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Re: [O] would take more than an org-mode strip-down.

From: Carsten Dominik
Subject: Re: [O] would take more than an org-mode strip-down.
Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2011 08:00:28 +0200

Dear James,

thanks a lot for your thoughts on Org-mode.  I admit that I had to
read them several times to fully understand what you are saying.
While you anchor your argument on the documenation (be it overabundant
or not the right one), I think you are making a number of much deeper
points.  I'll try to write a few thoughts back, and maybe we can get a
good discussion going.

1. Startup difficulties for non-EMacs users
   One of the fundamental aspect you discuss is the difficulty to
   enter the Org-mode world as a general computer user, possibly not
   familiar Emacs.

   Today's world expects programs to be self-explanatory, if possible
   without any documentation reading at all (no, I am not saying that
   this is what *you personally* expect, I mean in general).  In the
   world of iOS, it is standard that one can download an application
   and at least get started with it by playfully launching it.
   Manuals and Documentation are generally disliked.  This also has to
   with the fleeing nature of peoples use of programs.  It is common
   to spend more time looking for a tool or program than the time one
   uses it before discarding or at least ignoring it.  I have many
   apps on my iPod Touch which I have downloaded, used once for a very
   short time, and then not ever again.  So if there is a 70% chance
   that I will ditch the program after a week, the cost of reading
   documentation is extremely high. 

   Mind you, I do think that this is (today) a legitimate expectation.
   However, a user with this kind of expectation would be very
   difficult to make feel at home in Org-mode.  The main startup
   problem is already that is runs in Emacs, and a good new version of
   Emacs is not frequently part of a computer system for "normal"
   people.  Org-mode really lives in Emacs. If flourishes on so many
   ideas that are deeply ingrained in Emacs.  So much of Org-mode use
   is quite obvious when you already use and love Emacs.  The tags
   issue you mention is a great example.  Emacs solves these things
   using "completion" (see also Eric Fraga's post in this thread).  An
   Emacs user automatically tries to type a keyword like this by
   typing a few letters and then hitting M-TAB in order to do
   completion.  This is something the spine does for an Emacs user, no
   brain required.

   Obviously this will be very hard for a person that comes with a
   different expectation to this program.  And yes, this could be
   helped with putting more GUI-like elements into Org files.  For
   example, we could make tags look like buttons and let the user
   click on them in order to change this.  But, I and many Emacs users
   would see this as a distraction, a detour.  We even do have this
   feature, but it is not turned on by default.

   I think that the real issue here is that Org-mode was not
   (originally) intended for "normal" people.  It is a geeks program,
   and we take our pride from making vi users (vi is another
   programmers editor) jealous enough so that they will create a clone
   of the program.  We have not even begun to cater for another
   audience, and this is the thing you, James, are running up against.
   The website we have is not aimed at the general audience.  The fact
   that people like you even know about the program and consider using
   it speaks for the success Org-mode has been.

   If we, as the Org-mode community, would like to draw in a new class
   of people, the website would have to be changed.  We'd need a basic
   page, with only a link to the geek stuff.  And the installation
   instruction should be:

   a) Download and install Emacs
   b) Create a file with extension ".org" and edit it in Emacs.

   i.e. no links to how to install the latest version etc etc.  Russel
   Adam has pointed (earlier in this thread) to his intro video for
   Windows users, this has the right spirit, but still assumes users
   might want to update Org-mode.  You might have gotten off to a
   better start with such an entry page - but that does not mean you'd
   like to program because it would not work intuitively at first

2. Outline as the basic paradigm

   Another issue you address is that for you it is not true that all
   ideas begin to take form through an Outline.  Because Outlines
   still have a linear structure.  I can totally see where you are
   coming from.  However, what is the alternative?  Mindmaps?  Or just
   a piece of paper?  

   The reason why, for me, outlines are the best approach is because
   there are so easily restructured.  The outline structure inherently
   cuts the information into many small pieces, and Org-mode excels in
   pushing these pieces around (we call this "Structure Editing" and
   "Refiling").  This allows me to start just with a brain dump, and
   the to organize so that things make sense.  This may not work for
   the creative process of an artist, but for starting and organizing
   a project, I think it works amazingly well.

   You talk about instructions on "bridging the free-association,
   brain storming, linear thinking, mind-mapping, UML, media files and
   inspiration, concepts directly into an Org-mode file would be of
   help", and that you might be able to do something here.  I am all
   ears.  Mind you, Org-mode will only link to media files and such
   things.  It is not an Evernote, wherein you easily dump all kinds
   of file types.

3. File structure and letting other people be you assistant

   I agree that Org-mode will not be easy for an assistant to open up
   in you absence, if that assistant is not trained in
   Emacs/Org-mode.  A program like Things is *much* better for this
   work flow.

   It is important to make the distinction that Org-mode is not a
   stand-alone application that you double-clock and then you are in
   your environment.  The org-mode file with your projects is but one
   document.  You can, of course put this file on the desktop and
   double-click it to launch Emacs and make it look at that file
   (setup will be required to make this work, I am afraid).

With kind regards

- Carsten Dominik

On 27.9.2011, at 19:04, James Levine wrote:

> Greetings,
> As an expert end-user but outside the computer science field, I’ve felt there 
> to be a high cost of entry for working in org-mode. I like the idea very 
> much, as I am trying to strip down to an Autofocus system  and take a more 
> intuitive, frictionless approach. Because I’m not following the play-by-play 
> on the gnu boards, I thought I’d zoom out and tell you what a consumer 
> experience is like:
> 1) It’s not that there isn’t enough documentation, it’s that there’s too much 
> of it.
>       Imagine that setting up a wordpress database is probably too much for 
> the average person. You go to wordpress.org (and at this point you’d already 
> need to read the fine print or you’d probably point to wordpress.com) and the 
> button simply tells you to download “here”. Now what?
>       In other words, if you want to expand popularity among end-users, not 
> coders, there needs to be a middle ground: the visual step-by-step needs to 
> be uncluttered by additional description.  Org-mode is further obscured by 
> the fact that other services, a text editor and such need to be pointed to as 
> well in the “getting started process." I need to know why I’m being forwarded 
> to an external web page or why I need to read on between each download link, 
> or how to keep track of each link if each one is taking me to a separate 
> page. You wouldn’t want someone telling you the history of every landmark 
> that you passed if they were giving you driving instructions, would you? The 
> verbose approach doesn’t actually help retention, it floods it. The gnu 
> support community, like this email, is very heavily text-based.
> 2) Some things are just better with a gui.
>       I’m referring specifically to the more popularized use of tags or 
> “keywords.” Most all the file management clients fail at this somewhere. You 
> are requiring people to be literate, as in secondary school spelling-NOT 
> culture, not just in a single instance of clarity, but in a manner that can 
> be consistently repeated, while you’re catering to an audience that probably 
> has a higher than average proportion of dyslexics, autistics, and college 
> drop-outs in its midst. 
> Furthermore, tagging conventions are easy to break, and most End-Users won’t 
> know to instill them to begin with. “Have I been using the plural of my 
> common and collective nouns? What about that time I hashtagged a task to 
> myself in my email and I put the tag in the Subject heading? Did I spell it 
> the same way my tags were set up back on my desktop?” It’s too easy to orphan 
> tags, spell them wrong, flip a p with a q. Without a pull up, 
> cash-register-like cheat sheet that lets you touch the tags that you already 
> made, one will leave a trail of junk mark-up. Not to mention, free tagging 
> does not endorse a constrained vocabulary as it would, say, if you were 
> trying to figure out what kind of lettuce someone was buying and you worked 
> the register. I’m also inclined to believe that crossing something out with 
> my finger, or putting a check in a checkbox is more intuitive and less prone 
> to error than managing "[x]”s in a document.
> 3) the 2nd problem ties in with this. Without a constrained tagging 
> vocabulary and other conventions, an org-mode task system is not that easy to 
> subscribe to when trying to encourage a team to get on board. The list is not 
> inherently intuitive to all end-users. What is logic to one person is not 
> logic to the next. (This may come as a surprise to many coders).
> 4) The master org-mode file will get lost in the shuffle. My litmus test for 
> a good file management system is “if I’m sick or thankfully on a beach that 
> day, can everyone else to whom my work pertains, understand for themselves 
> how to incorporate what they need from me?” Are my naming conventions clear? 
> Are my directory structures clear? Can people find them on their own, or are 
> they going to call me while I’m trying to enjoy the beach? Can I effectively 
> be a “ghost in the machine” for my institution? Or have I made people 
> dependent upon me  for the petty fact that my workflows are not understood by 
> anyone else? 
>       Again, feeding off point 3, org-mode does little to instill good file 
> management habits. I do appreciate that the plain text approach builds off 
> simplicity rather than the adhered complexity of a database. Nonetheless, if 
> I open up “Things”, for example (I don’t use it myself), as an app to keep my 
> tasks, I know there’s a central repository for these stray little database 
> entry “tasks”. If I’m out of the office, I can tell whoever is working on my 
> assignments to open up “Things,” or I can share this with them. Because 
> org-mode doesn’t reinforce where files are saved to or how many files are 
> accessed for my various projects, there’s plenty of wiggle room for bad file 
> management habits to come into play. Instead of telling my colleague to open 
> “Things”, I need to tell them, "look in my documents folder, open this file 
> with this app. When you’re done with this by 1p, I saved the task list for 
> the catering event this evening in my dropbox. Look under documents, Jim’s 
> stuff." You see where this is going. 
> An org-mode text document is just too flimsy to stand alone in the sea of 
> files on a computer. That’s why evernote is successful-it’s a more orderly 
> place for scraps. People used to muck up folders and drag stuff to their 
> desktop with the same caliber of content. If you held your desktop as sacred, 
> or your Emacs platform, what then happens when these other “temporary” odds 
> and ends nonetheless compete with your focus? 
> 5) I don’t subscribe to the notion that all ideas begin to take form through 
> an Outline. Outlines were something pounded into lots of heads as kids, and 
> they work for some and not for others. To me, they are far too linear of an 
> invention to trust with germinating ideas and projects. My outline skills are 
> epically good, but I still don’t find the outline as the key tool for 
> repurposing and leveraging divergent ideas (or for note-taking for that 
> matter). And again, with an awareness management system like org-mode, how 
> would you effectively create an Outline for Everything? Would that be any 
> easier to navigate than the index card that I made just for today in my back 
> pocket? Then to play the provocateur, if I can’t create an  Outline for 
> Everything how many little baskets of Anythings do I want to enforce in my 
> life? Or should I just start with my work? (then what happens to the rest of 
> my life? Should I use refrigerator magnets?) Where do I put these separate 
> Outlines if I can’t look in the same place at any time for them? How do they 
> fit in with each other? The mobile implementation of org-mode thus far 
> further confuses the matter-it places these divergent files in a file 
> browser. How does that actually help me work the system? What about a front 
> end?
>       Perhaps some instruction on bridging the free-association, brain 
> storming, linear thinking, mind-mapping, UML, media files and inspiration, 
> concepts directly into an Org-mode file would be of help. If I understood 
> org-mode, I might even be the person to do it. Many ideas will never see a 
> formal outline first (even if the concept of an outline latently exists)-only 
> my software design documents or other specification sheets would show through 
> with such formality.
> Please tell me if and where these points will be addressed, as their a slim 
> chance of my renavigating to the live thread where I found your email (see 
> point 1). Hope this message is in the right hands. I’m incredibly grateful 
> for this line of communication and for the work you are doing, and I want to 
> make this work.
> James Levine-East Village, NYC

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