Tag Archives: AJAX

The Worm and Tide Turn

It’s funny how things have changed. Before the days of the web, if someone offered you something for free you’d be all grovelly and the offerer would be all haughty. Like watching those matrons jostling and bashing each other with handbags at the Christmas sales, the sales assistants standing by assessing their nails.

Now, at least online, we’re frustrated and angry if things don’t work out the way we like, even if we aren’t paying for it. When Facebook had the effrontery to start trying to make some money from us we all went ballistic, including moi. Of course, that was partly about privacy, and about ownership. We are gradually becoming aware that everything revolves around our desire to spend, and so, finally, the customer is king. Or at least our data is.

We are slowly waking up to the fact that everything that is pitched to us as a reward is actually a lure: a customer “loyalty” card (loyalty by whom to whom? The company to the consumer? I think not). And a freebie is often a pair of handcuffs in disguise: A free TV when you sign up for a 24 month contract? (Try saying no to the TV but yes to a 12 month contract instead.

The truth is that we are being increasingly mined for our proclivities, and in so doing are being swamped by a cornucopia of gifts in the hope that we’ll give up some of our secrets. The web is the purest version of this: Every Web 2.0 service that has been launched has been free, or, at least partly free. I can’t think of one genuine Web 2.0 (and I don’t mean the faux Web 2.0 offerings, which try to look and feel like Web 2.0 but, like 40-year old men wearing sneakers and jeans cut a little too trendily for their age, give themselves away easily.

Swamped by this pile of freebies, our time becomes the most precious commodity to us. We realise we are in the ascendant and can flit easily from one service to another because so many exist and because we have to reach quick decisions about whether any merit our attention. Given this, you’d think that Web 2.0 services would be really careful about that initial experience (what folk like HP call the OOTBE — the out of the box experience.)

But it’s not always so. One service I signed up for wouldn’t accept the first password it sent me; I had to reset it and then it worked (my message to their support team went unanswered.) A second, webAsyst, wouldn’t recognise its own CAPTCHA codes:

image

it told me, only to admonish me:

image

There are two lessons here.

Web 2.0 is about speed. The interface — large fonts, interesting colors, fast loading pages or AJAX — is all about matching the speed of our online lives. So these obstacles undermine those efforts. Get that first impression right, because we won’t hang around.

Web 2.0 is also about user friendliness. If something doesn’t work, give the user some options about how to fix it, and, if you can, concede that it may be your own poor coding at fault rather than the poor user. In the webAsyst case, all the usual rules are broken:

  • the CAPTCHA doesn’t work.
  • the error message doesn’t have an OK button or anything to indicate what I might do next.
  • there’s no way to refresh the CAPTCHA to give me a different set of numbers to try (yes I tried replacing the 0 with an O with the same result.)

The result? I don’t bother with webAsyst anymore and I smell a 40 year-old man struggling to look cool in a 20 year-old’s getup.

Online Calendars – An Opportunity Lost?

A great piece by Joel Spolsky on calendar software, where he complains that all these online calendars don’t really offer very much, are half-baked and may just be efforts to attract buyouts from the big boys:

For all the Ajax calendars that are appearing, it’s a shame I can’t find one which really meets my needs. I tried out Trumba, Kiko, 30 Boxes, Yahoo! Calendar, and Spongecell. I couldn’t recommend any of them.
My needs are probably weird, but not that weird.

As Joel then goes on to point out, actually these calendars allow very little customisation, and surprisingly little basic functionality, such as alarms, events that don’t fit neat intervals (like flights) and making some events private.

I’ve tried a few of these offerings, and I’d tend to agree with Joel. All the calendars I’ve tried are basically reruns of offline software, but without many of its deeper functionality. There are some nice elements — Trumba’s way of showing events that span more than a day is quite nice — but most are small potatoes in the face of a much greater potential. Surely calendars, of all Web Apps, should be almost endlessly customizable, given that their job is to try to reflect as accurately as possible the endless weirdness and variety of our lives? When was the last time you met someone who had even vaguely the same kind of habits, schedule and needs as you? We’re all different and calendars, of all things, should reflect that.

Let me offer some suggestions, just in case you’re not following (and any of these calendar developers are listening):

  • viewing options: If we’re going to go to the effort of entering all this data on your website, the least you can do is to offer us multiple ways of viewing said data. I’m not just talking boring day/week/month/listings, but color-coding time off, time on; how many 3–hour workday slots are still open in February; how many hours I’m spending in meetings with Client A; the best options for a long weekend where there are no, or few events on Friday or Monday.
  • synchronize with other calendars, especially Outlook. How many people are going to spend time entering data into an online calendar but not have an offline one? (Trumba offers synchronization with Outlook but I must confess: I haven’t managed to make it work properly yet.)
  • anticipate me: If I’ve entered a repeating event, say, notice it and ask me if I’d like to repeat it automatically. If I keep making the same trip figure this out offer to auto-fill the details next time I start entering that data in the calendar.
  • minimise the clicks: Let me enter data, including labels/tags/categories into the calendar. I don’t like pop-up windows, and I don’t like moving between fields if I can help it. Let me just type “Meeting Bob Conference_Room 12:30 Tues” and let the calendar do the heavy lifting: “Meeting” gives the event a specific color and label, Bob is a name from my address book and so can be automatically filled in with family name and company affiliation, “Conference_Room” is clearly a place, and so can be assigned to that field, if it exists, while the time and the date/day are self-explanatory (why would it be anything other than the next Tuesday coming up?) This saves us time (which we don’t have much of; that’s why we’re using a calendar) and it also helps build a database to let us slice and dice our information later (when am next meeting Bob/using the conference room/having a lunch time meeting?) (30 Boxes and spongecell offer something like this feature, but there are still too many dialog or OK boxes inbetween, and spongecell’s syntax was eccentric at best.)
  • move me: drag and drop, extending or shrinking events using the mouse should all be standard.

There are hundreds more ways that calendars could be more dynamic. I can hear the calendar developers already popping up and saying “You should check out this feature in our calendar” or “We’re working on just that feature in ours”. But my experience is that in fact most of these calendars don’t really have it. They may have one or two interesting new ideas, maybe even one that makes you go ‘wow!’, but there will always be some basic function that either isn’t there, or doesn’t work well. With calendars, it either works as a whole experience or it doesn’t work at all.

As Joel says, the trend these days is to get the stuff out there and add features later. That may work with other tools, because for the most part you can always switch to something else if those features are slow in coming. But a calendar needs to work well for you out of the box. After all, it is your life and you’re not in the mood to put it on hold for the promise of future features, future bug-fixes (how long are you going to stick with a calendar if it makes you miss an appointment?). As Joel puts it:

I’ve talked about this before — it’s the Marimba phenomenon — when you get premature publicity, lots of people check out your thing, and it’s not done yet, so now most of the people that tried your thing think it’s lame, and now you have two problems: your thing is lame and everybody knows it.

A calendar is the thing we build our lives around. Think hard about what you’re offering before you ask us to commit our daily schedule to it.

The TiddlyWiki Report, Part IV: Jeremy Ruston

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

Last, but not least, Jeremy Ruston, the man who started it all.

Jeremy Ruston: Hi Jeremy
Loose Wire: hi jeremy, thanks for getting back to me…
Jeremy Ruston: no problem, hope it’s not too late wherever you are
Loose Wire: i’d like to hear from you about the history of this, how it works under the hood, what they’re used for and where it’s going…
Jeremy Ruston: sure, where to start
Jeremy Ruston: i was originally trying to do a personal site
Jeremy Ruston: kind of wanted to blog, but acknowledged that I’m not a great writer
Jeremy Ruston: (being more of a inventor/design/coder type)
Jeremy Ruston: so, wanted something that would let me do a partwork, gradually assembling a coherent picture of the work I’m interested in, and the stuff I’ve done
Jeremy Ruston: but I wanted it to be enough like a blog that people would recognise it as one
Jeremy Ruston: anyway, i started messing around with dhtml, for the first time in years
Jeremy Ruston: and realised that actually it might be a good enough way to implement some of the wiki ideas I’ve been thinking about for a long time
Jeremy Ruston: I did the first version which was very primitive and didn’t allow saving
Jeremy Ruston: which got a bit of attention, but everyone said ‘tsk, if only it allowed saving’
Jeremy Ruston: which of course, I knew was Totally Impossible for a mere HTML file
Jeremy Ruston: which turned out to be wrong…
Jeremy Ruston: oh, and I never did get around to doing the personal site I originally envisaged
Loose Wire: interesting. basically all the code that makes the TW happen is stored in the same file as the content, right? It’s all self-contained?
Jeremy Ruston: yeah, just one file with three main chunks: html to deliver the skeleton of the layout and the content itself; css for the appearance of elements and javascript for the behaviour
Jeremy Ruston: it’s really the opposite of what computer geeks consider conventional wisdom, which would be to separate stuff neatly
Jeremy Ruston: it’s kind of like if every Word document actually incorporated a copy of Microsoft Word itself
Jeremy Ruston: but in the crazy world of the web the application is shorter than the document
Loose Wire: it
Loose Wire: ‘s an interesting twist…
Jeremy Ruston: now there’s a couple of other projects that use the same approach, but I think TiddlyWiki was the first
Loose Wire: which projects are those?
Jeremy Ruston: is the one I was thinking of
Loose Wire: how hard was all this to do?
Jeremy Ruston: Hard, I guess, but it’s the kind of thing I enjoy 🙂
Jeremy Ruston: A lot of it is actually quite routine from a programming perspective, but some bits were ridiculously hard to get right
Jeremy Ruston: for example, getting it to display properly in Internet Explorer — Firefox is easy
Jeremy Ruston: also, the code to actually do the saving was pretty complex, and the code to handle wikification (what I call turning Wiki text into proper displayed text with links etc)
Jeremy Ruston: The great thing about the internet is that it’s a great resource for finding out more about the internet… there’s masses and masses of chunks and slivers of code out there to learn from
Jeremy Ruston: hopefully tiddlywiki is now something that other people are learning from
Loose Wire: i found it interesting, too, that other tiddlywikis sprang up — the GTD one, for example — and now have been folded into the original….
Jeremy Ruston: yeah, I’ve been astounded by the reaction from the developer community
Jeremy Ruston: or rather the way that tiddlywiki has formed it’s own developer community
Jeremy Ruston: there’s something eminently hackable about JavaScript, though
Loose Wire: do you see it as part of this ‘AJAX’ resurgence?
Jeremy Ruston: Slight aside about the previous point: 15 to 20 years ago, all computers came with a BASIC interpreter; the owner was expected to do a bit of programming, or at least tinker with other people’s programs. I felt it was a shame when that era ended, but it seems that the web has ushered in a new era of accessible, hackable, available programming tools
Jeremy Ruston: As to AJAX, yes, absolutely, I think that TiddlyWiki is one of the quintessential AJAX apps. And yet, perversely, it technically fails to meet the original criteria of AJAX because it doesn’t talk to a serverside. But I think that that is a shortcoming in the definition of AJAX…
Loose Wire: have you heard back from people about how they’re using TWs? any surprises?
Jeremy Ruston: yes, astonishment usually
Jeremy Ruston: 🙂
Jeremy Ruston: I’ve heard of people really stretching it: putting about 50 times more data into it than I’d ever bothered to test, for example
Loose Wire: those would be big files, no?
Jeremy Ruston: I think a lot of the people who are actually using TiddlyWiki (as opposed to hacking the code) don’t ever publish their stuff. A key feature of tiddlywiki for them is that it’s utterly private; you don’t have to trust any shady, fly-by-night dotcom with your data
Jeremy Ruston: so there’s a huge mass of ‘dark TiddlyWikis’ that we can’t see
Jeremy Ruston: but of the ones that I can see, I’m thrilled that academics have taken to it so well – have you seen Elise Springer’s site?
Loose Wire: no…
Jeremy Ruston: (yes, putting lots and lots and lots of text into it)
Jeremy Ruston: Jeremy Ruston: there’s also a site about religion:
Jeremy Ruston: which I think is interesting because it’s the sort of densely argued manifesto that works really well in tiddlywiki
Loose Wire: Elise’s site is beautiful…
Jeremy Ruston: Yeah, she’s really dedicated to getting it how she wants it, very impressive
Jeremy Ruston: This one is interesting too: it’s about Bolivian politics
Jeremy Ruston: One thing that was definitely a surprise was the translation activity. Volunteers have gone and done translations into German, French, Dutch, Bulgarian, Chinese (traditional and mandarin), Portuguese
Jeremy Ruston: and probably others I’ve forgotten
Loose Wire: excellent… any idea of the number of folk using TW now?
Jeremy Ruston: I think it’s impossible to measure in any sensible way; people only visit the site once to get a copy, and can then use it as often as they like without me being any the wiser
Jeremy Ruston: but it’s certainly tens of thousands I’d have thought
Loose Wire: one feature that particularly attracted me was the tagging thing. it really helps propel TW into another league…
Jeremy Ruston: Yeah, it was an obvious thing to add, and does really work well
Jeremy Ruston: also a good example of a feature that I’d envisaged but got implemented first by other people
Jeremy Ruston: But I don’t think it yet scratches the surface of what’s possible with tagging
Loose Wire: what do you imagine happening there?
Jeremy Ruston: being able to ‘twist’ on a tag that you’ve used to see things that other people have tagged the same way
Jeremy Ruston: that’s something that flickr and del.icio.us do today
Jeremy Ruston: TiddlyWiki needs multi-user features before it can do that
Loose Wire: yes… but i’ve always felt tags are just as useful to the individual as the group…
Jeremy Ruston: yes indeed
Loose Wire: TW is the first i’ve seen really using that. suddenly you have a very powerful way of organising and accessing stuff.
Loose Wire: it really puts to shame most other data organisers…
Jeremy Ruston: Thanks!
Jeremy Ruston: Well, I’d like to make it easier to navigate by tags
Jeremy Ruston: and search by them
Loose Wire: jonny was saying he is working on being able to select multiple tags…
Jeremy Ruston: oh cool, that will be interesting. I’m interested in extending that to more complex things (give me everything tagged ‘jonny’ and ‘jeremy’ but not tagged ‘football’)
Jeremy Ruston: I think that the challenge with those kinds of features is the ui
Loose Wire: that would be excellent..
Loose Wire: yes…
Jeremy Ruston: I’ve aimed to give tiddlywiki a liquid interface that’s as uncluttered as possible
Loose Wire: i’ve been juggling data for a project using a TW and already the ways to get related data is beyond any other program i’ve used.
Jeremy Ruston: it’s a challenge to keep these complex features out of the way but accessible and discoverable
Jeremy Ruston: hehe that’s excellent
Jeremy Ruston: what do you think of the search? I still find it way too slow, and keep wondering about making the search results popup as a submenu that you can select from
Loose Wire: i also started thinking about how one could turn blogs themselves into databases… many of us blog, but that stuff is not all that accessible once it’s blogged..
Loose Wire: (the search idea, i agree on)
Loose Wire: TW struck me as the intersection of publisher and database.
Loose Wire: i can’t think of any other program that fills that space.
Loose Wire: and yet now we are all publishers, we need it more than ever!
Jeremy Ruston: Yes, indeed, I like the counterpoint with blogging
Jeremy Ruston: blogging seems essentially ephemeral because individual posts are often so meaningless shorn of their context, while using tiddlywiki can lead to the production of a coherent body of work, something of lasting value
Jeremy Ruston: (sorry rambling)
Loose Wire: exactly. and blogging offered us different methods of navigation, and TWs are kind of bringing that home, to one’s own data too. indeed TW is an example of not really distinguishing between public and private, offline and online data.
Loose Wire: at least in the sense of the way it’s edited and collected.
Loose Wire: now i’m rambling too.
Jeremy Ruston: yes, I like that too
Loose Wire: 🙂

Loose Wire: i guess my wishlist would include making it easier to set up a TW — maybe a desktop shortcut — and an easier way to tweak the stylesheet…
Loose Wire: perhaps some tip bubbles…
Jeremy Ruston: yeah, there’s a sizeable percentage of ‘normal people’ who I see sit in front of it: they scroll it up and down, and don’t actually click on anything, and so completely miss the point…. Thought provoking for an interface designer
Loose Wire: anyone who has ever just wanted to save some stuff they found, or keep notes in the same place, would welcome TW…
Jeremy Ruston: you’re right of course. The hackers are very vocal so I tend to neglect the more ease-of-use oriented features…

Loose Wire: finally, where do you think it might go?
Jeremy Ruston: well, I hope that in 12 months time, I’m working on it full time, and offering a really nicely polished, free, version of the current single file thing, along with some probably more commercial expanded version with multiple users, real time collaboration, spell checking and all that good stuff
Jeremy Ruston: but if I’ve learned one thing over the last 12 months, it’s to put stuff out there and see what happens
Jeremy Ruston: so I guess I’ll keep doing that 🙂
Loose Wire: how scalable is it, do you think? does it hit a limit? can you get around that?
Jeremy Ruston: tiddlywiki itself doesn’t have any (serious) inherent limits; it’s just that browsers tend to explode if you push them too far
Jeremy Ruston: so, a 10MB tiddlywiki would probably kill internet explorer
Jeremy Ruston: but yes, these problems are all get-around-able
Jeremy Ruston: fun problems to solve, actually, generally
Loose Wire: cool… well, thanks for this jeremy.

The TiddlyWiki Report, Part II: Clint Checketts

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

Second offering: an interview with Clint Checketts, an Information Systems major at BYU-Idaho, who walked me through some of the history and some of the basics:

Jeremy: i’m intrigued by tiddlywikis and wanted to recommend them to readers, but i realise there’s stuff i don’t quite understand, and i just worry i’m recommending something that’s maybe too fiddly for the casual user…
Clint: I would vouch for TiddlyWikis.
Jeremy: are there any in particular your favourite? i love the tag ones, tagglywiki and tiddlytagwiki, cos i love the idea of using tags in that way…
Clint: Its been maturing quickly, though the growth has always been conservative and rarely causes any breaks between upgrades.
Jeremy: they seem to burst out in april or may, as far as i can gather… but i can’t find an easy how to guide for these.
Clint: Actually, to get you caught up on a short bit of TiddlyHistory they burst out with the introduction of GTD tiddlywiki. THe Getting Things Done version
Clint: Thats how I was introduced.
Jeremy: ah right. that was beautifully done one.
Clint: In June, Jeremy came out with an update that allows for macros.  These macros are great because now the different adaptations like TiddlyTagWiki and TagglyWiki can be re-merged back into the main one.  So now, there is primarily THE TiddlyWiki.
Clint: Now Jeremy also added in the ability to add in a stylesheet in a tiddler.  (You know what a tiddler is right?)
Jeremy: yes…
Jeremy: so when you say merged, it means the extra features of those offshoots can be available in the tiddlywiki?
Clint: Okay, so with the macros it was simple (mostly) to bring the adaptations back into the mainstream tiddlywiki and with the stylesheet tiddlers now you can bring in other skins that look completely different.
Clint: Yes
Clint: Simon Baird merged the tagglywiki stuff back in. [He] created this plug-in
Clint: My contributions have been in the form of the styles.
Jeremy: how easy is it to do the macros and stylesheet things?
Clint: Do you mean create macros or use macros?
Jeremy: use…
Clint: Piece of cake to use.  Let’s take AlanH’s smiley macro for example. You can just cut and paste the insertSmiley code. Some developers are working on ways to simplify importing macros as we speak. After copying the tiddler you just mark it as ‘systemConfig’ then reload the page
Jeremy: ah cool. so how would i load a stylesheet?
Clint: Go to TiddlySinister (my latest creation). Open up the StyleSheet tiddler and copy the content then create your own tiddler called StyleSheet and paste it.  The new style will be applied as soon as you hit ‘Done’.
Clint: The macros are the new key.  Its great because you can pick and choose the functions that you like and incorporate those.
Jeremy: this is fascinating… you got time to show me a few more macros?
Clint: Sure.
Clint: My one and only macro (so far) turns TiddlyWiki into a blogging type system. It places your newest posts on the front page, simplifying your posting.  Thats all. Not anything super great (yet).

Clint: Other great macro (just released yesterday) is the WebView macro by AlanH it allows you to edit you TiddlyWiki on you own computer and upload it.  It can detect when you are viewing it over a web connection and it hides the wiki-features.  This is great for creating atotally self contained web page.
Clint: Using style sheets people don’t even realize that they are viewing a TiddlyWiki.
Jeremy: that does sound neat. does your macro allow one to edit a blog?
Clint: In a way.  The starting view of a blog is usually a chronological view of posts.  My macro just looks at the dates of the last edits and posts them on the default view automatically.
Jeremy: neat…
Clint: Usually you would have to select the tiddlers you want to display manually in the DefaultTiddlers tiddler
Jeremy: yes…

Jeremy: where do you see this kind of thing going?
Jeremy: do you see it becoming more mainstream? or do you think tiddlywikis have limited appeal?
Clint: I doubt it would become as mainstream as the term ‘blog’.  It is only a tool. Just like you don’t usually here people bragging up their new hammer.
Jeremy: true!
Clint: However, on the scale of tools, I can see it getting a WordPress level of attention
Clint: It could even surpass that as Ajax has really brought the JavaScripting back into attention
Jeremy: is there a really simple way that people can publish a TW? i see obstacles there…
Clint: True.  Its is important to note that TiddlyWikis are local files.  It publish via ftp. I edit it and upload.  Not the slickest.
Clint: However.  Take alook at ZiddlyWiki. This is a version that uses Zope for the backend and alllows simple downloading of the entire ‘web-site’ as a tiddlywiki
Jeremy: ok, i’ll check that out…
Jeremy: thanks for all this Clint, you’ve helped a lot…

The TiddlyWiki Report, Part I: Jonny LeRoy

This week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column is about the TiddlyWiki (here, when it appears Friday), which I reckon is a wonderful tool and a quiet but major leap forward for interfaces, outliners and general coolness. I had a chance to chat with some of the folk most closely involved in TiddlyWikis, but sadly couldn’t use much of their material directly, so here is some of the stuff that didn’t fit.

First off, an edited chat with Jonny LeRoy, a British tech consultant who offered his view on TiddlyWikis over IM:

Loose Wire: ok, thanks… i’m doing a little piece on tiddlywikis, and was intrigued to hear how you got into them, how you use them, where you think they might be of use, how they might develop etc…
Jonny LeRoy: sure. I first came across them when a colleague sent round a link. The thing that hooked me was the “install software” page which just said – “you’ve already got it”. I’ve been doing web stuff (mainly Java server side development) for quite a while and seeing the immediacy of the tiddlywiki was great. I’ve tried all sorts of tools for managing thoughts and tasks and generally end up going back to pen and paper after a while. tiddlywiki is fast and easy enough for me to keep using it. The micro-content idea is pretty interesting but I’m also pretty interested in how they slot into general progressions in the “Web 2.0”. more and more functionality can now be pushed client side – especially with Ajax and related async javascript technologies. TiddlyWiki takes this to the extreme by pushing *everything* client-side …
That does raise the problem of sharing and syncing the data, but it’s not really in essence a collaborative tool. though there’s no reason why that can’t be added on top of what’s there. Does that make some sense?
Loose Wire: it does. very well put…
Jonny LeRoy: cheers 😉
Loose Wire: 🙂 i particularly like the tagging idea, which you seem to have introduced…

Jonny LeRoy: Yup – for me when I started using tiddlywiki the main thing missing was any kind of classification. I’ve had a fair amount of experience with pretty complicated taxonomies and ontologies – particularly for managing / aggregating / syndicating content on a travel start-up I was involved in. but the simplicity of sites like delicious and flickr started to make me realise that some simple keyword tags gets you nearly everything you need. and also removes half of the issues related to category hierarchies and maintenance. particularly when your dataset isn’t massive. even when the dataset and tag list grows there are ways of “discovering” structure rather than imposing it … see flickr’s new tag clusters for a good example of this. In the good open source fashion I had a quick hack at the TW code and put some basic tagging functionality in place. A few other people were creating tag implementations at the same time, but they were more based around using tiddlers as tags ….. I was fairly keen just to keep the tags as metadata. I’m still yet to see a good online wiki that has tagging built in. for me that’s been an issue with most wikis I’ve used

Loose Wire: i get the impression that tagging is still considered a social thing, rather than tagging for oneself, as a way to commit to hierarchies, a la outliners etc?
Jonny LeRoy: that’s one of the beauties of it – though not so much in TW. the free-association you get by browsing other people’s tags is amazing. comparing what you can find through something like delicious compared to open directory projects – dmoz etc is quite interesting
Loose Wire: it is great, but i feel there’s huge potential in using tags for oneself, too?
Jonny LeRoy: yup – when you’re using them for yourself you can set your own little rules that get round some of the hierarchy problems. overloaded tags – with more than one meaning can get confusing in a social context, but personally it’s much easier to manage how you refer to things. also the ability to add tags together – so you can search on multiple tags creates an ad hoc structure.
Loose Wire: yes. i’d love to see TWs let you choose a selection of tags and then display the matches… oops, think we’re talking the same thing there…
Jonny LeRoy: yeah – I’d been meaning to put that in place, but haven’t had a moment 🙂
Loose Wire: is that going to happen? all the various TWs are now under one roof, is that right?
Jonny LeRoy: Yeah – Jeremy Ruston – who started it all off seems to be managing things reasonably well. and pulling together different versions. there was a bit of a branch with the GTDWiki which got a lot of publicity.
Loose Wire: is that a good way to go, do you think?
Jonny LeRoy: it’s a weird one, because it’s not like a traditional open source project with code checked into CVS. so versioning can be quite hard. but it’s also one of the beauties of it – anyone with a browser and a text editor can have a go.

Loose Wire: i noticed the file sizes get quite big quite quickly?
Jonny LeRoy: a lot of that is the javascript – if you’re just using it locally then you can extract that out into another file. that makes saving and reloading a bit quicker. the file will grow though with the amount of data you put in.
Loose Wire: is that tricky to do?
Jonny LeRoy: no – you just need to cut all the javascript – put it into a new file and put in an HTML tag referencing it
Loose Wire: how much stuff could one store without it getting unwieldy?
Jonny LeRoy: That really depends on your PC / browser combo – how quickly it can parse stuff.  if you were going to want to store really large amounts of data then you might want to look at ways of having “modules” that load separately.

Loose Wire: is it relatively easy to turn a TW into a website/page?
Jonny LeRoy: yeah – couldn’t be simpler – upload the file to a webserver … and er … that’s it. it does rely on people having javascript enabled – but 99% do. one issue is that since all the internal links are javascript search engines like google won’t follow them. but google will read the whole text of the page if it indexes you

Loose Wire: where do you think this TW thing could go? do you see a future for it? or is it going to be overtaken by something else?
Jonny LeRoy: Definitely – the company I’m working at right now (ThoughtWorks) have used it for a major UK company . they used it for a simple handbook for new people
Loose Wire: oh really? excellent!
Jonny LeRoy: really simple to use and quick to navigate – it got pretty good feedback. I see more people being likely to use it personally on their own pcs though. I use it to keep track of things I’ve got to do or have done. the dated history bit is really useful to work out what was going on a couple of weeks ago.
Loose Wire: the timeline thing?
Jonny LeRoy: yup
Jonny LeRoy: I can also see new TW like products coming out for managing tasks better – an equivalent of tadalist on the client side. beyond that it’s a good thought experiment in how datadriven sites can work. the server can push the data in some structured format to the browser and then the browser uses TW like technology to work out how to render it.
Loose Wire: yes. … [however] i feel a lot of people like to keep their stuff on their own pc (or other device, USB drive, whatever). not all of us are always online….
Jonny LeRoy: exactly – the wiki-on-a-stick idea is great. you can stick firefox and your wiki on the usb key and off you go
Loose Wire: yes, very cool…
Jonny LeRoy: The next step is then to have the option to do some background syncing to a server when you end up online
Loose Wire: do you think more complex formatting, layout and other tasks could be done? and could these things be synced with portable devices?
Jonny LeRoy: the portable devices question is interesting – it really depends on how much javascript they’ve got on their browsers. there’s no reason why it’s not possible, but there are more vagaries of how the functionality is handled
Loose Wire: javascript is the key to all this, i guess….
Jonny LeRoy: it’s a bit like the web in the mid 90s where you didn’t have a clue what people’s browsers would support. it’s actually having a bit of a comeback. many people just see it as a little glue language to stick things together or move things around ….. but it’s actually really powerful – I discovered more of it’s dynamic possibilities while playing with TW. the best thing about it for me is that anyone who’s got a modern browser can run javascript – there’s no extra install.

Loose Wire: yes, making the browser an editor is a wonderful thing… what sort of things do you think we might see with it?
Jonny LeRoy: I’m not sure what new thing we’ll see, but we’ll definitely see the things we use the browser for already getting much better and smoother. the user interaction is starting to become more like working on a locally installed application.

Thanks, Jonny.

Another Task Manager

In this week’s WSJ.com/AWSJ column (subscription only, I’m afraid) I write about online calendars, mentioning towards the end of it Backpack, an excellent online project and stuff organiser using Ajax. Here’s a slightly different version of the same thing, sproutliner:

Sproutliner is a free web service that helps you manage your projects and ideas (think of it as a supercharged structured to-do list). It uses some rather smashing client-side technology to make things as quick and easy as possible, without forcing you to worry about hitting ‘submit’ to save your precious data.