Outlines and Blogs

I’ve been thinking of how Outlines and Blogs can inetgrate together — on both a personal level, and within enterprises. This is part of what we call internally the “Digital Dashboard” project. (I am still trying to evolve this analogy, so this is perhaps not as nicely drafted as it should be, but I’ll talk about it anyways.)

Blogs, as has been well documented, are like personal diaries. So, they are akin to the notebook in which I make my daily notes — about meetings, ideas, etc. So, the notebook is a chronological assimilation of my daily life. But what it does not capture is the big picture — the framework in which various events take place. This is where the Outlines come in.

Outlines are like Maps, or a Table of Contents. They provide the overview, the higher-level view of the landscape. The view is at a point of time and keeps evolving. So, for the various things we are working on, we can have Outlines which give an evolved view of our thinking. From the Outlines, the links go into weblogs for the details. The weblogs give the latest picture, what’s happening today, but via the outlines one can also navigate to older thinking on different topics. It helps one see how thinking has evolved over time.

Thus, Outlines and Blogs taken together to create a new read-think-write environment. One needs both the “directory” (the outline) as well as the “details” (the blog).

Digital Dashboard

The aim is to create a new read-write environment on the desktop (thin client) built on instant outlining and weblogging for use within the organisation. This takes the idea of blogs (knowledge blogs, narratives, story-telling) to its logical conclusion in the context of the enterprise. This will be built using XML-RPC/SOAP, RSS, OPML and Jabber as the building blocks.

Instant Outlining is the first step. Outlining helps people to write hierarchically. Instant Outlining takes what they have written and enables it to be shared with others. Most of the “new users” (new to computers) need a simple read-write environment. The Outliner is a good start. It needs to be placed it in a collaborative context. This is where Jabber can come in — it plays the role of an “XML information router.” Userland’s Radio with its Outliner is a good example, but USD 40 per desktop is too expensive for the market we want to market.

Weblogs are the next step. Outliners are good for short points, and are more likely to be arranged by task/person/project. Blogs complement outliners in that they are naturally suited for longer writing and doing so chronologically (organised by time).

What we want to do is to use Instant Outlining and Weblogs to build a read-write environment which complements (or even reduces the need for) Mail and the Word Processor.

We are currently working on first putting together an Outliner under Linux, which works within a web browser. Then, extend it to become an Instant Outliner, so outlines can be shared across others in the enterprise. Later, add on the Blogging component.


The Digital Dashboard can now become the platform to deliver Web Services. I can subscribe to specific services which can show up as “buddies” in my IM window, along with People and Outlines. Think of the Dashboard as a simpler version of an enterprise information portal.

Online News Sites

News Sites Repeat Mistakes Of the Past by Steve Outing: An excellent article on what’s wrong with news sites and what they need to do (via Arun Katiyar). Here’s an extract:

Online news managers need to look deeper. Look at what others in the online community space are doing. They’re not hard to find. Look at Slashdot.org, or the newer Kuro5hin, both online communities where the users control the experience. Kuro5hin is designed to be the antithesis of the typical news organization. Its users come together in an online community and select the content they want to publish, comment on it, and debate. It’s a debating society melded with a news publication.

Kuro5hin founder Rusty Foster (who is a programmer, not a journalist) told an audience recently at the USC Online Journalism Conference, “Traditional media needs to get this.” What they need to get is the concept that it’s good to invite readers into your community, and develop online tools to serve that community — to facilitate the building and maintenance of communities of interest.

One of Foster’s ideas that I really like is the notion of building communities of interest (lots of them) around reporters and columnists. Get journalists to go beyond fielding e-mails and participating in discussion forums. Encourage them to use software tools to build an online community where they are at the center, surrounded by readers, fans, and critics who react to what’s been written, suggest new ideas, and even correct the journalist.

This is one thing I’d love to see. People like Louise Kehoe of FT, Walter Mossberg and Rebecca Buckman from WSJ, Peter Lewis from Fortune can become the hubs around which online communities can be built. These are the strengths, the assets of the news sites. They need to set hiding their crown jewels.

In recent months, one of the changes I have seen in our own consumption of news is that I visit weblogs as often, if not more, than the traditional news sites.