ArtsyEditor: another approach to distraction-free writing

Chrome is distracting. I’m not talking about Google’s browser, but the stuff that’s put around your application’s main working area.

A lot of web-based blog and other CMS editors (including apps I’ve written and/or managed) include huge amounts of chrome – from navigation menus, to fields for additional metadata. A lot of the time it doesn’t particularly matter, but if you’re writing large chunks of prose, an uncluttered user interface is essential.

WordPress can be one of the worst offenders when it comes to chrome. Its standard blog post entry screen is built up of many boxes, each with specific purposes. Users can reduce the impact by switching off boxes they don’t need in the Screen Options dropdown, and then drag and drop the remainder into some sensible order. But it still can mean that quite a small portion of the browser window is devoted to the main task of writing content.

In the recent update to version 3.2, WordPress introduced a full screen mode, which allows all the chrome to fade away, allowing for a predominantly blank screen. Basic WYSIWYG controls are accessible at the top of the page, but everything except your text fades away if your hands remain on the keyboard instead of moving the mouse (see illustrations on this post about the WordPress.com installation – the same illustrations apply to self-hosted WordPress.org blogs). Most of the toolbar functions can be activated with familiar shortcuts – ⌘-B for bold (HTML <strong>), ⌘-I for italic (<em>), etc., so for the most part you can just focus on the writing, applying formatting as needed as you go.

A new WordPress plugin, ArtsyEditor, tackles the same issue in a slightly different, more customisable way.

Instead of having a conventional toolbar, though, it has an iPad-style ‘popover’ panel which appears once you select an amount of text. While the keyboard shortcuts continue to work in the expected way, this approach does at least minimise the distance your mouse must travel if you use it to apply formatting:

ArtsyEditor's popup formatting panel
ArtsyEditor's popup formatting panel

It also has a nice drag-and-drop approach to image uploading which means you don’t have to faff around with WordPress’s slightly convoluted image upload workflow. Image resizing can also be done by dragging corners of the placed image. That sounds better in theory than it is – although I initially uploaded the image above using ArtsyEditor, I ended up dropping back into WordPress’s editing system to get it to display the way I wanted.

ArtsyEditor allows some customisation, including a variety of font choices and sizes for editing. The choices seem to err on the side of cross-platform compatibility, with Arial, Georgia, Verdana and Helvetica being the main choices. Personally, I prefer WordPress’s choice of Helvetica Neue (with CSS fallback choices). Similarly, I have no truck with WP’s black-on-white colour combination, so ArtsyEditor’s ability to change colour schemes doesn’t really excite me.

One thing that is useful is handy access to a saving as a draft and previewing the post from within the full-screen editor. But for a plugin that costs US$19.99 for a single-site license, I’m struggling to see the value over WordPress’s built-in functionality.

WordPress 3.3 is in active development, and the rumours are that media uploading will benefit from a major upgrade in the forthcoming release. If that turns out to be the case, ArtsyEditor’s USP becomes further eroded.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

3 thoughts on “ArtsyEditor: another approach to distraction-free writing”

  1. I always write blog content in Word (or Notepad) for this very reason, and then copy and paste it into Blogger's interface later in order to do the formatting. I find that really helps to me to concentrate on quality of the actual words I'm writing, rather than getting distracted with making it look good.

    1. Hi Sam,

      I have to admit to doing something similar when I'm out and about – mainly because in those situations I'm using an iPad and WordPress's web interface doesn't support either visual or fullscreen editing in those situations. And while WP's autosave is great, over a 3G connection it can be flaky. So I do what you do, and write in a local copy, then copy and paste into WP.

      But on a PC/Mac with a fully functioning internet connection, WP's in-browser editing is pretty good, especially in distraction-free mode. With OSX Lion's new full-screen options and browsers that can take advantage (currently Safari and Google Chrome's "Canary" build), that could get even better.