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Why I built Another Writing Application

minhthanh3145 profile image Tô Minh Thành Updated on ・9 min read

Another Writing Application

Originally posted here in my blog

Why though ?

I think the ability to find insights give individuals unique competitive advantages. As someone who wants to thrive in this world, I decided that I want to obtain insights, at least in software development (which is what I do for a living).

To find insights, you need to think effectively. To think effectively, you must make your thinking tangible, so that you can look and see what's ineffective. As far as I know, writings are the only tangible outcomes of thinking. Therefore I write a lot. However, writing is so difficult that, not all of my high-quality writings get published, and not all of my published writings are of high quality.

When I write, I tend to read a lot of sources, oscillating between them as needed to compare and contrast ideas. After having some interesting thoughts, I will write them down. But such thoughts are often ostensible, or they hint at possibly new ways of interpreting existing information. So I switch back to the sources to reconcile the new thoughts with the sources.

Sometimes the sources talk about multiple subjects, but I am only interested in one or just some keywords, I need to switch between them to look for the keywords and then read the surrounding text block. When you are pulling information from a lot of places, such switching increases cognitive load significantly, which reduces the processing power you can spend on actual thinking.

I thought about it, and I think what is lacking is a workspace where I can search for keywords from relevant sources and write my thoughts, without having to leave the tab. Another Writing Application is designed to be such a workspace.

The main features of Another Writing Application is Search Focus mode for retrieving sources containing specific terms. You can read the surrounding text blocks in Search Focus mode, or you can switch to Whole Text mode to read the entire thing if you like. Additionally, you can write your thoughts and have them autosaved, all without ever leaving the workspace.

Another Writing Application isn't a note-taking tool. For taking notes, I used Roam Research obsessively. However, Roam is a note-taking tool, and it's not a writing workspace that serves the purpose of gathering sources and experiment with thoughts. On the opposite, you have to be mindful what to install into Roam, because it is designed to build a long-lasting repository , if you're following the Zettlkasten method.

Another Writing Application is built as a place where you can dump your disorganized thoughts, organize them and then dump the organized thought into Roam or other places. In fact, I wrote this article using AWA, with 7 references. It is not intended to replace anything, just an attempt in making writing, and consequently thinking, more convenient.

Therefore, gathering sources, read, search for and experimental writing, all in the same place, is what Another Writing Application is for.

The application is publicly available here.

Features

Add Source

When you add an URL to AWA, it calls the server to extract content using Mercury Parser and insert that content into your local storage. The backend doesn't store anything, it just returns the extracted content. As you read your sources for the first time, drop the URL into this and continue reading.

Search

When you have an interesting narrative, write it down. If you hit a term that summarizes a broad topic which you're trying to articulate, search for that term.

By default, search-focus mode is used. Search-focus mode separates a given source into paragraph blocks, and only display the blocks that contain the searched term. You can expand other blocks to see the surrounding context.

If you want even more broader context of the searched result, switch to whole-text mode to see the entire text of the source.

Export Data

You can export the data in json format. The exported file contains additional metadata extracted using Mercury Parser. Your writing will always has the ID curren_note.

Changing location of sidebar

Some enjoys the sidebar on the right (like Roam).

But some would enjoy the sidebar on the left. You can change it either way. Please let me know which one you prefer more.

Preview Markdown

Using Marked to produce a HTML string from your writing and display it in the modal.

Feedback

See anything you don't like ? Please feedback so that I can improve it. I use SmtpJs to send the email, using my own email, so it is anonymous.

The application is publicly available here.

Technology stack:

I love Hyperapp by the way. It’s a minimalist approach to building web application. The concepts that you need to learn are way less than React and other front-end frameworks.

Timline and tasks

I use Agenda to keep my to-do and agenda. The entire process took me 6 days.

There are bug fixes and features that I don't explicitly add to the list, because I was in the flow.

Deployment

Frontend

Netlify (Initial choice and final choice)

I chose Netlify as a static hosting solution because its free tier seems sufficient.

Github page (Dropped due to weird styling thing)

Somehow, my website on Github page is not styled exactly as what I see in my local development, while the version hosted on Netlify looks exactly the same.

Backend

Heroku (Initial choice)

My backend is just a NodeJS application with Express, Cors (for local use) and Mercury Parser as dependencies.

Initially, I deployed the backend to Heroku. The deployment was really simple, which was good. However, Heroku hibernates your app once in a while, and your app must sleep a certain amount of time within 3 days. In short, availability wasn't guaranteed. Even though this is an open-sourced project and monetization isn't the goal, I want it to be available. The unreliability of Heroku was a big demotivator for me, so I looked for an alternative.

I looked into Netlifly cloud functions. However, there was a limitation on the number of requests and number of running time. Then I thought that "free server hosting" was too broad a search phrase. My backend is a simple NodeJS-Express application. With that in mind, I looked into "free nodejs app hosting", and after a bit of browsing, I stumbled across openode. It offers a free-tier for open-sourced projects. A quick google search did not reveal any limitation about availability, as least not so much that people would make such complaints available on Google search. I decided to go with openode.

Openode (Final choice)

One thing I enjoyed about openode is that the deployment process is available through a commandline tool. Not too much up-front knowledge to be learnt for most NodeJS app developers. However, it wasn't without friction.

The application is publicly available here.

Final words

Building this application has really been an interesting challenge to me. I have had the opportunity to increase my problem solving, prototyping, time management skills, as well as how to use deliver an application from inception to delivery.

Let me know if you have any feedback !

Discussion

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