Getting comfy with @davewiner’s OPML Editor

I've been following Dave Winer's work on his outliner, the OPML Editor for sometime now, just reading what he says on his blog about it, getting interested, but never really getting involved because it only runs on Windows or Mac and I have neither at the moment.

For me outlining is a great way of thinking structurally.  It mirrors mind-mapping.  In the bad old days when I had to spend an awful lot of time writing Powerpoint presentations, I would always start with drawing a mind-map by hand, transfer that to the outline view in PPT and then fill in the gaps.  It fits well with the way I think.

At the beginning of the year, I gave myself a weekend to learn how to set up a server on EC2 following Dave's "EC2 for Poets" howto.  I was really pleased to get something up and running but the main purpose of it was to learn something new, I didn't have any particular end in mind other than just getting it running.  Of course it came with a free gift inside! I now had a Windows machine (albeit one running in the cloud) with the OPML Editor installed as standard.

So I poked around in it and created some outlines.  One of the things I wanted to do was to replicate Dave's use of the World Outline to create an online repository of Worknotes, but again, it seemed that meant I needed to get a desktop OPML editor working.

At the same time, I've been getting increasingly dissatisfied with the "appification" of my web experience.  My microblogging is through Twitter and Twitter and I clearly have different ideas of what the service is about.  My blogging has been through posterous, which has worked well and continues to work well for now, but then came the news that posterous was being acquired by Twitter and, well, that sounds like the end of posterous as a useful tool for me.  Google Reader stopped being an optimal feed reading experience for me some time ago and the trajectory seems to be that things can only get worse (more vertically integrated and tied to Google Plus)  And as for Flickr, oh Flickr I loved you once but then you ran off with those Yahoo!s and now you don't play nicely any more.  In addition, I have a whole bunch of stuff on Libsyn, YouTube, Vimeo blah blah blah, to say nothing of my filched archive of old seesmic videos…

All in all, it's time to get back to owning my little corner of the internet again.  I've learned a lot about how I like to think and work, what I like to do, how things get shared, but the bottom line is that I don't trust these corporations with my data. Now that wouldn't be a problem if it was just data, the thing is that what I call "my data" is also a very important component of all of my personal, social and working relationships and if I trust any corporation with those, I'm just being naive and careless – in the end those relationships will suffer in ways that I can't predict.

I also saw recently how much stuff that I've created on the web is just gone, or difficult to find or retrieve.  I want to create my own archive in a form that means stuff can be found, re-used and remixed rather than it all being spread everywhere and kept or deleted at the whim of platform owners.

In the last few weeks some things have come together.  Firstly I saw Dave and Adam Curry were doing a podcast again.  This has to be a good thing.  I had a listen, but they seemed to be straight into what sounded like deep detail.  I had no idea what was going on,  but I listened through to the first one and was convinced that there was something going on here.  It felt very much like the second half of 2004 when podcasting was starting – and I knew from that experience that there probably wasn't that much to learn to get to grips with what they were talking about, but that I needed to get the software working so that I could really experience it.

Then I saw Adam talk about installing the editor under wine1.3 on Ubuntu and despite my nose wrinkling at the prospect of using wine, when I tried it myself, it worked very well (there's a cosmetic glitch where a couple of the menus are repeated in the menubar, but it works and it doesn't fall over)

I poked around enough to get a World Outline server running on my EC2 server, but I was struggling (still am) to understand the whole thing.  What's the solution? Don't try to understand the *whole* thing, just understand the bit that you're looking at now and trust that the rest will become clear.  After an afternoon of mucking around, I finally understood what a root was in the context of the World Outline and to see the effects of changing the nodetype.  From here it was easy to get to the point where I could create my own worknotes site, (almost) just like  the big boys.  Of course just as I'd worked it out for myself, Adam published a screencast basically recapping everything that I'd learned that day.  I could have waited and not had so much brainache, but I really think I wouldn't have learned as much from just being told how to do it.

With this under my belt, I felt prepared to go back and listen to the podcasts.  And I just listened to all six of them this weekend, pretty much back to back.  And what was completely over my head the first time, was now starting to make some sense.  I felt braver about poking around and started to understand what's amazing about all of this: everything's an outline.  Of course the content of a blogpost is an outline, but so is the code that creates each page, the css is an outline,  the code that creates the system pages that let you set preferences and parameters are all stored in outlines.  And so everything can be (is!) edited, customised and configured using the editor itself.  This is open-source with a twist, you really can look under the bonnet and see how it works, while it's working.  I think this is really cool.

I also think that right now is a great time to get involved, it's mature enough to have something that works, but it's still shaky enough to feel like you're really able to contribute.  The mailing list feels like it's just moved to the next stage.

I'm going to be having a go at using the various tools in the suite to cover off blogging, micro-blogging, my feed-reader and narrating my work.  There's more, but I think this will be enough for now.

Oh, just to see how it worked and to beef up my editing skills, this afternoon, I reformatted my #llobo reflections from last year as an online outline.  It was very easy to do – see what you think.Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous