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  • 6 Background and future (85)
    Modified:
    Created:
    • For about five years now I've been wanting to create a collaborative web-based writing tool. My background is in software development on small and medium-sized teams. As you know this involves a great deal of planning, with frequent changes to the team's goal, priorities, and decisions. Good communication is essential in such environments.xxx

      I've longed for an online tool that can help people communicate more effectively. Creating a collaborative outliner is the first step in this pursuit.
    • Old ideas   As you know, outlining is a tired old concept in the software business. Its biggest successes are in word processors and personal information managers. (Contrasted with groups managing information.)

      And, the idea of collaborative writing tools is trying to take off in various forms. Take note of Xanadu, various technologies for message boards, wikis, weblogging, user tracking functionality in word processors, etc.
    • 6 New medium (4) The two ideas of collaborative outlining and outlining on the web have been discussed ad nauseum. Just a miniscule sampling:
    • 6 The question is not whether to pursue such a product, but rather what to do with it (53) Now, my issue does not revolve around academic debates as to whether online outlining is useful enough to pursue, or to how to accomplish it. But rather, what to do with such technology.

      You see, I've already developed a useable system.

      • 4 Timeline (21) How I got to the current product.
        • 6 1997 (2)
          • Software evaulation   Researched whether I could improve project communication by using existing tools. Came up dissatisfied.
          • Schema design   Starting drafting database schemas for online discussion systems.
        • 1998-2000   Discussed the topic with friends and collegues, trying to see whether my ideas had any merit.
        • Finally got decent buy-in from someone who likes to organize information and runs complex projects where efficient communication is essential. Was encouraged enough to begin work on a prototype. http://lyon.gayin.net/

        • March 2001   Made significant headway in my R&D effort.
        • 4 August 2001 (10) Completed a functional web-based prototype.
          • 6 Feature set (5)
            • Lists of lists  
            • Edit one list at a time  
            • Drag and drop  
            • Anyone can access it on the web  
            • Just one big, shared outline--no content permissions  
          • 6 Technology (3)
            • IIS on Windows NT 4.0  
            • IE 5.5 for Windows  
            • MDAC client-side database libraries  
        • October 2001-present   Started doing more product research, looking at what features are available in existing products, and what niches are not yet filled.
        • March 2002   Started a complete product rewrite in ASP.NET.
        • November 2002   Deployed an Alpha version of the product; still rounding out functionality today.
        • October 2010   Working on updated version of the outliner for HTML 5. Nearly universal support for editing outlines in the browser, with the widespread adoption of CONTENTEDITABLE.
      • 4 Feature set (14) Notable features in the current product.
        • 6 Browser-based outliner (5) My original prototype allowed users to edit lists of lists, one list at a time. This version is a respectable outliner.
          • Heavy focus on ease-of-use  
          • Edit using IE 5.5 and above  
          • Read using recent-version browsers   Must support current standards for W3C DOM and CSS.
          • Performs well over DSL connections  
          • Quite usable over a dialup  
        • 6 Basic user account registration and maintenance (5) A minimal set of user account features have been created, refined, and tested. Some of these features are currently hidden, but they'll be back live next week.
          • Identity confirmation through e-mail  
          • Register with multiple e-mail addresses  
          • Change password  
          • sn  
          • Lost password  
        • Content permissions   Users may control how their information is shared with others. Still working on user permission UI, but the backend is working.
        • Unicode, through and through   Make no mistake. This outliner handles Kanji and Cyrillic just as well as Latin characters.
      • 4 Technology (4)
        • ASP.NET on the backend  
        • Database is either Access or SQL Server   Access might be useful for client-side installations. The system performs well on Access, so long as the database stays around ~10's of MB rather than 100 or more.
        • To read outlines, use Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, or Opera   Webkit now properly handles Webdings This bug was a sore point for me for years--my expand and contract arrows are Webdings rather than images to allow entire webpages to be saved off for offline access. Now Webkit is fixed. Nice!
        • To edit outlines, use Internet Explorer for Windows   Cross-browser editing is within reach. Just a few DOM bugs to fix, I;m hoping.
      • 4 Productivity increase is noticeable (10) I've been using the product between myself and one other person, with a noticeable increase in productivity. We like it a lot.
        • Personal task lists  
        • 6 Lists of online resources (3)
          • Articles of interest  
          • Reference web sites  
          • Entertainment listings  
        • 6 Shared lists (2)
          • Projects  
          • Planning  
        • 6 Bugs (1)
          • Usability and UI issues on home page  
    • 6 Plenty of work remaining to get from Alpha to Beta (15) Lot of stuff to work on yet: We're still working out bugs, usability still needs refinement, key features are missing, and we have a list of features we'd like to have.
      • 4 Missing functionality (4)
        • Introduction for new users  
        • List management features  
        • Import/export  
        • Robust error handling  
      • 4 Long-term feature goals (9)
        • 6 Discussions (2)
          • Threads  
          • IBIS  
        • Transclusion of other outlines and RSS content   Already in the database schema.
        • Archiving   Already in the database schema.
        • More content formatting and rendering options  
        • 6 Other devices (2)
          • Better support for mobile browsers  
          • Native app for iOS  
    • 6 Seeking answers to the question of what to do with this software (5) We have too many ideas. Time to choose which ones to pursue. What's realistically achievable?
      • Create a product  
      • Offer a service  
      • Consult for companies that need such technology in their products  
      • Give it away to developers to integrate into their products  
      • Keep it a hobby, and move on  
    • Looking for honest, real-life perspectives from others   So, what recommendations do you have? What have you gained in your experience that applies to our situation?
    • --Michael Poremba »