Grammarly is writing a new, cash-rich chapter

The news that Grammarly raised $ 200 million on a valuation of $ 13 billion is evidence (pun intended) that writers’ technological tools remain an extremely valuable niche.

Oddly, Grammarly says that cash flow has been positive for years, so the funding, in part from giant VC BlackRock, is an opportunity to grow its tech and sales channels. It comes as the Ukrainian-American company launches Mac and Windows desktop versions to complement its current free browser extensions. Grammarly’s entire freemium service includes features such as grammar, spell checking, sound analysis, and plagiarism detection. Grammarly is only available in English and claims to currently serve 30 million people.

An SDK should also help Grammarly with its mission of being embedded anywhere people design words from email, messages, and Slack boards to presentations, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs. And that’s a mission. Despite the rise of vlogging and social audio apps like Clubhouse, our language skills remain the best chance at convincing, commanding, and flattering. Embarrassment over the inability to produce powerful (or even clear) prose remains widespread, hence the demand for copywriting at the behest of everyone from CEOs to social media managers.

Writing tools have a long history of outline features and grammar and spelling checks in word processing, software-assisted translation (led by companies like SDL), speech recognition programs like DragonDictate, predictive and auto-correcting smartphone texts, and, the popular add-in for Zoom transcripts. Still, many lay writers (and some professionals too) remain concerned about their ability to write coherently and stay on the right side of the self-imposed grammar police.

Grammarly says that its differentiation lies in its AI-infused approach to helping people “say what they really mean”. It’s a bold goal, but all too often prose can get lost in half-remembered “rules” and vague notions of “correct grammar”. Automated tools rarely listen to good writing and prefer to let engines that rule out shared infinitives find their way. With these lights we would never go Star Trek’s atmospheric and musical “Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before” and instead we would endure the clunk of “boldly go where no one has gone before”. But to be Grammarly fair, I like the way it encourages writers to take action instead of being prescriptive, and the auto-suggestion feature probably suits a generation that grew up with autocorrection.

“Brilliant writing awaits,” trumpets the Grammarly website. Maybe not, but functional prose and decent advice? Yes sir. A foundation in AI should meet Grammarly for long-term improvement, but analyzing the English language, with roots stretching back well over 1,000 years, remains a task for the ages.

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