Adding a bunch of images, pull quotes, and whiz-bang design elements to this post would be a lesson in frustration. It can be done — look no further than the story of Adam Penenberg’s hacking for an example — but it’s a finicky process that takes far longer than it probably should. That’s because, like a lot of big blogs, Pando relies on WordPress, which simply wasn’t developed with magazine-like article layouts in mind.
Marquee, a publishing tool that began accepting users into its service earlier this week, claims to make the creation of those articles a bit easier. The service was built by a five person team, Droptype, that bootstrapped its development by finding client publishers who wanted to use the tool even though it hadn’t yet been finished. Those publishers would effectively act as beta testers during the final stages of development.
Conceptually, the service hasn’t changed much since I first used it in March. Articles are comprised of various “blocks” that allow users to add images, stylize text, and fiddle with an article’s structure through a drag-and-drop interface that closely resembles the editing tools available at Medium. The editing view offers a live preview of what the article will look like once it’s been published, which stands in stark contrast to WordPress’ insistence on making users preview a post whenever they want to change something.
That duality is a core aspect of Marquee. Its approach to content creation and management resembles Medium; its ability to be used as a personal publishing tool that isn’t worried about becoming the publication of the future is modeled after WordPress. The service has been built as a mishmash of these services’ strengths, effectively creating what Droptype hopes is a compelling service that doesn’t allow any delusions of grandeur to get in the way of becoming a worthwhile publishing tool.
“We’re not a media company, and we’re not a content company. That’s not our business,” says Droptype co-founder Alex Cabrera. “If other companies want to do that it’s fine, and if they want to build tools to make publishing better that makes sense. That’s what we would do if we were in that business, but we’re not.”
Functionally, the service has greatly improved over the last few months. It used to suffer from weird glitches that would make even the simplest of tasks, like uploading an image, nigh impossible. Now it allows me to add images, experiment with different embeds, and stylize text without any issues. It was clear that Marquee needed to stay in the metaphorical oven a bit longer — now that it has, the service is finally starting to become a potential alternative to other publishing tools.
It’s still too early for established media companies to abandon WordPress in favor of Marquee. But it’s finally ready for independent writers and Droptype’s clients, and that’s why the service is finally being made available to a few of the people who have expressed interest in the past. That’s enough for Droptype, which has eschewed fundraising in favor of bootstrapping the service and developing it in tandem with the publishers that want to create visually complex stories without having to scream profanities at the WordPress dashboard.