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Jon Udell on Instant Outlining

Tuesday, April 2, 2002 by Dave Winer.

Scratching our own itch Permalink to Scratching our own itch

In November of last year we started working on a new piece of software designed to facilitate internal communication at UserLand. We have people in the US and Canada, on both coasts, and were largely using email to narrate our work.

A picture named buddylistthumb.gifLike many groups who depend on email for communication, we were frustrated and inefficient, messages were lost, as were opportunities. It was hard for me as the manager of this group to know what people were doing, when they hit milestones, or dead-ends, when they needed help from me, and if they were in synch with the rest of the group. We desperately needed something to make our work flow more smoothly.

We've been using this tool, which we call an Instant Outliner, since November. We shipped Radio 8 with it. When we switched over, our workgroup's productivity soared. All of a sudden people could narrate their work. We've gotten very formal about how we use it. I can't imagine doing an engineering project without this tool. We decided that we had to make a product out of this. It's too good to keep to ourselves.

Bootstrapping the Instant Outliner Permalink to Bootstrapping the Instant Outliner

Over the New Year holiday we did the second revision, and in March the third, and we started deploying to users of Radio 8, which has a built-in outliner, in late March. We've been working quietly with people who use and study workgroup tools, including Jon Udell, who writes for ComputerWorld, InfoWorld, Byte and O'Reilly. This morning O'Reilly published an essay by Udell, which we think will be definitive of this category of software. So without further ado, here's Jon's piece, courtesy of O'Reilly.

A quote: "It's been clear to me for a long while that the only thing that might displace email would be some kind of persistent IM. That's exactly what instant outlining is. If it catches on, and it's buzz-worthy enough to do that, we'll have a framework within which to innovate in ways that email never allowed."

A big direction Permalink to A big direction

I hope you read Jon's observations. I will of course be writing more about it myself in the coming weeks.

I believe Instant Outlining is to Instant Messaging as the spreadsheet is to a desktop calculator. A calculator can edit one number, a spreadsheet can express relationships between numbers. An Instant Messaging client can transmit a single idea, an Instant Outlining client can express relationships between ideas.

Instant Outlining in Radio is still a beta and will be for a while. If you're an adventurous soul with high tolerance for user interface glitches, please give it a try. Everything Jon said is true, and what Tim said is true too. It's not for everyone. But it is for workgroups who want to get to the next level after email.

Dave Winer

PS: To facilitate growth, the formats and protocols used in Instant Outlining are open, clonable and documented.

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."