A burst of development energy in a number of directions recently.

And things are starting to self-organize towards the new ecosystem.

Today’s exciting news : OWL makes a very nice desktop app, thanks to Electron.

Here’s the github repo.

I’ll be doing more testing, compiling, packaging this shortly. So that even non-geeks can play with it. But it seems to work fine.

To be honest, the few times I’ve installed OWL on non-geek friends’ machines, the “run a server and look at OWL in the browser” part has confused / put people off. Now things are VERY much simpler.

This is also going to give me some momentum to add a couple of extra features / ideas I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of years.

In the short term … this desktop repo is likely to be where I develop the next round of functionality. Though I’ll be porting these new features back to the Android and web-based versions.

Main issues in my mind at the moment : I’ve dropped the Python based server for this. We’re now purely Coffee / Javascript. That feels cleaner and more convenient. Will I now try do the same for the web version. It makes sense. But straight node? Express? Meteor?

What’s simplest and leads to least repetition of code?

OK. At this point I’m now officially confused by the Dave Winer road-map / strategy.

I’m sure it’s evolving and exploratory. But Dave’s productivity means that I’m no longer keeping up with how this is meant to go down.

So we had an outliner. (Fargo). And then an open-sourced version of the editor (Yay! Concord). Dave got the religion of “Unhosted” apps. running entirely in the browser and using various back-end storage. (Cool). Although he has a node server for that too.

Meanwhile, there’s a radio3 which is … what? … blogging software? an RSS generator? based on the outliner? And river4 which is an RSS reader. Or is it radio4 and river3?

And now there’s a MyWord which looked like a way to format long-form essays to make an open competitor to Medium. And Little Pork Chop to cut long stories down to Tweet-size chunks to post on Twitter.

But MyWord is also meant to post to Twitter. (I think)

And now MyWord also seems to be blogging software. (Following the path of Medium?) But when I asked about how the outline editor would connect to it, Dave said he wasn’t thinking about it. Instead MyWord is gaining an ordinary in-browser text editor. But it’s also getting a “front page” which shows an ordered list of posts … pulled from an RSS feed.

Dave’s own blog seems to be outline based. There’s a liveblog version for “narrating his work” that basically IS in an outline. But MyWord seems to be going off in a different direction.

So what’s actually going on here? Are these all pieces of a single jigsaw puzzle that can be put together to make a comprehensive whole (a version of Radio Userland as a swarm of Unhosted apps)? Or is Dave running a bunch of experiments in parallel, pursuing an outliner-first strategy on the one hand, and chasing Medium and Twitter on the other?

Good news. The latest version of BTSync actually lets me specify which folder on my Android tablet I want to sync.

That means I can explicitly tell it to sync. the OWL directory that OWLdroid uses by default. (Somewhere between updates of Android and BTSync last year, this facility got lost.)

So it’s looking like BTSyncing between my tablet and laptop are working again. So OWLdroid is a viable piece of software again. (The syncing with the laptop makes a huge difference in day-to-day usefulness.)

Yes, I know this isn’t great. I need to figure out how to ensure that OWLdroid works. The longer term plan is to move to having remoteStorage.js as an option. But that’s a little way down my todo-queue.

So, Dave has a nice template for showing essay-length writing.

And naturally, the way things are evolving in 2015, it’s a “single-page web-app” which can pull in the actual content from another URL.

Of course, I’d like to write essays using an outliner. And I’m using OWL which is really just the Concord editor that saves files in OPML. But myword.io has a new custom JSON format for its input (that also seems to allow Markdown).

So here’s the question : what’s the story for converting an outline to an essay? Is myword going to evolve to import OPML directly? Is the myword JSON format going to become a standard? How should OPML turn into myword documents?

In one sense it’s easy. You can always just flatten OPML and dump it to a raw text file. Perhaps with some indentation based on outline depth. (Although that might fight the Markdown.)

Or are there plans to represent any structure in the essay (sections, section headings etc.) with structure in the OPML? Is there a project to work on this? Or thoughts on a standard that I could start to support?

Obviously I have a couple of my own solutions in this area : GeekWeaver and bootdown. But if there are any emerging standards / conventions planned, then I’m up for supporting them. Both GeekWeaver and BootDown are useful, but they’re both rather old-skool command-line Python scripts which don’t necessarily fit into the workflow of many people in 2015.

Update : Dave replied :

It is what it is.

I have no plans at this time to do anything with it.

I might swing back around to this, or not.

MyWord is MIT Licensed, so if you really want it, you can do it.

OK. So right now, I’ll probably just do a flat export of text written in OPML and a quick JSON wrapper. And then think further. As this ties into questions about GeekWeaver, the future of some of my Python code base (as opposed to moving more into the browser)

Dave also points to his code :

Here’s the code I added to Fargo to generate the myword.io JSON.


As you can see, there ain’t much there! 🙂

Still. Very useful.

How is OWL looking these days? Here are a couple of screenshots :


OWLdroid Feb 2014
OWLdroid Feb 2014
Note that I’ve moved the navbar of OWL into the space which Bootstrap usually uses for the main menu. This is a big win in terms of space, and the fact that it’s now always visible, even when scrolling down long pages. I’m not sure, yet, how this will work on smaller / phone-sized screens.

OWL on Laptop (Firefox on Linux)

OWL screenshot (Firefox on Linux)
OWL screenshot (Firefox on Linux)

Been meaning to do a video demo of OWL for a while, to make it clear what it really is. Today there was some Twitter discussion of Fargo + TiddlyWiki + syncing so I had to drop a link. And decided that it was better to have a rough and ready video example than to wait until I did it properly.

So here it is. Please excuse the whole “one-handed camera while I try to drive everything from the other hand” bit.

I hope it gets the idea across.

Second in a series of questions occupying my mind at the beginning of 2014. Which may (or may not) inform what I’ll be working on.

2) What About Project ThoughtStorms?

Unlike the first question in the series, this one is relatively light.

It’s obvious that OWL is the new SdiDesk. And where my private personal organizer / wiki-notebook etc. work should now be focussed. It’s equally obvious that it’s not, in itself, a publication medium. Smallest Federated Wiki is still looking good for that. SFW also has some great features : federation being one. The embedded media types being another. It’s actively improving. And looks like it’s become the “official” wiki in the node.js library. ThoughtStorms isn’t moving off SFW in the foreseeable future.

So Project ThoughtStorms is still, largely, about tools that support SFW. At the same time, this dichotomy between one tool for writing and one tool for presenting is a little bit … disconcerting. It’s natural in the outlining world, of course, a separation between outliner as authoring tool and blog / slide-show / book as rendering. But in the wiki world, where writing / editing / reading are all blurred together in a kind of closed loop, it feels wrong.

Nevertheless, there’s little real question there. In 2014 OWL is my writing tool. SFW is my public thinking space. The open question is about what bridges to build between the worlds.

Should OWL export complete SFW pages? (Easyish, I think). Should it import them? (To be consistent with my promise not to abandon SdiDesk users?) Should I try to get it to speak the federation protocol of SFW? Where should I be capturing quick notes and draft thoughts that aren’t (yet) ready for publication?

No great soul-searching here. But a bit of quizzical head-scratching required.

(Next question coming soon.)

Alert readers of my recent post on writing in wiki who followed the link to the old SDI Philosophy post may have noticed that I said :

Outliners are surprisingly bad for managing todo-lists.

So what’s with OWL?

Well, er … yes … the truth is, I am now using OWL very heavily. Pretty much every day. And I am putting to-do lists into it. All I can say is, it’s working really well for that. Possibly because I don’t try to keep everything in one big hierarchy. But have different pages for different aspects of my life. So the to-do lists are rarely more than 2 levels deep. And I think the longest one is about 20 items.

It’s a really comfortable combination of geometries : easily navigable wiki pages at the large-scale and outlining at the small.