Building a writer-focused collaboration tool

Collaborative tools like Google Docs are inescapable for writers, and often invaluable. But they also create problems you don’t have to contend with when you’re working alone in a simple word processor. Upwelling is a new project that aims to address some of those issues (finally), and make online collaboration more writer-focused. It’s developed by Ink & Switch, an independent research lab that says one of the problems they’re trying to solve is the “fishbowl effect” inherent in so much real-time collaboration:

Several writers we talked to wanted a tool that would allow them to work in private, with no other collaborators reading their work in progress. Intermediate drafts aren’t always suitable to share, even with collaborators, and feedback on those drafts can be unwelcome or even embarrassing. In addition, some writers are troubled by the idea that their senior co-workers and management may be monitoring them – an unintended negative side effect of real-time collaboration.

Real-time collaboration becomes even more intrusive when others not only watch what a writer is typing but even start editing or commenting on the writer’s work before it is complete. Some of our interviewees reported asking collaborators to close the document and not make edits or comments while they were working. Others reported copying and pasting the entire document into a new file, working there in private, and then pasting the edited text back into the original editor window when finished.

The last bit is what I usually end up doing—especially if I’m working on a lengthy draft with lots of changes—but there are clearly better ways to do things if the tools would allow it.

There’s a demo of Upwelling available, but Ink & Switch seems to be hoping it will spark the development of other tools, rather than evolve into a finished product itself. Tantalizingly, they say “an ideal implementation would offer a file format or exchange protocol that makes it possible for writers to use the writing software of their choice to create documents while offering support for Upwelling features.”

Marcin Wichary’s typewriter simulator

Marcin Wichary is the author of a forthcoming book about the history of keyboards, Shift Happens, and he’s now put together a great little typewriter simulator as part of the project. If you can get one, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as hammering out a few words on a real typewriter—especially after you’ve found yourself staring at a blank page on a computer screen for a little too long—but this is about as close a substitute as you’ll find.

New music: Ron Sexsmith, The Vivian Line

I always look forward to a new Ron Sexsmith album—something that’s thankfully a regular occurrence. The Vivian Line is his 17th, and another gem. You often hear his music described with words like “effortless” and “unassuming,” and this album is maybe the purest example yet of that feeling. It’s a perfect dozen songs, none that stretch much over three minutes, and some that barely cross the two-minute mark.

The Vivian Line is the second album Sexsmith has recorded since moving from Toronto to small town Stratford, Ontario as part of a mini exodus of artists in recent years, and there’s a sense of ruralness to the album that extends beyond the cover photo and more obvious nods like the song “Barn Conversion.” The rich arrangements and instrumentation—Sexsmith and producer Brad Jones describe the sound as “baroque pop”— add a warmth to the record, and there’s a depth revealed on repeat listens, which the conciseness of it all invites you to do.

Reading list: February 16th

“I don’t know if you know this: I have played table tennis literally every day since October 3, 2012.” Will Shortz talks to The New Yorker.

“Back in 2013, the English Wikipedia page titled ‘List of cryptids’ had about 300 entries…Since then, a few Wikipedia volunteers have proceeded to take a hatchet to the list, developing a far more limited inclusion criteria for what meets the cryptid definition.” Slate columnist Stephen Harrison examines why Wikipedia is so tough on Bigfoot.  

“When the song was over, I exclaimed: ‘What was that?'” Carole King on Burt Bacharach.

“4. The antidote to procrastination is REHEARSAL, writing it in your head. 5. The antidote to writer’s block is lowering your standards. You can raise them later.” Roy Peter Clark distills decades of writing advice.

“Spaceship mechanic, Christmas angel, FBI agent, Paul the Apostle, Rip Van Winkle, Molly Ringwald’s dad. Plug him in anywhere and he works.” J.D. O’Brien takes a brief tour through Harry Dean Stanton’s always-rewarding filmography.

Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson has a new book coming out this fall. The Mysteries (pictured above) is illustrated by John Kascht, who’s said to have spent “several years” working on it with Watterson. “Both artists abandoned their past ways of working, inventing images together that neither could anticipate.”

Gediz Vallis, Mars

From NASA:

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mastcam to capture this mosaic of Gediz Vallis on Nov. 7, 2022, the 3,646th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In the center of the valley in this image is a pile of boulders and debris that may have been swept there by flowing water billions of years ago.

Baseball approaches

Blue Jays spring training schedule

I think I watched more baseball than I ever have last season, and it all ended in crushing disappointment. And… I’m counting down the days until it all starts over again. Because baseball.

Apart from confirming the spring training schedule above, Sportsnet also announced that it’s making live radio broadcasts for every Blue Jays game available on its app and website for the first time this season. Hopefully that’s an indication of at least some renewed commitment to radio, after a brief dalliance with relying only on a simulcast of the TV broadcast.

Reading List: February 4th

“He was the only songwriter I knew with a subscription to Jane’s Defence Weekly,” Linda Ronstadt tells the Los Angeles Times in this appreciation of Warren Zevon.

Robin Sloan calls attention to some recent explorations of where the internet can go from here, after feeling stuck for too long.

Locus magazine’s annual recommended reading list is a lengthy one—don’t miss the short story section at the end, which points to many that can be freely read online.

In his Counter Craft newsletter, author Lincoln Michel highlights some rule-breaking writing advice drawn from fairy tales.

“You still need a human voice to be the spine.” Julia Angwin offers some journalistic lessons for the algorithmic age in announcing her departure from The Markup.

Paleofuture sifts through the archives of NASA’s in-house Spinoff magazine, which has been chronicling commercial applications of space technology since 1976.

Reading list: January 25th