This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 6, 2002

March 6, 2002 - Brave New World of Outliner Software

Between 1982 and 1991, there flowered a golden age of software. This software was called, variously, "outline processors," or "outline editors," or, more recently, just "outliners."

Such programs have always fascinated me. Recently, I spent some twenty hours or so seeing what was still out there, and writing up my thoughts about what I found.

When I was done, I had two articles. But I found myself unwilling to try to chase down publishers for them. Frankly, I doubted whether anybody else would be much interested. So I stuck them on my personal website.

That's when things got interesting.

Within about four hours, I got email from folks all over the planet. It seems that a lot of people are still interested in outliners. But the product has taken a turn.

For instance, there's one outliner, still in development, called JOE, based on Java. It runs through your web browser.

Then I got email from the chief scientist at www.eastgate.com. He had just released a program called Tinderbox, written for the Mac (though coming soon for Windows and OS X). The software did include an outliner, but also more graphic, "mind-mapping" modes.

Let me say that there are a lot of things I still haven't figured out about the program, although I have downloaded the free demo.

Tinderbox works like sticky notes on steroids. You can create "notes" about anything you like: books you're reading, your diary, web snippets and addresses.

When you're done, Tinderbox can run around and categorize everything for you. So when you start looking for something on a particular word, the software fetches all your notes on a similar topic. It will even prowl the World Wide Web looking for new notes that match some prespecified URL.

But there's more.

Based on "attributes" you assign to your notes, it appears that Tinderbox can also use them to automatically or dynamically update your web site -- not just loading content, but formatting it for you, too.

Tinderbox isn't the only product that does such things. Based on some of the research I've been doing, it's clear that Internet programming has taken a big jump forward.

This set off a pretty intense day of intellectual stimulation. I got another prod when I met with our folks in the Local History Collection about adding another 750 historic photographs to our website. We work with a company that has also helped manage some of the big digital images for Disney.

Some of the things this company can make happen, automatically, are just astonishing. Not only that, the implications are staggering for all kinds of library procedures.

There was a time when automation saved libraries money. For the past 10 years, it has COST us money. (It has also, of course, allowed us to offer new services.) But I begin to see a way to make it more cost-effective.

Next week, I'll talk about how some of these new techniques could completely transform the way we do business, both for libraries, and the people who use them.

Meanwhile, if you have some interest in finding new/old ways to think better, I do recommend www.outliners.com, and the web page for Tinderbox at www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/.

There's a whole new world out there.

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