Draft – web-based word processing for the non-print world.

Draft is a free web-based word processor with an emphasis on collaboration and version control.

Microsoft Word was created at a time when documents were printed, once for editing and then again the final product. These days many of our documents never leave the digital world and Draft is designed for this work style. It’s assumed that the writing, editing and publishing are all done on-line.

It is Markdown-based of which I’m a huge fan. However, Markdown is intentionally limited in features. This is a good thing since collaborators can quickly learn it. But, Markdown is no replacement for a full-featured word processor.

Files can be imported from Google Drive, Dropbox and others. Documents can also be created via email and sent to Draft. This is a very useful feature that many companies no longer offer.

Draft exports to PDF, Word, HTML and a couple others. Files can be directly published to WordPress, Blogger and more. (Although copy-and-paste seems easier.) Draft also offers a code-your-own publishing option through Webhook which is great for self-hosted sites.

Simply put, it is a very open tool.

Great for collaboration

Perhaps the best feature of Draft is version control. It draws from the coding community where projects become quickly hard to manage when many people are collaborating.

I only tested this process but the concept seems fairly simple. One person owns the master document. She/he sends a link to a collaborator who works on their own copy. The document owner can view and merge the edits as desired. Collaborators must register but only an email is needed.

Since collaborators work on a copy, there is no danger to the master document. Free to edit this page. Click here.

A few small things

Probably the biggest missing feature is a real-time chat mode (as Google Docs does). With all the chat clients available, this is probably not a problem. Draft does allow in-line comments (like Google), which are arguably more useful.

I didn’t encounter any advertisements but the possibility of them in the free version was mentioned.

I was amused by the “Hemingway mode” which disables the backspace key and forces you to keep writing. I doubt I’ll use the feature but it’s what we want our students do in their quick writes.

Draft offers a paid service to get your work edited by real people. (sort of like Uber for English majors, I guess) It’s an interesting financial model and I hope it is successful.

Cloudup – free, cloud-based file sharing

Cloudup is a free, web-based media sharing platform. Users are allowed to upload a maximum of 1000 items, 200 MB each. Yes! That’s 200 gigabytes of free storage. There are desktop applications for Macs and Windows but the web interface is meant to be the main way to use the service.

Cloudup allows for synchronizing, sharing, password protection, downloading and streaming of files. Files are simply shared with a unique web address like cloudup.com/c6n9XSN2kTH Any type of file can be uploaded.

Cloudup is provided by the amazing people at Automattic (WordPress, Simplenote, Long Reads, more). I have not extensively used this service but can recommend it based on Automattic’s reputation.

I have previously recommended Archive.org for hosting media (and still do) but Cloudup has the advantage of not giving-up copyrights. Archive.org has no private or password options. This could be very helpful for media made by students which you don’t want on the open web.

I could not find any way to embed media from Cloudup, so only the link can be shared. This might be a problem for some.


Tool: Cloudup

Description: Free, cloud-based media hosting.

Usefulness: very

Simplenote — free, cross-platform note taking

Simplenote is a free note-taking tool that can be used on the web or natively on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android or iOS. (what else is there?)

Simplenote is one of the best, least-known free tools I’ve ever used. It is a mature product having been around since 2008. It was acquired by the good folks at Automattic who made the full version available to all without ads or cost. I don’t like exposing students to advertising, so this makes Simplenote great in education. Users do need an email address.

Remarkably, Automattic puts no limits on how many notes you can take. None!

Automattic has developed Simplenote for more platforms but has not succumbed to “bloatware.” For me, a note taking program must be fast and simple like a real notebook. (I’m not a fan of Evernote for that reason.)

Simplenote supports Markdown of which I’m a huge fan. Backup is beyond easy — just download a .zip file and read your notes with any text editor. Simplenote also has tagging, sorting, revision history, collaboration, publishing but not many more features.

Publishing is so easy! A couple of clicks and you get a shortened URL like simp.ly/p/8LTSXK to share with students or colleagues. It’s one of the easiest ways I know of to publish a simple web page. All for free!

I haven’t tried it but collaboration seems equally simple — just use their email address as a tag and it shows up on their account.

Too Simple?

Text Only

Simplenote is strictly text-based, so you can’t easily embed graphics or pictures from your phone. This is one of the useful features of “Keep” by Google, also a simple program. With Markdown, you can link to graphics but those have to be stored elsewhere online. A service like TinyPic makes this fairly easy but it is another step.

No Spell Check

This is probably another deal-breaker for some people, especially if you are using this as a tool to publish directly to the web.


Tool:  Simplenote
Description: A free, text-based note-taking program which synchronizes across all your computers and phones.
Usefulness: very

Public Domain Comics

 

 

 

 

Comic Books Plus and the Digital Comic Museum are both excellent sources for comic books in the public domain.

I’m a huge fan of comic books , even the old ones. A 75 year old comic book is a hard sell mine do get checked out occasionally. I have successfully used them a couple of other ways.

Remix for class projects

I’ve used old comics for technology lessons on desktop publishing and writing story arcs. I take them apart using GIMP and have the students reassemble them in Google Draw or similar. The kids like the style and it saves them stress of having to draw their own.

Primary sources for reluctant readers

The Common Core emphasis on primary sources can be a challenge for reluctant readers. There are quite a few comic books from World Word II, the Korean War and the Cold War era.


Comic Books Plus and the Digital Comic Museum

Description: Sources for old public domain comic books.

License: public domain

Usefulness: maybe

Open Ethos software

I prefer open source tools but I’m also a pragmatist who sometimes uses propriety software, especially on my Windows computers..

Not all commercial companies are bad guys. I call these “Open Ethos” companies and recommended some of their programs in this blog. Open Ethos companies are for-profit and proprietary but they still have an open approach.

My definition of an Open Ethos product or service:

  • The company never copyrights or owns users’ data and documents. (With some obvious exceptions such as Archive.org and Wikipedia)
  • User data can be easily exported to common formats for use in other programs.
  • A free, fully functioning, non-expiring, version of the software is offered (This can be a “light” version.)
  • Installing the software does not change computer settings, except as needed to run the program.
  • There is a reasonable privacy policy with no spyware, spamming or aggressive marketing.
  • Accounts can be easily and completely closed.

These are the main Open Ethos programs/services I regularly use:

ACID Xpress; Any Video Converter; Audiograbber, CutePDF, Google Docs/etc.; IrfanView; LastPass; PandaCloud; Skype; TextPad; VideoSpin; and WinAmp.

A few aren’t perfect on all points. I think a couple have an “opt out” box for letting Ask invade your browser, for example, which is very annoying if you forget to uncheck it. Open Ethos programs are by definition a compromise and you have to personally balance annoyances with the value of the software.

Tip 1: When installing Open Ethos software, do not mindlessly click through the installation process but read the screens and opt-out of any trial versions or optional “bonus features.”

Tip 2: Try to download the program from the original company’s site.  Often, third-party download sites add spyware to the programs they offer.   A good download site is No Nags which features Open Ethos software. 

Comic Book Archive – publish scanned documents

Comic Book Archive logo

 

 

 

 

 

Leave it the hacker community to create a simple, elegant way to deliver media – in this case, (mostly) pirated scans of comic books.

However, their tools for piracy could also be great for creating student’s ebooks – especially ones made of drawings and other art. (ePub is still probably the best choice for text-based documents.)

The format is called Comic Book Archive and you probably have the tools to create them.

To make a Comic Book Archive (CBA):

  • scan (or photograph) your original documents (jpeg, gif, bmp or tiff),
  • name the files alphabetically
  • “zip” them into a compressed file
  • change extension to .cbz.

It’s that easy!

Here is a CBA I did of a child’s ‘zine.

There are several free CBA readers for all the OS’s, including phones.

Here is Wikipedia’s list of CBA readers

An attractive feature of CBAs is that JPEGs and Zip files will not be orphaned any time soon, so even if CBAs stop being used, your documents will easily convert to whatever new format is in vogue.

TIFFs are the preferred format for archival scans but you will get smaller files with jpeg of gif.

The only caution I can think of is that the default resolution of flatbed scanners would make a very big file. You probably want to scan at a fairly low resolution, especially if you expect your ebook to be read on phones. Some experimentation may be needed. A program like IrfanView easily re-sizes scans.

I installed Comix for Ubuntu and it worked flawlessly. (it’s in the repository)

 


Tool:

Comic Book Archive

Description: a simple way for sharing scans of documents

License: file format is free and open-source.  Most viewers are free.

Alternatives: PDF, ePub,

Rating: very useful

 

Web-based file conversion

Web Converter logos

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a bunch of *.lit files (discontinued by Microsoft in  2012) but my Sony eBook reader works best with *.epub.   You’ve had a similar problem, right?

I found two free web-based file converter services that converted these files fine.

Both sites convert an impressive number of file formats including text-word processor documents, ebooks, presentations, audio and visual.   I didn’t try nearly all the features but the few tests I did worked well.   Results tyically have to do with the complexity of the document and similarity of the two file formats.

These sites seem especially useful if you are doing the occasional conversion and don’t want to install and learn dedicated software.   If you are converting a lot of files, you may want to install dedicated software.

These sites are also useful because they can grab files off the internet and convert them to work on your phone (for example).   Convert.Files has a very useful list of mobile devices and their file formats.

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Tools:

ConvertFiles dot com

Online Converter

Web-based

Description: converts between a wide variety of file types, including files posted on the Internet

License: Proprietary, free

Alternatives: Any Video Converter (free version, Windows, Mac); Calibre (for ebooks); Google Docs;, your existing word processor

Rating: very useful