publishing

Plenty of tools let writers create content the way they want. Does a so-called “minimal” writing app appeal to you? Great, here are (almost) half a dozen. Want something with a little more power? Take a look at Microsoft Word and Google Docs. Need to write directly in your browser? Fine, have a look through the Chrome Web Store, you’ll find something.

But comparatively few tools change the way content is published. Many websites, from the online edition of large media properties like Time and Fortune to smaller, personal blogs, rely on just one tool to get the job done: WordPress. The service’s near-ubiquity has made it the de facto standard for Web publishing, which in turn has led to a standardized tool that can serve many customers, as long as they are willing to meet WordPress on its own terms.

Anyone writing within WordPress’ dashboard sees the same thing, regardless of how different each post looks after it has been published. The system gives little indication of how different formatting and styling might look after publication, requiring users to constantly “Preview” their articles and try to make changes from memory. As websites start to focus on more visually rich layouts and shift from a homepage-driven to an article-driven design, WordPress increasingly feels like an imperfect relic.

Enter Marquee, a content management system (CMS) developed by TechStars New York alum Droptype. Instead of tasking Web publishers with developing their content and then worrying about how it looks later, Marquee allows users to see a simple, “what you see is what you get” view of their posts as they would appear when published. The service is rolling out its latest iteration to early testers, and others will be allowed onto its platform in the coming weeks.

“WordPress was such a leap forward that inevitably people used it for things it wasn’t meant for,” says Droptype co-founder Alex Cabrera. Having to support so many customers and their varied needs has limited what WordPress is able to change in its own system. Marquee wants to break from that techno-tyranny and approach Web publishing in a way that doesn’t rely on a standardized dashboard.

“We’re really about allowing content creators to do what they want,” Cabrera says. “Most CMSs think of the atomic unit as a page — we look at a page as a lot of different content blocks.” Users are able to insert “blocks” of content, from the typical text entry to images, videos, and music embeds, into their posts to create multimedia posts that would have been astoundingly frustrating to create in WordPress or other publishing tools.

Marquee isn’t the only publishing platform to break content down into different “blocks.” Squarespace, another New York-based CMS maker, also relies on the metaphor for its own blogging platform. Marquee’s approach seems to be more visual — Squarespace almost seems like a hybrid of Marquee and WordPress’ styles — and Squarespace is less about blogging and more about complete website management, but there are similarities.

Focusing specifically on content allows Marquee to bring content management into an increasingly complex Web that relies less on columns of text and more on varied, custom-designed stories. (Enter obligatory “Snow Fall” reference here.) The platform is already being used by Narratively, a Kickstarter-backed media company, and Cabrera says that Marquee could be used to power other media platforms in the future.