It's an outliner world

Mar 25, 2013

Dave Winer invited me to test Little Outliner, a new outliner that he and Kyle Shank unveiled this morning. I figured the best way for me to test this was to write a blog post that I could post to mistersugar.com to explain why I’ve been following Dave’s development of outliner tools and the OPML editor. So, here goes.

Just as I was headed to the beach with my family last August, my friend James Parker sent a message and asked why I’d been spending so much time learning to use the OPML editor and its toolset. Since late 2011, I’d been blogging my exploration of the tools developed by RSS/blogging pioneer Dave Winer (see here and here and here). I promised Jim that I’d answer him from St. Augustine, but the family fun on the beach kept me away from my laptop, and then school and work and ScienceOnline and a bunch of other other activities vied for my attention. I never got around to answering Jim, although I thought of his question every day as I posted short messages or links to my Sugarcubes linkblog, which runs with Dave’s Radio2 and URL shortener (I have stor.im as my shortener domain).

By the way, I met Jim on my first day at college in 1988. He lived across the hall, and he became a good friend. When he wasn’t in the theater designing sets and directing plays, he was in the science building using the computers with whch he could code and connect to other computers. Jim was on the Internet, while I was working on the Carroll News using Macintosh and Pagemaker. Later, Jim did some interesting high-tech video production, and now he’s got his own mobile app startup. He’s been a big influence on me.

Well, one of my activities over the past year has been my occasional narrative variety show, Talk Story, which kicked off last summer. That first show was just days after Dave came through North Carolina and shared a long bike ride with me on a near-100-degree July morning. Over brunch, we talked about my excursion into the World Outline, which, with Dave’s patient, instructive help over a couple of phone calls, I was able to get up and running on an Amazon EC2 server and S3 disk space. World Outline has allowed me to generate pages for Talk Story and the few shows we’ve done. Using the OPML editor to draft and shift and rearrange the outlines that get generated into those World Outline pages has been eye opening.

Recall that it was Dave who convened us for brunch the morning after the Triangle Bloggers Conference in 2005. It was that morning that he and I talked about building community, and his encouragement to “bootstrap the community” fueled my energies in organizing BlogTogether and, with Bora and Paul and Brian and Karyn and others, what would become ScienceOnline. But Dave also talked to me that morning about outliners. Frankly, I didn’t comprehend what he was talking about, but I told him I hoped I could understand one day. I promised to keep reading Scripting News.

I didn’t understand outlining in 2005, but I was already an inveterate maker of lists — another important lesson my parents and grandparents taught me (I blogged that observation here). To this day, I still make lists in notebooks and I scribble notes on scraps of paper. Often I’ll rewrite my lists or start a new page in a pocket notebook to draft another description of an idea or project. As I’ve written before, the act of writing is an integral part of my thinking and knowing and speaking and feeling. I’m happiest with a pen and paper, even if I balance that with hours a week trying the latest computer tools for writing and editing, like the new Little Outliner.

Drafting my blog post in Little Outliner is very easy. I’m loving this.

Reading Dave over the years, and seeing his enthusiasm — yeah, his evangelism — for outlining, I wanted to try the tools he was making and offering. His EC2 for Poets and S3 for Poets tutorials beckoned. I muddled my way through those, kept trying to understand coding and server management and such, posting questions to the Frontier user list (another learning experience: providing clear and straightforward bug reports and user expectations takes some learning, but it’s making me a better communicator all around). I still don’t fully comprehend it all. But for nearly a year now, I’ve been using the OPML Editor and posting to Radio2 and listening to podcasts in River2 and adding pages to Talk Story and posting comments to Dave’s essays.

And here’s the thing. The other night, I dreamed about outlining. I woke with the realization that I’m beginning to understand outlining and the power of moving my ideas and words up and down and left and right. I feel myself changing, growing. That’s why I took up blogging back in 2000. That led me to Dave. Dave led me to outlining.

And, now? Now Dave and Kyle are making a bunch of outlining tools and Howto documents to make it even easier for me — and you — to use outliners. From what I’ve seen so far, this is going to be fun, full of learning, and quite empowering.

Jim, hope this finally answers your question.

Note: after I finished drafting this post in Little Outliner, I selected the top headline, hit Cmd-c to copy all of the text below that headline, then went into Textpattern, which I use to manage my blog, and a Cmd-v pasted the text into my writing window. Smooth and simple.

Anton Zuiker

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