Listas is (also) a web-based outliner

On Friday I’ll be speaking at a Wharton School event on technology-enabled business transformation. I was asked to provide an outline of my talk, and decided to try using Listas to do that. Recently launched as a Live Labs technology preview, Listas is different things to different people:

Webware: It’s basically a social bookmarking service for keeping track of content you come across while browsing the Web.

BetaNews: The application can be used not only for lists, but for notes, favorites and other communal types of information.

WebPro News: Listas provides you with a WYSIWYG which allows you to quickly and easily create/edit lists and share them with others for read or write – in a sense a bit like a wiki.

Although none of those reviews describes Listas as a web-based outliner, it is one. You don’t get drag-and-drop list reorganization, as with iJot or some others. And it currently exports RSS only, not OPML. But you can shuffle things around using the toolbar controls. And there are also some keyboard controls: you can use tab and shift-tab to indent and outdent. It was easy enough to make an outline of my talk.

As always when I try a new outliner, I find myself asking: Why don’t I make regular use of outlining? I believe that I should, and whenever I do feel virtuous, but it never becomes a habit. After all these years, and many different outliners, I don’t think that’s because the software lacks some magical feature that would convert me into a regular user. I suspect that outlining appeals to a cognitive style that’s more well-developed in some people than others, and I’m one of the others.

7 Comments

  1. I used to use an outliner when writing fiction, but eventually decided it was getting in the way of the story: I don’t think in plot points, but in dialog. Perhaps the natural human inclination toward narrative is the “problem”?

  2. It could be that, like myself, you find yourself hampered by what I like to call the ontology problem. That is to say, just about every hierarchy can be reasonably represented by a completely different looking hierarchy. For example, you organize your hierarchy by functional areas while I organize it by problem domain. But since there is no perfect organization, you end up churning on whatever you are trying to organize.

    I wish that outliners allowed me to use “soft links” (think Unix File System) between related topics, perhaps allowing me to use “tags” on a sub-tree or some other organizational technology at the same time as the outline.

  3. Ron, I entirely agree about your point about supporting soft-links between outlines and getting alternate views and ways of organising the information contained within them. Whilst I acknowledge it’s a long way from the mainstream, Emacs orgmode ( http://orgmode.org/ ) is an excellent package which I use to keep track of my agenda, lists, notes etc…

    It provides tags, links etc and powerful commands to search and collapse outlines so you can view only the information you require. I find this flexibility helps stave off the ontology problem, although you always seem to reach a point where you need to refactor what you have into a more manageable structure.

    I find it’s important to remember that both structured and unstructured information have costs and trade offs associated with them. Tools like orgmode are good in that they provide a mixture of light and (relatively) heavyweight tools to introduce more structure where it’s needed and gradually reposition yourself on this continuum.

    I think we’ve started to see more mainstream tools try and adopt this approach e.g. tadalist, stikkit, tiddlywiki etc…

  4. You’ll save time not waiting for the elevator.She has been to school.I’ll see you at six.There was a notice in the supermarket.It’s a long story.In many countries, more and more companies are replacing people with computers.In many countries, more and more companies are replacing people with computers.Everything has its beginning.The train arrived on time.I’m doing some washing and John is cooking dinner.

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