Digital Researcher

Gingko, a writing tool that will help you organise your text

There seem to be plenty of writing apps launching on the web at the moment. Most seem to be a replacement for Notepad or similar, with a little extra formatting. A few have unique selling points. Hemingway for example will test your text for readability. ZenPen is a distraction free editor and StackEdit is a markdown editor that can sync with Dropbox, so your work is accessible from multiple computers.

Enter Gingko, whose selling point is not so much the editor as the organisation of the edited files. All the other editors deal with single blocks of text. Gingko organises text into trees. It’s not simply for writing text, but also for organising a plan of what you’re going to write and ordering sections of what you write.

The basis for Gingko is the tree. You have a base column, and you can add cards to this. Each card can take as much or as little text as you like. You enter the text, click to save it, and then you can drag and drop the cards to order or re-order them as you like.

An example of a tree in Gingko
An example of a tree in Gingko.

What makes the app more useful is that each individual card can be the start of a new column. So for example. In this case I’ve split what I want to write into five sections. Each of these cards links to two or more cards, splitting down the writing into more manageable headings. A third level connects this text I’m writing here to the headers. If I decided to still my concluding comments at the head of the text, I could grab the header and all the associated text would be dragged along with it. Like Microsoft Word’s outline view.

Starting a new project gives you the option to start with a blank tree, or work through one of a selection of pre-made templates.

The templates Gingko offers for new projects
The templates Gingko offers for new projects.

The text format is Markdown. This is a way of formatting text with mark-up. For example putting text between one pair of asterisks puts it into *italics* and putting it between two pairs makes it **bold**. It takes a little memorising, but there is a handy link for formatting help. It’s not as easy to format as ZenPen, but with a little time it becomes easy enough to use.

Getting the text out takes a little work, going through the export menu. You can choose HTML, Plain Text or docx.

The great advantage of Gingko is that it works well for collaborative tasks. The base file is on the web, so everyone with an editing link can access it from anywhere. This can be less frustrating than using a file on a central server.

How useful the tree system is for organising that project is probably a matter of personal taste. The ability to put text into blocks reminds me of Scrivener, but I find Scrivener much more powerful. This isn’t a big surprise, it’s more expensive, but seeing as I already have Scrivener, I’m not sure I *need* Gingko for organising text. You might feel differently.

The other problem is that for long or complex pieces of work, the editing area of Gingko is very small. It’s not something I’d be comfortable adding a large amount of text into. However, for short sections of text something like StackEdit suits me better.

There is also the problem that the files sit on Gingko’s server. which is great so far, but for any important work I’d like the reassurance of having a copy of the file on my computer. This was underlined while writing this, when my link to internet broke and the scripts started complaining that my text changes weren’t saved. I was able to reconnect and fix the problem, but it’s not something I’d want to hand over something important to.

Overall Gingko doesn’t quite work for me, but I think writing apps are like comfy chairs. What one person hates, another might adore. If you find organising text is a problem, then it’s definitely worth a try. I could see it being useful for organising a small project, if not actually writing in the app itself.

However, these tools tend to change over time and while Gingko isn’t quite right today, it’s possible that it will become a very useful tool in the future with just a few changes.

As an extra note, the tree system isn’t immediately easy to grasp, so what I’ve done is use Gingko to write this review and made the tree viewable. You can see it by clicking here.

You can also play with it yourself for free with three trees.

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