02 · Writing prose

Writing is important work: books, blog posts, news articles, science papers, and emails all share the basic need of prose editing. Sometimes creating these documents involves many stakeholders (coauthors, reviewers, editors, clients) and complex workflows.

That’s why we’ve chosen writing prose as our first domain for exploring the Patchwork vision of “version control for everything.”

Some writing tools offer basic version control capabilities: Google Docs' suggestion mode, Word’s track changes, Scrivener’s named snapshots. But these features are limited compared to the powerful capabilities that software engineers have in their version control tools.

Could prose writers make use of branches, richer history and diff visualizations, or reverting and cherry-picking of changes?

We think so, and there’s some evidence in folk practices such as some writers using Git to track their manuscripts.

Our lab’s first take on version control for writers was Upwelling. One of its core ideas was the concept of “drafts” as a form of lightweight branching, granting creative privacy to authors on multi-author documents.

In addition to this kind of explicit branching, on Patchwork we’ll try some less-formal workflows. For example, live editing one shared copy with ability to see and manipulate history. Or perhaps you may start editing and then later realize you want to move your work to a branch.

So, our first prototypes—coming up in the next post—will explore visualizations of history and change that help authors understand what’s happening on a shared doc.

Next entry: 03 · Dynamic history

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