It's even worse than it appears.
Sunday May 23, 2021; 9:49 AM EDT
  • Tools for thought. That's what the new category, with outliners at the core, is called. I endorse the name. It's a good one. Our first product at Living Videotext, shipped in 1983, was called ThinkTank. Pour your your thinking into the outline structure, and then as time goes by reorganize the outline to reflect what's happened with these ideas. Right off the bat, that's a different use-case from the ones used by the TFT people. There are others. #
  • Our first ads had a big title: See what you think. We sold to people who understood that they think, were self-aware enough to have ideas about how they think, and were interested in tools that could make their thinking more powerful, as a spreadsheet makes financial planners more powerful. Or a database makes running a business less expensive and more personal. We applied the power of a personal computer to the act of thinking. And it worked!#
    • The first review of ThinkTank -- ever. In the NYT, in 1983. #
    • The back cover of the first commercial release in ThinkTank, the one that was reviewed in the NYT.#
  • It's weird for me, because I'm sure I come off as arrogant, a know-it-all, but the truth is that I've been far down the road these young people are just starting down. I believe I know how a lot of this turns out. #
  • For example, one of the TFT thought leaders last night compared this stuff to the beginning of blogging, something I also know a lot about. If he knew the truth it would blow him away. The first blogging tools were outliners, because that's what I use to write. And I still think that blogging and outlining are basically the same thing. I'm using my outliner right now to write this post. #
  • Anyway there's so much more to say. I'm glad to have the opportunity. And I want to be clear, I want to help the young folk. I want to make sure we don't lose all the progress that's already in the bank. I want the interfaces to be open, simple, steady, efficient and most important, compatible. Creating 18 different silos will waste decades of future development. It's still very early and the interfaces mostly don't exist, so it's not too late to make this more like the blogging world and less like Facebook (more likely a dozen Facebooks, btw).#
  • The three basic components that make up the TFT world. #
    • Outliners, of course. #
    • Databases which store the outlines, and maybe do discovery on what's stored there, and #
    • Renderers which view the outliner as an authoring tool, and produce a visualization of an outline or a section of an outline, as a bullet chart (presentation), tree chart or the display that the VCs love, the connected graph where you can zoom in on stuff and the blocks re-arrange. #
  • But there are other views of this world. Outlines are great structures for programming! Python started off in that direction, but stopped before they got to the good stuff imho. We went much futher with Frontier. We also used the outliner to manage the object database and user interface structures. You used the same outliner to browse through the data kept by the runtime kernel. #
  • But, even that's just the beginning. Something I haven't seen explored in any of the TFT products is the idea of an outline as a file system. With the outlines being a permanent container for all kinds of work. File systems are of course outlines. Instead of the mediocre tools for managing file systems on the major OSes, why not have a great one! That was the idea behind ThinkTank and its successors. #
  • How do you know this is right? Pop up and look at the structures in your computer and on the net. They are all outlines. So if you're thinking of an outline as an inherently small thing, you're not seeing the full picture. #
  • Again, I'm aware that this could come off as arrogant. But what do you do when a group of brilliant young visionaries discover what you discovered when you were one of them, in the mid 1970s, and spent the rest of your career exploring and developing, while the rest of the computer world pretty much ignored you? First you celebrate! It's not a lost cause after all. Then you ask yourself as I am, how do you approach this. What I've decided so far is that I am going to continue to develop Drummer, and I'm going to push in every way for zero lock-in, user choice everywhere, and clean simple and extensible APIs for each of the components. And of course I will be writing all through this process, as long as I can, because that's the other thing I do -- blog. Not only do I create the software for this stuff, I create it for myself because this is how I think, it's why I knew to develop this stuff in the first place. #
  • PS: If you want an idea of what it's like to use an outliner, here's my latest. It's free to use. Hope you like. ;-) #
  • PPS: If you're a developer of outliners, databases or renderers, or simply want to explore the data format of outlines, I recommend taking a look at OPML, which was designed specifically for interop between outline producers and consumers. I wrote a checklist for supporting OPML with examples, source code and advice. #

© copyright 1994-2021 Dave Winer.

Last update: Monday May 24, 2021; 5:19 PM EDT.

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