Towards a Personal Publishing Platform

The Internet Dashboard

One of the posts on this site that continues to pull in traffic is “It’s 2010. Where’s my Internet Dashboard?” The gist of it is this:

Why isn’t there a single, web based dashboard for all my internet- based communication? It should act both as an aggregator and as a messaging centre– a singular launch-point from which I can see the latest news and quickly compose messages that can be sent to any of my connected platforms

I also suggested some requirements for what it needed to be, because we were already seeing some faux dashboards out there (there’s a burgeoning industry now of closed systems that suck up and spit out your data while mining it for themselves).

This dashboard of mine should live on a mini server on my computer, synchronizing with the cloud whenever changes happen. My data needs to be portable, it needs to be accessible anywhere, and I need to be able to own it.

There’s more, and you can go back and read it, if you want more background. The comments helped to shape my thinking further.

Blogging, Social Media and Silos.

Another post that continues to get traffic is about the Facebook Problem. I identified it long before their IPO, and there has been a lot of coverage confirming my comment since. Just today, The Ad Contrarian has an excellent post up more or less confirming that my prediction is coming to pass. Social Media as we know it has had its day. Blogging continues to drive the web, but social media has taught us new lessons and we’ve discovered an increasing problem around structuring our content and maintaining vibrant online communities. Blogging as it has traditionally been done doesn’t work for everyone or for every type of online communication, and the social media silos have become increasingly myopic and controlling.

Building Communities

What we really want is a way of building communities that can scale. It needs to be open, accessible and simple to use. It also needs to hook in with the Internet Dashboard mentioned above. Twitter shouldn’t control it. Facebook shouldn’t control it. Apple or Google shouldn’t control it. It needs to be to social media what WordPress was to Geocities. I’m not just being idealistic, either. I actually happen to think that this is good for business. It’s also important to remember that while it’s easy for advertisers to sell you a quick solution to community building, it’s actually a lot of hard work, and it takes much more than a merely digital solution. It takes some degree of authentic, human experience.

The World Outline

Dave Winer is on the cusp of this evolution. Just like he was with blogging. Over the past while, he has been actively and quite prolifically developing his World Outline Software, and it has finally gotten to a place where I am having some fun playing around with it. It also meets a lot of my wish list for an Internet Dashboard, and the direction Winer is taking it in suggests that will eventually fit it perfectly.

It’s not quite ready for everyone yet, but if you like to dig under the hood of things a bit, the system is what every “public beta” promises to be but isn’t. There’s an active community of people using it, testing it and gaining access to new features as they’re ready. People who help each other out. It’s nice.

Structured Thought

One issue with the sprawling web is organising it. Even with blogs, it is becoming a real problem. Of course it makes sense that blogs are presented reverse-chronologically: show me what’s new first! The problem is organising all that content afterwards. And then there’s all that other content that isn’t really the same thing as a post.

Like its name suggests, the core concept of the World Outline is that everything is an outline. If you’ve done any writing or planning ever in your life, you know the power and simplicity of an outline to structure your thoughts. In the World Outline, this is the basis for everything.

All the writing, all the templates, all the preferences are outlines in OPML format. It’s an open standard.

It’s the simplicity of this structure that helps you organise your thoughts, and its this basic building block that’s at play in what I see as the most promising personal publishing platform since WordPress.

Conceptually, things get a bit richer yet. Each outline can be assigned a node type, whether it’s a thread or a post or a presentation. These help structure what kind of communication you have created. A node type is to an outline what CSS is to HTML. You might think about WordPress’s post-types but one level up. Where post-types define what kind of post something is, a node type defines what kind of thought something is. It’s one level higher, taking in discussions, posts, how-tos and more (even index pages, directories and domains). This provides all kinds of flexibility, since each outline is then rendered as HTML and has CSS applied. All open. All configurable.

This even extends to community structure, with each member having their own top-level set of outlines.

Limitations of the World Outline Today.

It really is a great new way to tie together the genuine innovations in the Web 2.0 phase that is now reaching its zenith. It also solves a lot of its problems.

That said, the software really is in its early days and under active development. Which means there are still some things that Winer is working out, features that he’s adding, plumbing that he’s hooking up. Refreshingly though, he’s doing it all out in the open.

For one thing, you’ll either need to set up your own World Outline Server or join someone else’s. Neither is completely trivial. In order to do anything with it, you also need to be running the OPML editor on your local machine (especially if you’re not running your own server). This may be a price to pay for the flexibility, but I’d love to be able to create outlines on the fly from my tablet, phone or someone else’s computer‚Äîa web-based outliner.

I’d personally also like to see it interoperate with WordPress–which should be possible, since everything on both platforms is working with open standards and protocols. There are some things that WordPress are just fantastic with, and I’d love them to be tightly integrated in some way.

It’s not for everyone yet. But if you’re an early adopter who doesn’t mind rolling up your sleeves a bit, this is a great time to get in on it and help define its development.

The Next Big Thing?

Will the World Outline be the next big thing? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m willing to say that whatever the next big thing is, I hope it looks¬†a lot like this.

Invitation to my World Outline

If you want to give it a shot, without setting up your own server, let me know and I’ll set you up on mine. I’ll have to limit this to a very small number of people and I’ll also have to be clear that I will not be offering much, if any, support–I simply don’t have the time–but there is an active community where you can ask questions and a good amount of helpful documentation available (though it’s not as linear as you might like, and takes some trial and error).

If you’ve played with it at all, please let me know if I’m thinking about this the right way. I’m thinking through it as I play along.

Posted in Blogging, Meta, Social Media, The Interactive Age.

2 Comments

  1. From the description on the website, it seems to be more of a WordPress competitor, with more opportunity for structured data (…Winer’s raison d’etre)… or something. Does that fit the bill as a dashboard? Or would something like Hootsuite or Buffer be better?

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Rod.

    I can see how it might seem that way, but they are really designed to do different things.

    The World Outline is a different kind of tool.

    WordPress is a great blogging platform and CMS and you can build incredible websites powered by it, publish easily and add functionality.

    The World Outline is a collection of different bits of thoughts that is well suited to community building. There are dozens of discrete building blocks that can be combined in multiple ways to create something else entirely.

    WordPress is a blogging platform and CMS, (almost) perfected. The World Outline is the beginning of something new. It’s hard to predict what will be built with it. That will come about as people use it, explore with it and see what they can do with it.

    Hootsuite et al are unsustainable as the kind of dashboard I’m looking for. They are more like a hack to cobble together the existing multi-silo situation. As companies like Twitter close down their APIs and remind us that they are silos, the current pseudo-dashboards will become less and less adequate.

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