Using Fargo for publishing to WordPress: a great start, some rough edges

I decided to use to write the previous post, since it was a long and complex piece with a lot of hierarchical structure. Lots of lists, etc. Let me preface by saying this is wonderful functionality and I am very excited about it, not least because it provides inherent backup of blog posts to dropbox.

That said, there are various issues that need refining. Here are some of my observations:

Fargo only selects the current heading and subheadings for the post. It will use the current heading as title and subheadings as the post content. This is not optimal; by default, Fargo should use the title of the entire outline as the post title and the entire outline body as the post body. I had to create a redundant heading and demote the entire rest of the outline underneath it to get it to work properly.

Headings and subheadings correctly use LI tags, but they force the CSS attribute “list-style-type” to “none”. In a blog post, you want the natural LI icons to appear and not be suppressed.

When exporting from Fargo to WordPress, adding paragraph tags is redundant, as WordPress renders the post content with them automatically. P tags should be stripped out when publishing to WP.

Likewise, there is no need for any additional class names (liConcord, pConcord, liLevel3, etc). All style is handled by WordPress themes and this CSS clutters the post content. We should not have any default styles added by the composer – clean HTML only, no CSS.

Numbered lists are not recognized by Fargo – I used a 1. 2. prefix but this does not create OL list type at the HTML end. Auto-detection of numbered lists is a must-have feature.

Entering new headings above the current one should be possible by placing the cursor at the start of a heading and pressing Enter. Currently, this opens a new heading below, not above.

Images are not supported. In fact if you add an image via the wordpress interface and then later edit the post again with Fargo, you will lose your images (it will overwrite the edits.)

Finally, it is not possible to copy and paste multiple headings and subheading content from the outliner. You can only select one heading at a time. There should be a plaintext export feature at the very least (with whitespace tabs for the indentation levels).

I don’t want to discourage Dave and the fine folks at Small Picture or seem overly picky. These are however important issues that affect a wordpress blogger’s workflow – I loved composing the post in Fargo but now I will have to re-edit the post after I publish to add images, strip out the CSS, etc. Due to that drawback, there isn’t a net value-add to using Fargo for WP blogging, yet. But there is so much potential here that I am very hopeful.

UPDATE: Dave responded to this post on Twitter:

I am uncertain if Dave understood my critique – I was not asking for changes to Fargo’s user interface, but rather the formatting that is generated when exporting from Fargo to wordpress. I am happy to embrace the Outliner Way when composing, but Fargo imposes metadata on WordPress above and beyond outline structure. That metadata is not central to the user experience of Fargo si Iam baffled by Dave’s insistence that there’s no reason for change.

At any rate, I will certainly keep using Fargo for other purposes, but if the wordpress functionality is frozen at the current state then I cannot recommend Fargo as a WordPress authoring tool. I am still optimistic for Dave’s promise of Evernote support.

20 GB cloud storage for 99 cents (and Lady Gaga)

Lady Gaga, presumably not born this way
I can’t claim to be a big fan of Lady Gaga, especially since her new hit single Born This Way is a straight rip-off of the far more talented Madonna’s Express Yourself.

In fact, you’d probably have to bribe me to listen to Lady Gaga. With, say, 20 GB of disk space on Amazon’s new Cloud Drive serviceWhich, as a matter of fact, is precisely the deal today – for $0.99, you can get the upgrade to 20 GB from Amazon, as long as you download Gaga’s album. This is a good deal despite the forcible auditory abuse, and it ends today, so hurry up!

For 99 cents this is a great deal. 20GB on Amazon Cloud Drive is 4x the size of Microsoft’s SkyDrive and 10x more than Dropbox. The service also integrates with Amazon’s new music service so you can access any music you buy from Amazon on any device, immediately without re-uploading.

First gmail, now Yahoo mail is down

good grief, it looks like it’s Yahoo Mail’s turn to go down in flames:

Yahoo Mail error message
Yahoo Mail error message

I’m sure they will have service restored soon. But it’s particularly more galling given that 1. I snarkily defended Yahoo Mail during the gmail outage (oh, karma!) and 2. unlike gmail, I’m a paying customer for Yahoo’s Plus service (no ads, more storage, extra features including mail aliases).

This, in a nutshell, is why the Cloud sucks. But even these hassles aren’t enough to make me want to go back to the Eudora days where I had to manage my own mail archives locally. Email is inherently a pain no matter how you do it – the only real way to be free of it is to declare Email Independence.

Microsoft Bing: But It ‘s Not Google!

I’ve been increasingly using Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing in lieu of Google for my casual searches. One of the things that appeals to me is how the search results are so much more organized and comprehensive than just a list of ten text items. Google’s spartan deisgn was cool and chic ten years ago but today it feels increasingly stale, and Bing is pulling from Apple’s playbook in tailoring the interface to users’ needs. Some examples: saved searches are essential for keeping track of what you’ve been researching, and the live preview of video thumbnails on mouseover saves you a click – and getting video and photos along with text links on the same search results page is a huge timesaver. I feel like I spend less time using Bing. Right now I stil have to manually decide to go to Bing but I intend to switch the default search engine on all my browsers for a few weeks – including Chrome – and see how that works out.

Bing has been getting a lot of attention lately – there’s a piece on it in the New York Times, another in USA Today, and even a website, Bing Vs Google, that lets you see searches compared side-by-side. It’s good to shake things up – and Bing certainly has its rough spots, ut just like Google these should improve over time. The mere existence of Bing ensures that Google is forced to compete and innovate as well.

the most important droplet

With all the talk of the cloud, it’s worth noting that for every user, the single most important droplet therein will always be their own PC. Cloudware is still far from feature-rich as software running on your own machine, and of course all the important user data still resides on the home node (and is unlikely to significantly shift online in a world where external USB hard drives approach the terabyte-capacity and $100 price point equally fast). And it should be noted that the home node will also have the raw speed and performance edge over the cloud in any mainstream computing scenario. Thus, cloudware that leverages the power of the home node will be the killer apps of the future, not purely-cloud run apps.

To get there, however, we need to tap the power of the home node va the browser, which remains the nexus of where cloud computing and flex computing intersect. Here’s how we get there:

Javascript creator and Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich has revealed a new project called IronMonkey that will eventually make it possible for web developers to use IronPython and IronRuby alongside Javascript for interactive web scripting.

The IronMonkey project aims to add multilanguage functionality to Tamarin, a high-performance ECMAScript 4 virtual machine which is being developed in collaboration with Adobe and is intended for inclusion in future versions of Firefox. The IronMonkey project will leverage the source code of Microsoft’s open source .NET implementations of Python and Ruby, but will not require a .NET runtime. The goal is to map IronPython and IronRuby directly to Tamarin using bytecode translation.

A plugin for IE will also be developed. The upshot of this is that Python and Ruby programming will become available to web applications run through the browser, on the client side. Look at how much amazing functionality we already enjoy in our web browsers thanks to Web 2.0 technology, which is AJAX-driven (ie, javascript). Could anyone back in 1996 imagine Google Maps? Hard-core programming geeks who understand this stuff better than I do should check out Jim Hugunin’s blog at Microsoft about what they have in mind; it’s heady stuff. But fundamentally what we are looking at is a future where apps are served to you just like data is, and your web browser becomes the operating system in which they run. I can’t even speculate about what this liberation from the deskbound OS model will mean, but it’s not a minor change.

Still, this all is going to run on the home node, and not in the cloud. That’s the key. There’s only so much you can do, and will be able to do, on vaporware 🙂

Microsoft Office Online?

A few days ago, Nicholas Carr reported a rumor that Microsoft was poised to take its Office Suite into the cloud, and was building out huge new server farms to prepare:

I’ve heard that Microsoft has begun briefing its large enterprise clients on an expansive and detailed strategy for moving its software business into the cloud. If the report proves correct – and I make no guarantees – the company will unveil the strategy to the public either next week or the week after.
it’s been building out the backend infrastructure – the data center network – required to run web apps reliably and on a large scale. These obstacles are now coming down. The upgrades have been out for more than a year, and, despite some glitches, have generated a lot of cash for the company. As for its infrastructure, a massive new data center near Chicago is expected to come online this year, adding to the capacity of the new centers the company has built or bought in Washington, Texas, and California.

However, Michael Arrington threw cold water on the idea:

I fear that the rumor may have been wrong, and that Microsoft has no such plans in the near future. Tonight Microsoft announced an expansion of their “software plus services” strategy that gives businesses many of the collaboration and storage benefits of Sharepoint without actually having to install software on their own internal machines. The program was initially launched in September 2007.

This is not a web based version of office. It’s not competitive with what Google is offering businesses with Apps and Docs. It’s a half way approach that still requires the installation of Office and other software on local machines.

However it isn’t clear that this necessarily means that CloudOffice is dead. The above strategy could certainly be a half-way step in porting Office to the cloud. And a lot of enterprise customers are probably still going to stick with their local installs for quite some time, they aren’t going to switch overnight. IT has inertia, after all – as does the significant investment most companies have made in legal licenses for Office. I think Microsoft has to move cautiously, and it’s going to take time.

Can Google or anyone else deliver a fully-web-based office suite with a complete enough feature set to match Office in the interim? I think that no pure web application can hope to match functionality of a desktop one, because the desktop app has so much more computing power. The browser is a constraint – which is why Adobe AIR, which breaks free of the browser, is such an innovative and exciting product. Microsoft’s own version, called Silverlight, is probably going to be the backend for Office online. The advantage here is that the immense computing power of the client – RAM, CPU – can be used to make the cloud app much richer than if all of the functionality has to be delivered via the narrow Internet pipe.


FoldershareI’m starting a new category, called “cloudware” which is how i intend to refer to software that runs in the cloud. This will be my way of documenting what cloudware I actually use and fine useful.

Fitting then that the first entry here is for Foldershare, a beta service from Microsoft that is stunningly simple in its execution. It’s basically a P2P client that runs on your own machines and synchronizes files across them in any folder(s) you specify. It does require a small client download on each PC to work, but the footprint is quite small (On my Asus EEE, its taking up about 10 MB of RAM). However, once the client is installed on each PC you want to sync, all config is done via the Foldershare website. You can also sync files between yourself and other people, permitting collaborative work.

I think the idea is effective because it treats the PC as part of the cloud rather than just a thin client. P2P implicitly assumes that the important content is at those end-nodes, ie the users’ PCs, and not intrinsic to the cloud. Using P2P in this very specific, very focused way is simply brilliant.

It should be noted that they’ve had some hiccups, but hopefully that’s behind them 🙂 I am using it right now for a folder containing a manuscript in draft and it’s incredibly empowering for me to be able to sit at either computer and just start working. The files are even available online if you’re away from your client PCs.

In one sense a purely cloud-based application like Google Docs obviates the need to keep files in sync. However, cloud-based productivity apps are still orders of magnitude behind the desktop equivalents. Even Open Office still doesn’t suffice for my needs compared to Microsoft Word. There’s simply no way to (yet) replicate the productivity of working on your home PC by working exclusively in the cloud. This is why Foldershare is so interesting – it lets you work as you normally would, but augments that by letting you tap into the distributed nature of the cloud. It’s the best of both worlds and until pure cloudware catches up to regular software in terms of functionality, it’s going to be a better solution than working exclusively online.