If you’re anything like us you spend a lot of time in text editors. Email, live chat, writing documentation, sending birthday messages to your Gran on Facebook, and writing letters of complaint appreciation to the tax man. You can’t escape them.
And if you’re a HelpDocs user you’ll have spent a lotta time in ours too.
People tell us all the time how much better our text editor is than their legacy system. And whilst we try and operate in a silo where competitors don’t exist, it’s still hard to ignore the praise.
For a while that was great. We take our wins wherever they come from.
But there’s been this niggling feeling in the back of our minds and the tips of our engineers’ fingers.
A feeling we could do better.
Today I’m thrilled to announce a brand new text editor, built from the ground up. We’ve taken an already great experience and 10x’d it. Here’s how and why.
The Problem with WYSIWYG
Text editors are hard work. The kinda editors you wanna use differ greatly from the kinda editors developers want to build. We’re heavily restricted by browsers—things differ in each—and limited in the kinda user experience we can provide.
When we started out a couple years back we used an off the shelf What You See Is What You Get text editor (a WYSIWYG). If you’ve ever written a blog post in Wordpress, created a post in Shopify, or used any SaaS software ever made you’ll have found the experience familiar.
We spent a lot of time trying to get the user experience right. We added code blocks, callouts, various custom styles. We hacked around browser inconsistencies (IE11 I’m looking at you 👀). We made it work with multilingual in hundreds of languages. We even added a dedicated HTML mode so you could make customisations to your heart’s content.
We tried to make our text editor a pleasure to use. And for the most part it was.
But each customisation had a cost. In performance, developer time, or both. It was a constant compromise, and it was you (👋) that ultimately lost out.
A few months ago we decided enough was enough. We threw out the WYSIWYG and started something new.
What Comes After WYSIWYG?
So if WYSIWYG is so bad, what can we do about it?
Well, the first thing we do is ditch the old-school approach where you directly manipulate the content. Now what you see is no longer what’s there.
We trick you, we lie to you, but we do it all for your own good.
We use the traditional browser HTML editor as an input/output device. Every time you press a key, we intercept that and decide how the content should be affected. We centralise and standardise the handling of HTML. Transparently and instantly.
We’ve written thousands of lines of code to make this new editor as great as it can be, using the latest open-source text editor libraries as a base.
What This Means for You
Ok, I know, you don’t care about what we’ve done, you care about how it impacts you. I feel ‘ya.
First off you’ll notice a lot of the inconsistency is no more. When you press a key, it’s predictable what will happen. That sounds obvious, but if you’ve ever pressed backspace and deleted half an article before, you’ll know why this is so exciting.
Then there’s the new features.
Another big change is the colocation of actions to the items they’re acting on. Like buttons to add and remove rows and columns, right next to the table. And a way to change the type of a callout, inside the callout itself.
One thing we’re really excited about though, is the ability to insert blocks of HTML that get rendered out to your readers as HTML. No more switching back and forth to HTML mode to make small changes. Instead, create new HTML elements right in the WYSIWYG.
You can create custom experiences for your users like never before.
So Where Can I Find This New Editor?
In your all-new dashboard of course!
Yep, that’s right, we haven’t just rebuilt the text editor. Not just the entire editing page. No, we’ve rebuilt everything.
We last updated our dashboard UI back in January. We’ve added so many features since then it was starting to get cluttered.
Settings are easier to find. Stats are easier to view. Articles are easier to author.
Most importantly we have a bunch of features on the way for you to round out the year. Now we have space for them all. 🦄✨
The new UI is available right now in your account.
This is by far the biggest update we’ve ever shipped to HelpDocs in one go, and we’re just getting started.
So, what d’ya think? Love the new text editor and dashboard as much as we do? Let me know in the comments, in-app chat, or tweet me @jakeapeters.