Writing, be it creative, papers, assignments is nearly always aimed at a final complete work. But what would it be like, to say, peer over the shoulder of you favorite writer or even yourself, to see how everything evolved, even in real time?

Here is a tool to try as part of extra exploration in the Ontario Extend Modules. Draftback is an way to do that with anything written a Google Doc you have rights to edit.

Play Back Your Own Google Docs

Draftback is an extension for Chrome that merely taps into all the revision data that Google Docs automatically saves.  And none of this is done outside of your computer, or away in some other company’s cloud.

Since Draftback is a Chrome extension, your Docs data never leaves your own computer, and, unless you explicitly publish an excerpt, the extension never communicates any sensitive data with any server—it just fetches it over a secure connection from Google. All the computation for rendering the playback is done by your own computer, and it’s stored there, too.

If you do wish to share, Draftback offers a way for you to select a portion of the history, and render it publically as a video.

This example is from a document that Terry Greene and Alan Levine co-edited when compiling the list of examples of past Extender work. While this may not be the most interesting document, it may give you a sense what Draftback can do (note the embedded video does not usually play; try a link)

To try it, install Draftback from the Chrome store. Then visit any Google Doc you have editing access to, and press the Draftback button.

And for added interest, especially for the technogeeks here, read the story by developer James Somers of How I Reverse Engineered Google Docs To Play Back Any Document’s Keystrokes.  It’s worth reading for understanding the motivation of someone who creates a technical tool:

I’ve long been obsessed by what you might call the “archaeology” of writing: how something like John McPhee’s profile of Bill Bradley (A Sense of Where You Are), or T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, comes to be.

But what if you could actually see these guys at work? Isn’t it a shame you can’t?


That’s why I wanted something like Draftback. I had this image I just couldn’t shake: you’d get someone whose writing is accessible, concise, uncontroversial, well-styled, and, above all, quintessentially writing: i.e., someone who’s writing in a form where the writing is what there is, where the job isn’t to report but rather to put into words what we would think if only we had their critical equipment and verbal range… someone like A.O. Scott, who reviews movies for the New York Times and does such a good job of it that sometimes I’ll watch a movie just so I can read his review.

If you give Draftback a try or have some ideas how you might use it in your teaching, experiment with it and share in a response.

Example for "Seeing the Entire History of a Google Doc with Draftback":

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