OPML Editor (Frontier in disguise?)

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About window of Frontier 5.1.2

Over 24 years ago I learned about a Mac application called »Frontier«. This application taught me, that the Internet is actually a programmable environment.

Frontier was a genius concept invented by Dave Winer, because it was not only a script language (called „UserTalk”). It also came with an object database and an editor to edit scripts as outlines (something some modern IDEs try to adopt and to better organize source code!). The scripts were edited and stored as objects in the very same database. The database could contain other stuff like texts, outlines, binary data, simple values — all in a hierarchical structure. An object in the hierarchy would automatically be accessible in the script like a variable. It was all self-contained.

Continue reading OPML Editor (Frontier in disguise?)

Tinderbox goes Universal

One of the tools I am using for years now is Tinderbox from Eastgate. I have used it for quite some time to write this weblog here (but swichted to WordPress + MarsEdit recently). Nevertheless I think Tinderbox is a helper in many ways – although there are always features that can be and will be missed.

With a retail price of $229 USD the tool is not cheap – but depending on the usage and potential productivity gain this can be a bargain.

tinderbox.jpg

If you are ready and able to write some export templates one can export almost anything to XML or HTML and turn that into layouted documents, presentations or websites.

The “magic” of Tinderbox is that it allows visual unstructured brainstorming and turn that into structured documents over time. But does not stop there like other mind mapping tools: by adding text notes, metadata, agents and actions that perform queries and manipulate data. So you can make your document smarter and add some automatism to it. There are endless ways to use Tinderbox and to make it fit to your brain.

After watching some screencasts you can read some examples of what people are doing with Tinderbox.

You can’t expect from Tinderbox: online collaboration, custom import of any data, direct export to MS Office documents and the like, table editing within notes, a programmable enviroment (alhtough actions and agents can do a lot already), a Windows version (supposed to be in the making).

Here is a software review by Natan Matias from Sitepoint.

Thoughts on Google Wave

I am just collecting some thoughts about some observations and issues – while I am trying to understand Google Wave.

google_wave.jpg

(see a demo on their site)

Google Wave is an integrated set of technologies (with protocols that allow semi-synchronous editing of outlines and their federation across several servers). With this approach Google Wave solves some difficult technical and infrastructural problems.

But it also generates some new problems that need to be solved to make Google Wave a success — otherwise I think users will not adopt the system (which in case of Google will set the seal on this project I suppose!).

1. Misty horizon

Google Wave is a frameworked solution for things people did not ask for and communication processes that no one is practicing yet (but no one has really “asked” for the mouse as input device either!). It is hard to see where Google Wave is going to be. This breeds creation, but it also challenges the non-developer. There will be best practices, but it will take a lot of time to identify use cases that people can learn “to wave” with.

So Google Wave challenges the imagination – and few people will be able to answer the “What is it all about?” question easily. The horizon is schrouded in mist.

Possible approach: A potential solution to this is to start with guided tours (a LOT of them) showing very common and powerful use cases for different scenarios. This is probably going to happen when Wave gets closer to the public beta.

2. Asynchronous patterns

We have learned to communicate in a turn taking fashion. It is polite to let someone speak until he has finished before starting to respond. It is not polite for everyone to speak up at any time. Waves allow people to reply or edit without obeying to the turn taking pattern. This can cause “stress” and also a lot of misunderstanding. People could reply to a text, that is going to change without them noticing that. Their reply suddenly become nonsense – the playback feature could become the only way to percieve a conversation properly. But playback is new – people have learned that the threaded view is a chronology – but in Google Wave it is not (or not necessarily).

Even with the playback feature, people need to become aware of the asychronicity in Google Wave – and learn how to recap conversations correctly.

Possible approach: Find a very good way to understand the chronology of a wave (e.g. making the playback as fundamental for navigation of a wave like scrolling)

3. Information (over)flow

While Google Wave may integrate many messaging systems – it also generates a lot of density. Means of communication that were apart from each other – using different URLs and applications for each – are now combined. The crucial part of that is to understand which option is suited for what purpose.

With Waves being set to “updated” by displaying them in bold typeface and sorting it to become a top item in the inbox, this also means that things are brought to my attention that should remain buried for a good reason. Google Wave users would have to learn how to manageund understand the “Inbox” and the “Active” areas properly, to be able to get the most out of it.

Possible approach: Allow users very powerful and fine grained control over the way they are informed about updates.

4. Scattered spaces and framgmented scopes

One of the things that really can make things too complex to be comprehended properly is that people can read & write to waves – but replies can extend or narrow the scope (e.g. who may read and reply to a new item. Who is reading? Who am I replying to? Is this part really private or not? Am I releasing a secret to the public accidentally?)

With a view from a different angle: What I can see within a wave may be different to what someone else is seeing. To make my communication appropriate to the situation I need to be able to “read” from a different standpoint. It is required to understand when communication could fail on the recieving end.

Whenever I want to understand the perspective of someone else – in need to be able to represent his/her view in my mind. The change of scope for parts of a wave within that wave can make this difficult.

Possible approach: Make any changes of the scope (e.g. recipient list) within a wave very visible and allow users to navigate them.

Scrivener

I always had a special interest in tools that help authors to think. Outliners were fine, but they very often lacked visual context. Some mind mapping tools were fine – but these often did not do a good job maintaining a coherent structure in the text or good typography.

Scrivener just seems to be a superb tool for people that collect material and thoughts to finally create a text from that.

scrivener

Pathways

Pathways is a little mapping tool for Wikipedia. It represents visited Wikipedia pages with a graphical network of boxes. Once you have collected and arranged a map view of your Wikipedia session, you can save the result as a Pathway file.

The files Pathway creates are XML. So it should be very easy to transform it into anything else with an XSL Template or script. E.g. a Tinderbox file or an OPML file…

Grazr

This must be one of Dave Winers favourites: Grazr is a DHTML based outline browser: You can link to OPML files (that again may link to OPML files). You can create virtual hierarchies of OPML files, RSS feeds and other Grazr outlines.

Winer called that idea a World outline. People with a pre-WWW Internet experience may call it the “revenge of gopher“.

In any case Grazr is a slick little flash app that really connects the dots. This idea has bee around for years, but somehow no one ever took care of developing a simple tool for it. It was overdue.

By the way: OmniOutliner is an application pre-installed on many Macs that allows editing & exporting outlines as OPML.

WebnoteHappy

WebnoteHappy is a nifty little application that makes life with bookmarks (both in browser and on del.icio.us) much easier. It is a $25 dollar shareware with a 30 day free trial.

Screenshot of WebnoteHappy in action

More generally thinking I asked myself how many people actually do Paypal donations on “donationware”? Would these little applications make a better profit if they sell for $10 instead of $25?

Plone 2.5

There is a new version of Plone out for some weeks now as well as a roadmap for future releases. The homepage of plone.org has also been redesigner to emphasize the key selling arguments of the Plone CMS.

I have seen in the “inner workings” of a number of content management systems. I think Plone is one of the highlights in terms of the beauty of its technical design. There is alot one can learn from Plone conceptually.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, Flock is on fire!’

Paul Stamatiou wrote a long review of the first Beta release of the »social web browser« Flock.

I have tested the prior releases (up to 0.5.X) and decided these versions are not ready for daily use yet. The 0.7.0 release (the first Beta) seems to be much better, but it still consumes a lot of RAM.

Flock provides integrated tools for online-bookmarking (like del.icio.us), photo sharing (like Flickr), support for RSS feeds and a Weblog editor (e.g. to post to a WordPress site).

AjaxOS

AjaxOS is a concept that allows an OS to use remote AJAX-based applications to be treated as if they were local.

Screenshot of AjaxOS

Michael Robertson presents his view of AjaxOS. He claims that moving software into services is going to be successful and a way to compete with Microsoft. Besides he admits that they never will clone Office completely.

I don’t agree with that claim. I think the principle idea of software being delivered through the web is going to be succssesful, but I don’t think the success factor will be AJAX as such. I think the success factor will be simple collaboration and a low enty barrier (just a browser needed).

Anthracite Web Mining Desktop

This tool is used to enable some kind of visual programming with apple script components

Metafy’s Anthracite Web Mining Desktop toolkit gives you the tools you need to build powerful data processing systems with an easy-to-use visual interface that makes complex manipulations quickly possible. Anthracite is built for people who need to transform internet sources and/or large data sets into integrated information quickly and easily without scripting.

Performancing Blog Editor for Firefox

There is a new Blog Editor called Performancing available as Firefox Extension.

Performancing for Firefox is a full featured blog editor that sits right in your Firefox browse and lets you post to your blog easiy. You can drag and drop formatted text from the page you happen to be browsing, and take notes as well as post to your blog.

This is what it looks like:

It also offers some del.icio.us integration. The UI has still some usability issues, but generally Performancing seems to be a slick little add-on for Firefox.

Zope & Twisted

I was discussing to implement some web projects based on either Zope or the Twisted framework. The latest version of Zope 3 now replaces the internal ZServer with the Twisted framework. Maybe this distinction becomes more or less obsolete:

The ZServer has been replaced with the Twisted server. The Twisted server supports all that the ZServer supporting has well has HTTP over SSL natively and SFTP (disabled for now because of error handling problems). Also in the future it brings a better chance of other non-HTTP related protocols from being implemented for Zope3, like SMTP-in and IMAP.