Another Chapter Completed in the Craft Story — The 2023 Year In Review

A look at what the 2023 year brought to Craft, a superb note-taking and document-writing app.

Another Chapter Completed in the Craft Story — The 2023 Year In Review
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Another year of Craft updates, twists and turns comes to a conclusion. I waited until the very end of 2023 before sharing this year in review. On December 21, the Craft team officially shared the news: the next release will come sometime in January 2024. I applaud this decision because it puts the user’s interests first. Imagine if a last-minute bug popped up with this last release and just before going for the holidays. This could have been a major setback and a public relations crisis to manage at the worst time.

It’s hard to tell if it was a good or bad year for Craft. Updates seemed more spaced out than last year’s, and most updates were less significant in general, with a few exceptions. Before reviewing this year’s events, I went back to read last year’s review just for fun. With mixed feelings, I have to say that most of my expectations for the year didn’t materialize. Maybe I was expecting far too much. I'll try to do better this year.

This year in review highlights what I think are defining moments of the Craft journey. Your appreciation of which update was significant will probably differ from mine, and that’s ok. I usually don’t take advantage of collaborative features in Craft; this explains why I don’t see that as significant for me as other users might consider. Let’s dive in.

Improvements to the outside

The year started with a bang with four significant additions: page breaks, a sidebar redesign, a template library and the automatic table of contents. Then, near the end of the year, smart links were introduced with the ability to embed all sorts of content from web services like YouTube, Vimeo and Github, to name a few. But, fundamentally, the document creation capabilities stayed pretty much the same (except for the page break feature and smart links).

For many things, Craft seems to be at a standstill: limited image manipulation, no tags, limited support for new operating system features (i.e. Shortcuts support never evolved), and many minor quality-of-life improvements are still missing (more keyboard navigation, please!). In 2023, the Craft team priorities were set to work on the outside of the Craft: collaboration and document sharing. You are the most impacted user if you work with other collaborators with more than one team and with many spaces.

If you use Craft on different platforms like I do, you’ll probably encounter some inconsistencies in the user experience. Compared to the Mac version, the web version differs in a few ways: you’ll get the redesigned right sidebar and the TOC features, but not on the Mac. These inconsistencies increased during 2023, not the other way around. If you want the latest and sometimes the greatest, the web version is the place to go. And you know what? It’s a great user experience overall! It is so good that sometimes I forget I’m not using the web version! It says a lot.

All in all, I have difficulty finding a new feature that made unanimity among the community. Smart links might be the one that comes to my mind. Anything else? I fail to see it.

The severe consequences of poor user community management

Now, a few words about user community management are in order. Things are confusing. Communities are often places where users voice their concerns, requests and appreciation. Craft is no exception, but there is a lot of redundancy. There is this split in the user community between Slack and Circle. The former lacks conversation retention, and the latter lacks instant communication. The engagement drastically dropped in both of them. I see Slack as being less friendly. It is the platform of choice for developers, but I might be wrong. Would a Discord server better fit the bill? Who knows. And I’m not talking about Reddit. And lastly, we still don’t have a public roadmap where people can vote for their requests (that is why I created one myself). Anyway, it is what it is. Now, let’s replay the year’s milestones.

Year replay

Here is a rundown of changes that occurred during the year.

  • January: Page breaks were introduced. 💥
  • February: Major UI redesign: document tabs and sidebar become a floating vertical card.
  • February: TOC (web first). 💥
  • March: Templates library with user submissions, more than a month before an update. The Mac app was updated with the double sidebar that was available on the web. No release of the iOS app yet. 💥
  • March: First spring day brings another controversial update: the iPhone loses its search gesture. The code editor is yet again updated.
  • April: updates bring better spaces and team management. It’s finally possible to move space from one team to another. Limitations and rules about data movements are explained here. 💥
  • May: An update brought back the pull-down to search on the iPhone, and users rejoiced! Auto-style for document background drops. TOC on shared documents! It's been a long time since the web version was updated.
  • June: a silent web update introduced the search option on shared documents. In mid-June, I stopped expecting new Craft releases. The first releases of Apple's latest major operating system seem to break a few things in Craft, which could prolong the wait for any significant update. User reactions using emojis are now possible. Who asks for that?
  • July: a release with under-the-hood fixes for better cohabitation with iPadOS 17 and iOS 17. It's really a slow year for Craft. Version 2.5.9 came out on July 17th without the usual release notes. On July 25, we got an update touching many subjects, triggering an analysis that many people liked.
  • August: The first release of the month brought Sign in with Microsoft, resolvable comment threads and faster image library loading when inserting an image on iOS. There are other fixes for iOS 17 / iPadOS 17 but there are still many problems, like editing text on iPadOS with autocompletion conflicting with cursor key movement. YouTube Embeds introduced! 💥
  • September: A quick update seemingly only about fixes, but bookmark design was also updated to be more in line with YouTube embed formatting. Another update with iOS 17 bug fixes, improvements to text display (no more clipping) and inline commenting. More embeds were added (now seemingly called "Smart links"). SSO comes in. The Creator is introduced, more as a proof of concept than anything else.
  • October: More smart links and a more refined way to control access to shared documents using email addresses or domain names.
  • November: More smart links and support for a custom subdomain per team are introduced.

During the summer, the Craft team shared a partial roadmap with many items still not delivered as I’m publishing this review (yet, they were presented as coming soon). Fundamental questions remain unanswered, too, like the future of eXtensions, which never left the beta stage. But not all is lost. Thanks to Craft's recently introduced capabilities, I devised a scheme to sell Craft templates securely using the shared document’s email-based controlled access and Gumroad. In this scenario, by virtue of some new features, new use cases for Craft users emerge. I find this rather exciting. Now, back to defunct eXtensions: they could enable many more possibilities and use cases if they made a comeback.

Looking ahead to 2024

My wish list for Craft is long and encompasses so many different aspects of this app. But, for next year, I’m rooting for a renewed focus on the core experience, and an honest acknowledgement that in 2024, a thriving user community is mandatory. Walk the talk should be the way to go. For that to happen, regular and more active community management and more transparency are required, if it means actually sticking to the communicated plans. Am I expecting too much? Time will tell.

Last year’s year in review

The Craft Story Continues — Year 2022 in Review And Looking Ahead