As some folks might know, my degree is not in Computer Science, but in English Creative Writing. When I was doing workshops in university, my professors and classmates all used Word and many of them used the built-in version control feature to version their documents. This was, and still is, a need that has been poorly anticipated, but with a little context, it makes sense.

It’s very useful to be able to see differences between your drafts or to work on improvements incrementally. This is the reason that when I wrote my poems and short stories, as well as the myriad literature papers I had to write, I used Git for this purpose.

I also once told a classmate of mine that I had written some code (in my case, XSLT stylesheets to convert DocBook to XSL-FO) that processed all of my papers automatically into the proper format, which at the time was the MLA, or Modern Language Association, format. I had come to the conclusion that this was a thing which was boring and repetitive and a computer could easily do, all of which is true. However, I had to mention to my classmate that he could not use my tools because they didn’t work on Word files.

Overall, we typically find that in the real world, especially in the case of document production, people would benefit from version control and automatic formatting. Imagine a lawyer, who must provide documents formatted to some court’s document formatting standard. Why not have the computer do this automatically when it excels at this task? Similarly, that lawyer might well want to look at different iterations of the same document over the course of drafting it, or track revisions after discussions with a client or colleagues.

Unfortunately, a lot of the tooling that we have in these cases, which uses Git or toolchains like LaTeX or Apache FOP, is not very accessible to non-technical people, which is a shame. There’s a lot of benefit to simply letting people use a markup or text-based language such as Markdown or AsciiDoc, or even something more complex like DocBook, and generating the right format based on that, keeping incremental snapshots in between. I can imagine that there’s a giant market opportunity here to be had.