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My first tiny "weekend project": readable text hosting. Useful? (tidypub.org)
204 points by vvpan on Nov 30, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments

I love this! Tons of places to dump text on the web but I've never seen one that gives you a clean page. Suggestions:

- Set a cookie and let the poster edit/delete the page after it's published. They will make typos, mess up the formatting, post while drunk, etc.

- Markdown formatting. You need at least bold and italics. You could even have a small toolbar. I don't think the editor needs to be super minimal, just the viewer.

- Make sure the branding and links at the bottom are visually distinct from anything the user could enter. Maybe give it a grey background or invert it or something. Fixed positioning is also an option, but might be too annoying.

- Remove the Feedback tab from the viewer.. really spoils the aesthetic.

I'm not sure if I would agree with Markdown, depending on your audience. I'm of the opinion that trying to teach the concept of markup to ordinary people is always going to alienate some non-technical users.

I'd just suggest adding buttons for bold, italic & link. That way you can still keep it simple. I'm all for having a ruthless approach to unnecessary features.

On the other hand, when faced with a blank text box, some more technical users will type in Markdown out of habit. Adding basic Markdown support while also having a couple buttons for bold/italics/link is an easy way to support both audiences.

I used to be on that side, but with Reddit's success and their use of Markdown I've decided that it is OK for even the non-technical audience. (Though there still should be the little "formatting help" button like they have nearby)

Reddit provides enough value for its users for them to invest the effort to learn some Markdown. This is due to Reddit's content and community being the main sources of value for the user, not it's text-formatting features. I couldn't say the same for this app. If they can't pick it up in two seconds, I think most won't bother.

Thanks a lot for the suggestions. Agree on the first point.

Markdown formatting I actually did implement, but commented out for the first "release". It will be a somewhat restricted markdown, along the line of reddit.

I am not sure what you mean about the branding. If you could elaborate, I would be greatful.

The feedback button should go, I agree. Thanks again! I decided to follow the "let users tell you what they want" strategy, so it is great to get feedback.

In case it might be of use, GitHub has come up with a somewhat-restricted version of Markdown: http://github.github.com/github-flavored-markdown/

Thanks! It is useful. I am surprised that there are not more of these restricted markdown projects. It's a common need.

Aside: A long while back I wrote a tiny greasemonkey script to remove those annoying feedback tabs. (Here: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/76116 )

I forgot that they even existed until you just mentioned it. Maybe other people would want to use it?

Looks really awesome. I dig the clean interface/presentation.

The app is done well enough where nothing is overtly bad or glaring. That being said, I do have a few light thoughts & suggestions.

- I agree a source textbox for citations would be nice, but it's not too pressing considering you can include it at the end. In a similar vein, an author box would be nice too.

- Any reason why the URLs are 5 letters long? Not to undervalue the popularity of the service, but you could easily start out with 3 letter abbreviations, which would give you ~150k URLs.

- For that matter, what is your character set? Are you using just letters, or alphanumeric characters? Again, I'd prefer the former since you aren't going to get a significant boost from the extra choices. You might also want to take out 'O', 'o', and 'l' so its unambiguous when written out.

- Finally, although I'd be weary of allowing crazy markup systems, it might be good to implement a lightweight format such as Markdown. Nothing too fancy, but it's nice to be able to add emphasis without having to SHOUT.

For fun, my comment on tidypub: http://tidypub.org/moAbu

> Any reason why the URLs are 5 letters long?

What has Twitter done to this world? I for one would like to see the title you type appear in the url.

Actually, it's more of an issue with writing down the URL and passing it on.

Less characters means its harder to screw up. Question marks and random letters make non-techie people anxious. If its short, it at least helps.

Thanks for the feedback. Much-much appreciated.

I was thinking of adding an "author" field, and now that you and some other people mention it, I think I will follow through with it.

Honestly, you seem to have put much more thought into URL shortening than I did. I am using just letters for the character set. Shortening the URL sounds like a good idea. And removing the O's and l's is also something that I think I would do. Great suggestions, thanks!

Markdown is actually in the code, but commented out for the "release" =) So it should be coming soon. Thanks again.

I'd recommend against shortening the key length, given that keeping the keys hard to guess is how you're keeping them private.

See https://gist.github.com/722474 for a proof of concept scraper. If the key length dropped to 4 chars (and you kept l, o, L, and O in the set), there would only be 7,311,616 urls to try to find all the notes.

> For that matter, what is your character set? Are you using just letters, or alphanumeric characters? Again, I'd prefer the former since you aren't going to get a significant boost from the extra choices. You might also want to take out 'O', 'o', and 'l' so its unambiguous when written out.

I'd suggest using New Base 60, which has some smart readability built in: http://tantek.pbworks.com/w/page/19402946/NewBase60

At least linkify urls. It's trivial; use http://daringfireball.net/2009/11/liberal_regex_for_matching...

Interestingly I chose 5 letters as well for my url shortener. e.g. http://twitter.com/akkartik/status/7915316453580803

Link to updated article: http://daringfireball.net/2010/07/improved_regex_for_matchin...

Save you a click.

Ah, didn't know about that, thanks.

I agree with the points here. Markdown seems like a great idea. Maybe have a toggle for what the post is in (Markdown / Plain text)?

Also I'd like to see a post date on the page.

Finally is it open source?

I agree with having both the post date (optional?) and the markdown option, I like the idea of being able to toggle markdown, you could still default to plain-text and so preserve perfect backwards compatibility. Also I can't help but wonder about expiration dates and the ability to edit or delete, maybe have an optional password?

My point was to be able to publish readable "blog posts" on sites like HN and reddit without an actual blog. I'd love to hear feedback on whether it might be useful, and if not, what might make it so.

You can also do this by emailing anything (e.g. text, pictures, YouTube link, gist URL, etc) from any email address to post@posterous.com. Of course, future emails to the same address are tied to the same blog, so if anonymity is your goal (including no association to a previous anonymous post), that option wouldn't work.

Nice clean look & feel though. It looks almost exactly the same as what my Readability bookmarklet turn out.

Posterous does the hard stuff while this eliminates the hard stuff. There's a subtle (and interesting difference).

Posterous makes all sorts of decisions for you giving you a good default, eliminating and deferring choices. Here is no hard stuff to do for you. Simple vs easy.

I think this way has a much lower overhead and I wouldn't be surprised is link-less posts make use of this.

Weeeelll... I was somewhat inspired by readability, so a resemblance is not coincidental.

I have seen posterous, but I was going for something even simpler. The email to post idea is pretty cool though. Thanks a lot for the feedback.

Being able to send an email and get the URL back without having a full blog set up like posterous would be awesome. It really could become an anonymous blog.

Keep it as simple as possible. If you do implement any features make them as near invisible to people who aren't interested as possible. eg markup rules on a link somewhere else, 'tiny more options text toggle,' etc.

Don't compromise simplicity.

anonymous functions:functions::tidypub:blogs

Is there any text lenght limitation?

I love it.

Don't listen to those asking for markdown, WYSIWYG editing and the like - keep it simple. /Maybe/ do some detection to identify links and linkify them, but that's it. The instant usability and beautiful /enforced/ styling are its strong points, adding more customisability just dilutes this, IMO.


How about a script for a *NIX command line?

  $ tidypub -t 'Any Title' < foo.txt

    $ ./tidypub -t "How about this?" < tidypub
This is a python script I just wrote. Unfortunately, the white space gets lost. Try https://gist.github.com/721676

Does anyone else appreciate the irony of a Python app losing whitespace?

I definitely do, but just for record, it's the browser not rendering the white space. It is there if you look in the page source.

You would need to double the whitespaces if you wanted new paragraphs.

Aaron Swartz did it first with http://jottit.com/

Jottit works without JavaScript and also has a HTTPS version:


There is also a HTTPS-Everywhere ruleset for it in the current development branch.

For those reasons alone, I would always choose jottit over tidypub...

Why is working without js an advantage? Do you often browse on browsers that do not possess a js interpreter?

Because I choose to disable it by default for security and privacy reasons.

There is no good reason that this site should require javascript. Nothing it does is improved by the javascript requirement.

There is still a large number of mobile browsers whose javascript support is minimal or non-existant. Sure, the iPhone/Android market will be OK, but what about the Blackberry, Nokia and Motorola folks who still make up a majority of mobile browsers?

Also, a good number of security conscious folks who run Firefox also run noscript. This means that they can't use the site without explicitly whitelisting the site's javascript, which reduces it's immediate usability.

I use No(t)Script to whitelist sites I trust. Noticing there was blocked JavaScript on a page of simple text would prejudice me against it.

Because using code plus data where just data can be used introduces security risks and limits what people can do with the document. I would have hoped that the industry would have learned that already from PostScript, PDF, COM and the Microsoft Office formats.

Usability. I use a JS-capable browser, but many blind people don't, and they may be interested in this tool nonetheless.


Not really, js is an open standard with many competing and free implementations.

In fact I can't think of any reason how the two cases are in any way the same (I could see your point if we were talking about something like activex).

I like it. One minor suggestion: Put your < link > tags in the head because right now, I'm seeing ugly flashes of unstyled content (http://www.bluerobot.com/web/css/fouc.asp/).

Thanks for the suggestion. The website is actually in need of much cleanup, even though it is small. I was trying to roll it out asap, in fears that otherwise it would never see the light of day.

It is useful to share bits of a larger text. A "source" text box to input the URL of the source would be great. Thanks!

//A "source" text box to input the URL of the source//

If the source already has a URL, then why is it needed to create a another (short) URL for that source again! a URL shortener (bit.ly, goo.gl) could be used in that scenario. :)

You could just send part of the text or you could just want a text with a cleaner look.

If by the source you mean another page, then what's the point? Besides, scraping capabilities should be in place for some kind of text-import functionality to work.

To add to my earlier comment:

Jottit https://jottit.com has the same minimalist interface, but has a lot more features to offer.

  * "WYSIWYG" editing with Markdown syntax.
  * Custom subdomains
  * Access control
  * https
  * Custom theming etc.,

I don't think they're after the same thing, despite the similarities. TidyPub is pretty, readable, and, to use a term from the site, 'classy'. It's about ONE entry. One page.

Jottit is about making a website -- multiple pages, themes, etc. It's more like a quick wiki. It's certainly not as readable or pretty, but is quite utilitarian -- not a bad thing, just different.

So, despite the two both beginning the process with a simple textarea and a button, they're not the same, and neither should strive to be the other.

Nothing stops the user from using only the frontpage of jottit that provides the exact same functionality with no additional complexity.

It's useful as a user interface experiment. Most blogs require signing up before posting. This lets people post first, maybe get some traffic, then you can gradually suggest new features based on how each user uses it.

I doubt you'll get enough users though.

Could you tell us something about how it was built?

Well, that is not an exciting story. I used Django. And, oh yeah, its on shared hosting... for now...

Nice looking service. I'm not sure it's something I'd use but I could see it being used. One thing to look out for is spammers.

I find that the most of spam that I get on paste site I run is deplorable link spam for illegal content. I'm not talking about warez or torrent links either. I ended up having to write a filtering to look for keywords and url to content analysis and then submit content that triggers the filter to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Best of luck.

See Infogami. It's not available anymore, but maybe some use ideas there. http://web.archive.org/web/20061107190837/http://infogami.co...

It also seems very similar to the (crowded) pastebin space, which according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastebin have been around since at least 2002.

To be honest, I think it would be hard to get a profitable business out of your idea (the cost to acquire customers would probably exceed the lifetime present value). However, I suspect that profit isn't necessarily your intention here.


http://blettr.com/ seems closer, with support for photos, videos, and privacy controls as well.

Definitely too complex... Tidypub or jottit win on the simplicity.

This has got to be one of the most terrible domain names I've ever seen.

I'd like to see you do blettr.

Looks very nice. Maybe add a button to toggle between light and dark interface?

That's a great idea! When making it I was really torn between a dark and light scheme. You solved the dilemma. Thanks.

+1 for this

i built exactly this last year, over a weekend ... it's at http://reduce.li

Though i dont maintain it anymore, there's basic visitor tracking by adding a + to the generated url, just like bit.ly.

Very soon, online pharmacy bots started spamming me!

In retrospect, looking at all the positive feedback here, I feel that where I went wrong was adding bloat like picture uploading/url shortening etc...

Not sure if this was said, but add a little text editor like in gmail so one could add links, etc. The main point of what your trying to do is so people can add this text to twitter, facebook, etc. Like a mini published text based website. Great Job!

I like this a lot. I can already think back to a number of times when I or a friend could have used this. I can't imagine it being simpler to use, and I like the nice, clean presentation of the text.

Another similar project is http://wrttn.in/ (it's a royal pain to spell). Is it true that tidypub really has no admin link to edit the original post from?

This is one feature of http://stk8.co


But stk8.co supports links as well, like:



Interesting, merits further development I think. The idea has merit but not quite just in this current form, you need to find some other missing element to marry it too perhaps.

Nice. If you were to use the placeholder attribute for the title box, and change the publish button to a "submit" type input, then it would work without requiring JavaScript...

Good idea but logo not readable. https://skitch.com/jm3net/rnqge/logo-not-readable

Why not expand on the concept that people could use a place to store an annotation of any sort. That way, if I want to leave people text, photos, a presentation, an embedded video, etc, I can do that without the need to create a blog or let that person see a full history of other things I've written. Another idea would be to generate a QR code for the page.

That being said, I can't think of very many times I've needed something like this. If I had more to say on a topic than I wanted to leave in a comment, I'd blog about it. If I knew the person, I'd email them.

> Why not expand on the concept...

Well I'm glad he didn't wait to show it until after he'd expanded on the concept. This is a great example of software that does one thing and does it well.

+1 for QR code gen

+2 I think that would make a nice, easy, useful way to tie a digital comment to the physical world, QR graffiti tied to a manifesto anyone?

Text should be fully justified, rather than just left justified.

Ligatures would be nice too, but I guess that is dependent on things outside the apps control.

Interesting. What I like the most about it is that it ends up looking very similar to my Readability setup. :-)

How about adding a print button/link on the same page as the text ?

Why? Can't you use browser's print button?

When I print preview in firefox, the margins seem to big. All the text is squished into a narrow column.

I think it just needs a @media(print) stylesheet then? (Or whatever the actual name is.)

This is great. MathJax support would kick ass too.

Ah, I was looking for something like that. Thanks for the pointer! This is a feature which I, personally, would like to see soon.

Not really. Readability is for content that's already online. His 'competition' is sites like pastebin.

That depends on what you think the product is. Tidypub is pastebin+readability.

What about pastebin ?

very neat.. nice work!

great idea

To get rid of the cutoff gray background after pressing the feedback tab in Chrome, you can add "html {height: 100%}" to your CSS. This adds a vertical scrollbar though, but again just in Chrome. I had to deal with this on my Get Satisfaction widget too.

Nice service by the way. I love the low barrier to posting. Like pastie.org, but for publishing.

neat idea, nice spike at it. i could see this filling a certain use case for some folks.

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