Weblogs, Outlines, and Writing

Dave Winer has posted aboout a new tool he’s working on, his Weblog Outliner.

I want this.

I think the ability to outline and post has enormous potential for not only blogging and writing, but for teaching writing. I don’t require students to turn in or use an outline, but I do require them to use any of a variety of pre-writing tools and techniques before they start. List-making and outlines are two that students seem particularly drawn to.

The virtue of doing the outline/listing publicly over the net are:

  • Public writing, shared writing, is taken seriously. Students are eager to revise.
  • If the writing is by its nature public within the defined community, then the temptation to plagiarize is less, since the source will be known to others of the community.
  •  I can help and interact with students “on the fly.” They can help and learn from each other.
  •  Structure, of piece of writing, and of individual paragraphs and sentences, is one of the hardest things to explain to students. Outlines and lists help make the structures of an essay and of individual paragraphs much easier to understand and manipulate.
  •  The web and good technology are intriguing, and fun, and their use in writing can help seduce students to write, and to find that they enjoy writing and communicating in and of itself.
  •   Having students post the final version in a non outline form, publishing their essays on the web, of course shares many of these virtues. Web log tools can make that much easier.

The problem is that Radio as it stands is too unfinished, too arcane and poorly designed in terms of UI to use widely in education. It’s too hard for consumers to set up and use, the documentation is awful, the Mac UI violates several basic Mac standards, and is needlessly arcane. OPML has potential, but it needs to be freed from Radio Userland’s bowels and set free so professional developers can employ it as a standard. Left to Userland’s developers, it will languish and choke.

Stories

I’ve started using, or trying to use the Story feature in Radio. Writing the Story was fairly simple, and submitting it was equally clear. I’d like to add a link to the story I just wrote to my Navigation links on the left. It’s listed in the Story page , but clicking the link there points to my local file, not the one on the web. Supposedly if I use the name of the Story in double quotes like this “About this Blog” Radio will transform it into a link.

Well, that worked. Now, in order to get the link and add it to my Navigator settings, I went to the page and copied the URL. There’s probably a much smarter way to do it than that, but it works.

Radio is Complicated

I’m beginning to get the hang of Radio, I think. I wanted to move my IT blog to Radio from BloggerPro, not because I don’t like Blogger (I do like it, very much, and am still using Blogger for my Digital Medievalist blog), but because Radio has some intriguing features.

The Categories option in Radio in particular appealed to me. It strikes me as useful for readers interested in reading about a particular subject, or find resources they knew they read about at some point.

I’ve found the help written by other users to be invaluable, since there’s no help, or decent documentation from Userland, the Radio developer. I’ve used user help in tandem with the Radio documentation, but I’ve especially appreciated the helpful tutorials written by Jenny, the Shifted Librarian. Her Radio tutorials are here. The UserLand documentation, and invisible (or rather, hostile) user support are pretty awful, so I’ve been grateful for other users’ help.

Moving from Blogger to Radio

Thanks to Lawrence Lee, Robert Occhialini and Aaron Cope, there are instructions and a script to download and run that allows you to import xml formatted blog entries from Movable Type and Blogger into Radio. You can read all about it here.

I had to import the xml file three times before the imported entries worked correctly, and even then there were some problems, but I think they are resolvable. It’s very very important that your system data and time, and the time and date setting in Blgger (or BloggerPro) are exactly as described MMDDYYYYHHMMSS. In my case that meant changing my Mac to use leading zeros. When I tried to import the xml file without the leading zeros setting, the dates were bizarre, ranging from 1904, to 2052.

Then, after getting the imported entries dates to display properly, and after telling Radio to republish the entire site, some of the past entries didn’t show from the public Home page; users got an error.

I was able to get most of the past entries to display by hand editing and republishing them—I wanted to use Radio’s Categories anyway, so I didn’t mind. But some entries are still not displaying properly. By now, I know it’s too much to hope for support directly from Userland.