Hugh McGuire’s post yesterday raised some great points about what a really effective web-friendly distributed and inherently social writing platform should look like. When it comes to the software tools we use for certain classes of tasks, I always look to the software developers themselves for insight into what those tools will look and feel like. It’s usually the developers who experience the particular pain point first (and most acutely), and who have the skills to build tools that solve those problems.
Writing (and “publishing”) are among the most relevant and appropriate tasks to which we can turn to software developers for insight. After all, no one (no one) does as much collaborative and distributed writing, editing, and revising of complex, interrelated, long-form textual works than software developers. It’s only natural they’d build tools to make the associated tasks easier and the problems more manageable.
I am not saying that everyone can, should, or will use the same tools that developers use today. But I do think Hugh is right on the mark to look toward something like WordPress as being in the right direction (as opposed to Word or InDesign, however hacked). I’d go a step further and suggest looking at GitHub as a model to examine very closely for ways to provide the infrastructure for easy and effective distributed collaborative writing (and ‘publishing’), as well as enable the social recognition and validation that are so important for many authors.
(I’d also like to think our own Open Feedback Publishing System is a step forward in the evolution of web-based book writing tools, though for now it requires authors write using DocBook XML or AsciiDoc, a high bar for non-technical writers.)