Atomic Scribbler is a product that very nearly didn't exist. Two previous attempts to create it over the past three years led to abandoned projects and vows of ‘never again.’ I’m glad I ignored the naysayers in my own head and persevered this third time. The result is a new product for writers, designed from the ground up to stand the test of time, and with the ability to grow into whatever it needs to over the next few years.
Atomic lives in the PageFour space. It’s the software PageFour would have been if I’d had the experience and vision back in 2006 that I have today. In a very real sense, it’s a grown up version of PageFour for serious writers.
I built and released PageFour back in 2006 while working as a software developer for a data cleaning company in London. In the 10 years since, the software found its way into the tool sets of many thousands of writers around the world. But it never broke through to achieve mainstream success. Where Scrivener has become a household name since its launch, PageFour has remained a forgotten older brother.
PageFour’s lack of success was down to its design and implementation. Very much my own fault rather than the vagaries of the market. It was an interesting project for a solo developer, but in order for it to grow it needed a more experienced hand guiding its early development.
Where PageFour was a generalist product, aiming to satisfy all types of users working on all sorts of projects, Atomic is solely for novelists and short story writers. Academic writers should find something else. Business writers should find something else. Ditto journalists, personal information manager enthusiasts, speech writers, screen writers, and any other kind of writer.
Atomic Scribbler has character. Instead of trying to please 90% of writers some of the time, I built it to please 10% of writers all of the time. If you’re a super-user, it’s not for you. If you want features it doesn’t have, it’s not for you.
And there’ll be no apology for that. One of PageFour’s biggest weaknesses was that it didn’t have the courage to be what it wanted to be. Too much attention was paid to feature requests from early adopters, which led to the inclusion of things that didn’t belong. Half the features of PageFour could be removed without detracting from the product.
Where PageFour was built using technologies that were old even in 2006, Atomic is new in every sense. If there’s a Windows 2030 thirteen years from now, Atomic should run on it without difficulty. It has a fresh and contemporary UI. Longevity is built in. It’s here to stay.
Where PageFour’s underlying structure made expansion and improvement difficult, Atomic has been designed so that it can be overhauled or added to with ease. If it needs a new face lift in three years, that face lift will be a minor UI change. If I decide to add a cloud element down the road, the architecture is already in place to allow it.
I mentioned two previous attempts to build Atomic that were abandoned. In both cases, the reason was lack of a clear vision on my part. The technology is not incredibly complex. The true difficulty has always been deciding what to build and what not to build.
Over the past five years, consumer use of technology has been changing so fast that for a long time it was unclear how it was all going to play out. There are writers working on their iPhones, looking to sync up with PCs and tablets via Dropbox. There are web based solutions such as Google Docs and Office 365 that allow writers to work on any device and store their work in their own personal cloud. There are a myriad of hosted, browser based solutions for writers (I almost built one myself) charging monthly or yearly fees. And we still don’t know how it’s all going to end.
Faced with that, it was difficult to get enthusiastic about any one approach, when a year later something was likely to happen to cause a design or business crisis of confidence. Just look at Scrivener and the three year development process for their iOS app. It’s a fantastic app — if you work on an iPad you should check it out — but my God the development process was glacial.
It’s 2017 now and things haven’t settled down at all. New devices, new solutions, new ways of doing things continue to pop up every few months. What’s changed is that it’s now clear to me that none of that is going to change. There isn’t going to be a clear winner in technology for writers. Everyone will not be syncing using Dropbox. Everyone will not be using hosted, browser apps. Everyone will not be using Scrivener’s app.
To me, it looks like chaos is going to rule, with a multitude of different ways of doing things. Writers will use whatever works for them, they won’t all settle on one game-changing solution.
And that’s why this third attempt at Atomic Scribbler has succeeded. It really doesn’t matter if 20% of users want a hosted solution, or 15% want an iOS app, or 40% want a pink unicorn. I designed Atomic to fit my vision of what software for writers should be, and I don’t expect that vision to match up with everyone else’s. But for 10% of creative writers, Atomic will be just perfect. And it will grow, slowly and with great care, changing so that it continues to meet the needs of a 10%.