Listen everyone, I gotta come out to you all …

I am now officially an outliner.

For a long time I thought that outlines, like all hierarchical documents, were limited and inferior to graph-shaped wikis.

Now I get it.

The point of the outliner is not the hierarachical structure as a navigation aid – free-form hypertext is still superior.

No, the point of the outliner is the collapse which lets you manage and manipulate bundles of items at the same time. That’s something I never managed to get right in SdiDesk. Although I perceived the need for a “PageSet” to create a bundle that could be used for, say, exporting etc. I a) never got that working technically, which was partly because b) I never really made sense of it “conceptually” to myself.

What’s great about the outliner is its “scale-free” / “fractal” / “recursive” / “self-similar” nature – which means the same operations (collapse, copy, move, publish) can work on anything from a short list, to a chapter to a volume composed of multiple chapters. I’ve really started to realize this over the last few months as I’ve used the OPML editor for more things that I’d have once used SdiDesk for.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still love wiki. It’s still my favouritest type of software in the world, ever. And I still use SdiDesk every day. But now, I’m starting to appreciate that there’s a need to manage a hierarchy of scales, and until I find out how to combine that with wiki-nature (and into SdiDesk), I’ll probably be outlining most days too.

(In my day-job I also spend a whole lot of time with spreadsheets, but that’s another story. SdiDesk was always meant to handle grid-shaped data, it just wasn’t developed enough to be really usable.)

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  1. Phil, so you now like 1-pane outliners (collapsing).

    For me, 1-pane outliners or folding editors are more useful when you are working with the information / data to create something, i.e., in the creative stage rather than when you are just putting information in some organised form that you can get at quickly or traverse, i.e., in the organised stage.

    The wikidpad so-called outline application has a fold feature, which is probably close to what you want.

    I agree with you that a wiki approach is better than a 2-pane outliner although I do like 3-pane outliners. It would be nice if you could add a folding possibility to SDIDesk.

  2. Yep, definitely 1-pane. I still shudder when I see something with an “explorer”-like menu-panel on the left (especially with little icons of open and closed folders.)

    I totally agree with your point about folding editors being more useful for “creating” than organizing. That actually explains my usage better than I did.

    I mainly use SdiDesk at work for capturing little bits of documentation, scripts, contact information, server addresses and log-ins etc. So stuff I need to come back to.

    I try to use it for to-do lists as well, but I find myself using Excel more for that. (I guess SdiDesk’s table functionality needs to be a lot better before I could go back.)

    But I find myself using the OPML editor far more when I want to create stuff. That includes longer to-do lists, collections of my various ideas and projects, world domination plans, and even an 8500 word first-draft of a conference paper) Here, the ability to collapse and move chunks around, really shines.

    I’ve always hoped that SdiDesk was going to evolve into a writing and publishing tool. Now I see that the OPML Editor is doing some of those things a lot better. (Grrr!)

    So should I add a folding possibility to SdiDesk? I’m very tempted, although that means reinventing the page structure.

    As always, the questions of SdiDesk’s future are “how” and “what”. I have about 70% of SdiDesk rewritten in Python (including reading existing PageStores)

    But the sticking point is still UI indecision …

    I’m using Tk, but it’s pretty primitive and doesn’t have an HTML rendering component.

    I have a built-in web-server, and *could* let users go through the browser, but then there’s no diagramming and so what’s the difference with just running something like Moin Moin?

    And figure in the need for a decent grid-editor and folding too!

    (OK, I know, I know, there are now some super Ajaxy mind-mapping apps. in DHTML / Javascript / SVG, and there are cool free libraries like Mochikit and Dojo – so maybe we go there eventually.

    Alternatively, I’m intrigued by this today :

  3. Phil, Remember the big advantage of SdiDesk is that if you are in a situation when the application goes on you, you can always read the pages in a text editor ’cause it’s all marked-up text! (except perhaps for the network diagram) It has happened to me and I needed to read something from a page fast and the application had become corrupted on my USB so I read a page in a text editor and got the info and later restored the app from a back-up.

  4. Albert : agreed. I’ve definitely been in the situation of wanting to get at information in SdiDesk without being able to run it. (Eg. in Linux)

    And, yep, fancy hierarchical formats make it much harder to do that. I’ll definitely make sure that if I do have to evolve the file formatto support something more outlinerish it will still be readable in a text editor.

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