One key feature required to collaborate in crafting a document online is the ability to see changes made (and possibly revert back to earlier versions of the doc). WordPress can do this (for saved drafts), Dropbox has version history, and any document made with GoogleDocs after about May 2010 has had a detailed revision history.
That GoogleDocs feature wasn’t always easy to access, but writer/programmer James Somers has found a way to make it more useful. He’s created a Chrome extension called Draftback which can play back the edits on any GoogleDoc in your possession, in chronological order (available in the Chrome Web Store).
Not only can it show you the changes, Draftback can also show you a timeline of when a document was changed, the location where each change was made and how each change affected the length of the document.
I think Draftback is going to prove immensely useful as a collaboration tool, but that isn’t quite what Somers had in mind when created the extension.
He thought it would help aspiring writers improve their skills by studying how a successful pro works their way from a blank page to polished prose.
I worry that most people aren’t as good writers as they should be. One thing is that they just don’t write enough. Another is that they don’t realize it’s supposed to be hard; they think that good writers are talented, when the truth is that good writers get good the way good programmers get good, the way good anythings get good: by running into the spike. Maybe folks would understand that better if they had vivid evidence that a good writer actually spends most of his time fighting himself.
That could be interesting, but not just for writers. It would also serve to remind us that editors can affect a document as much as the original writer.
Many people overlook the fact the editing process is almost as important to a work as the original writing. It’s that second stage where the polish is truly applied, where the language is refined for greatest impact (or screwed up, depending on your opinion of the quality of the editorial work).
Somers explains in detail in his site just how he developed Draftback, so if you want more background you can head on over there.
But if you just want to try the extension, you can find it in the Chrome Web Store.