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January 20, 2015

Fargo: an open outliner

Dave Winer loves outlines. I do, too, but Dave loves them More. We know this because Dave’s created the Fargo outliner, and, in the way of software that makes us freer, he’s made it available to us to use for free, without ads or spyware, and supporting the standards and protocols that make our ideas interoperable.

Fargo is simple and straightfoward. You enter text. You indent lines to create structure. You can reorganize and rearrange as you would like. Type CMD-? or CTL-? for help.

Fargo is a deep product. It is backed by a CMS so you can use it as your primary tool for composing and publishing blog posts. (Dave knows a bit about blogging, after all.) It has workgroup tools. You can execute JavaScript code from it. It understands Markdown. You can use it to do presentations. You can create and edit attributes. You can include other files, so your outlines scale. You can includes feeds, so your outlines remain fresh.

Fargo is generative. It supports open standards, and it’s designed to make it easy to let what you’ve written become part of the open Web. It’s written in HTML5 and runs in all modern browsers. Your outlines have URLs so other pages can link to them. Fargo files are saved in the OPML standard so other apps can open them. The files are stored in your Dropbox folder , which puts them in the Cloud but also on your personal device; look in Dropbox/Apps/smallpicture/. You can choose to encrypt your files to protect them from spies. The Concord engine that powers Fargo is Open Source.

Out of the box, Fargo is a heads-down outliner for people who think about what they write in terms of its structure. (I do.) It thus is light on the presentation side: You can’t easily muck about with the styles it uses to present various levels, and there isn’t an embedded way to display graphics, although you can include files that are displayed when the outline is rendered. But because it is a simple product with great depth, you can always go further with it.

And now matter how far you go, you’ll never be locked in.

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January 14, 2015

Install your own listicle

Dave Winer has made it easy to install your own “listicle”: a Web page that cycles through chunks of text one chunk at a time. For an example, see the listicle Dave created to display Doc and my New Clues clue by clue.

The text comes from a JSON file that you can of course alter. Take a look at the JSON file in a text editor and you’ll figure it out. A couple of things to know:

  • Be sure to end each quote with a comma, except the last one.

  • If your chunks contain any double quotes, put a backslash before them. Otherwise, the JSON will think it’s come to the end of a chunk and it will get confused.

  • Because JSON can be finnicky, check what you’ve done at a site like JSON Formatter. (I broke Dave’s New Clues listicle for a while because I neglected to check my file after I added a dropped clue…and forgot to put a comma at the end of the line.)

Dave has not only made it easier for people to use his work and to make it their own, it’s a good project to learn some coding with. And it’s a great example of the sort of software-that-makes-us-freer that Dave’s urging us to recognize, share, and appreciate.

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Software that makes us freer

Dave Winer has a couple of related posts up, one addressed to Doc Searls and me, and the other broadening the point: we need to be doing more to support software that makes us, and the Internet, freer.

Dave’s first post addressed Doc and me because Dave not only likes Doc Searls‘ and my New Clues (and the Gillmor Gang podcast we did on Friday), he wrote a cool app — a “listicle” version of the Clues — and before we posted gave us some crucial advice. Dave’s point is that there’s software that increases our freedom and there’s software that “siphons off and monetizes freedom.” People like Dave write software that increases our freedom. People like Doc and me and you ought to be informing one another and the entire ecosystem about the freedom-increasing software we use.

No argument there. I don’t blog a lot about specific pieces of software, except for the library software I’d been working with for the past five years — It’s free-making software — and to whine. I can do more, but, frankly, if you’re reading this blog, you’re in a very elite club (and by “elite” I mean “tiny”) so the practical effect will be negligible. Still, I’ll try.

I’m more distressed by how difficult it is to find freedom-making software. At the major download sites (note: do not use download.com until you read this) you can restrict your results to “free” but not in Dave’s sense…and even then many of the apps are only pretending to be monetarily free. It would help a lot if freedom-making software were a category you could search for. Or if there were download sites devoted to aggregating such software. (What am I forgetting or don’t know about? (Source code sites are too geeky for most people.))

It would be good to come up with a better name than “freedom-making” apps so that it is easier for people to talk about it and understand the concept.

Obviously we’d also want to have some criteria. As I understand it, this is software that doesn’t lock you in, doesn’t lock out other apps, and enables what you do with it to become part of the larger Web.

Heck, we might even want a badge. It works for non-GMO food and Fair Trade goods.

I agree with Dave that we all ought to be talking more audibly about the software we use that makes the Web a better place in the ways that matter: by making it richer with openly linkable and re-usable pieces. And I’ll try to do so, starting soon with a review of Dave’s Fargo outliner. It’d be even better to fill in the pieces missing from our infrastructure for supporting the makers who give us more liberty.

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April 27, 2013

Why we stayed inside

Dave Winer addresses a perception I hadn’t realized was common: Boston stayed inside a week ago Friday because we were afraid to go outside. Nope.

I’ll speak for myself, but I actually have good reason to think that I’m talking for many others. I stayed inside because the mayor and governor told me that they needed the streets clear in order to catch the child-murdering bastards who attacked my city. The bombers were being cornered, and on that Friday there was nothing I desired more than they face justice. I never felt in danger, and I am not a brave person.

My evidence that I’m speaking for more than just myself: In the many conversations with people afterwards, not one of them mentioned being afraid, or it being a scary day, although many (including me) talked about it being a very weird day. Our only fear was that they might get away. (It was undoubtedly very different for people in Watertown. Here in Brookline/Brighton I didn’t see any police or hear sirens or gunshots.)

Dave nicely ties it back to a talk he had given the day before to the Boston Globe:

People feel a need to be part of the world they live in. Most of us feel like we’re on the sidelines, spectators, consumers, eyeballs, credit card numbers, and that’s not what we want. We want meaning. We want to make a contribution. We want do do good and have that good make a difference. If you look at what people actually do, not the stories you read in the paper or hear on CNN, this is obvious. The bombings not only worried people, for a short time when the scope of the danger was unknown, but people also saw the opportunity to get some of the precious stuff, meaning and relevance.

Yup. Our participation that day was minimal — stay at home! — but it was what we could do, and it would only work if we all did it together. It was a moment of civic focus and solidarity that palpably transformed the city for one day. Fear had nothing to do with it.

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