already exist?

It’s certainly not a new idea.

I’d previously seen idea that incorporated many similar features in a hack called Articlr created at a Guardian SXSW hack event in 2011.

Despite having some personal enthusiasm for the idea, at the time it seemed over ambitious and made up of dizzying array of desperate elements (at least for a two day hack event) and I eschewed working on it in favour of hacking on a real time live blogging system with a team from Le Monde.

For me, this was not least as an excuse to work on a project using the then-new node.js —in doing so falling for the charms of the siren call of a New Technology, which has led many a better idea to ruin.

The team that created Articlr built in an impressive hack which embraced the art of the possible but (as with almost all hacks) 5 years on it remains forlorn post-hack. Perhaps it was ahead of it’s time.

More famously, and much more recently, New York Times Labs released a video of a prototype smart editor might look like last year. Sadly, a video is all that has been released.

Build and release

Leaping forward to 2016 we have some great online editing tools — from the editor in Medium (and it’s many open source work-a-likes) to the Guardian’s own open source editor Scribe.

No doubt elements of the functionality described already exist, locked away in a proprietary CMS or done as part of an abandoned research project.

While these next generation web based editors are a dramatic improvement over limiting input to unstyled <textarea>’s or forcing journalists to wrestle with _markdown_ or /BB/ code, the focus so far has largely been on making it less awful to input words in a box, rather than on actively helping writers to create better content.

With the technical challenges now solved it’s time to take the the idea out of R&D and into production — and to make it available to everyone.

Update — July, 2016

We’ve now started work on building a smart editor cross as a platform desktop application. If you’d like to follow our progress follow @glitchdigital on Twitter.

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Data journalism, digital storytelling, interactive journalism, open tools and data for journalists and the media industry

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Iain Collins

Iain Collins

Software for news and media and civic tech. Cat herder. Director at Glitch Digital.

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