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Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Aug 17, 2012 at 06:20 PM



So, taking up the challenge of creating a taxonomy for “outliners,” I’ve done a little sketching and thinking in Tinderbox and come up with a little theory.

First of all, let me propose that our favorite type of program has two major attributes: 1. the main purpose of the program; and 2. the main organizational scheme. And each of these has two major options, as follows:

1. Purpose
    A. Collecting information from other sources (clipping from the web, storing PDFs, note-taking, etc…)
    B. Creating information/knowledge from ourselves (brainstorming, thinking, outlining, writing, etc…)

2. Organization
    C. Topic-based organization (typical topic hierarchies)
    D. Search-based organization (tagging, text indexing)

Now, I’m not suggesting that any application focuses exclusively on one organization type necessarily, and I’m sure most app developers would insist that their software can both collect and create. What I am suggesting is that each application can be categorized generally as an AC, AD, BC, BD based on what it does best. For example, Evernote would be an AD application because it excels at collecting information and its primary organizational structure is tagging.

Given this (and bear with me even if you disagree totally), it is possible to create a quadrant chart where we can place applications. And I’ve done just that, at least as a beginning:


Being higher or lower or to the right or to the left doesn’t necessarily mean that an application is best in that category, just that it does that in extreme. For example, Inspiration found its way to the top right of my chart (extreme create/topic), not necessarily because it is the best outliner, but because it is SO focused on creating outlines and has almost no facility (other than cut and paste) for collecting info from other sources. On the other hand, AskSam falls far to the left (i.e. extreme search) because it has a very good, quick indexed search.

I would submit that extreme topic-based creator applications are what we would call pure outliners, while extreme topic-based collector applications are hierarchical free-form databases (info trees?). I’m not sure what to call the other two quadrant apps as yet.

Anyway, I suspect there is really no benefit from having done this analysis, other than it is fun. Perhaps, however, it will generate some interesting discussion.

Steve Z.


Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Aug 17, 2012 at 06:22 PM


For some reason the link in the note above doesn’t seem to work. Let’s try again:



Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Aug 17, 2012 at 06:23 PM


Okay, still didn’t work. I’ve renamed the image, so let’s try again:



Posted by Hugh
Aug 17, 2012 at 07:06 PM


Great, Steve! This is what I was groping towards when trying to explain the difference between Tinderbox and DevonThink in Peter’s thread.

Also a nice demonstration of the utility of Tinderbox.


Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Aug 18, 2012 at 07:28 AM


Steve, great job, and I will disagree with you that there is no benefit from this analysis; I expect that at least people who come here looking for the right tool for a certain job will have a much more clear starting point—and CRIMPers will be able to see in which quadrant they are missing out…

Now, in respect to the taxonomy:

- Re the Main Purpose, I believe that the Collect-Create axis covers it quite well. I can also think of applications whose main purpose is to “Create via re-Organisation of Collected information” and I would place these closest to the middle of the axis. Brainstorm, Connected Text (e.g. break down imported text to smaller chunks and inter-associate these) and possibly Tinderbox would fit in this description.

- Re the Organisational Scheme, I am not so sure. For starters, I don’t think of tags as saved searches; the critical aspect of search is that it is machine-driven. Tags, just like the Topic approach, rely on the user to proactively classify the information. The fact that they are often in flat lists and not hierarchical is secondary. By contrast, search-based is just that: the user collects the information but is not concerned with its organisation, they just expect the software’s indexing to be able to locate it quickly when needed.

As an example, take Evernote. As discussed often in this forum, it boasts a very powerful search but lacks hierarchical folders; as a result, one would be tempted to classify it as a Search application. However, it also offers hierarchical tags, with which info can be organised as in a folder tree (but items can very easily belong to more than one categories). In this respect then, tags are just a more flexible take on Topics.

So, I would initially maintain the Search-Topic axis but I would restate the description to include tags under Topics, i.e. the distinction would be something like “Search (Automatic)” vs. “Topics (User-defined). Artificial intelligence applications which can themselves extract Topics would fall somewhere in the middle.

I also see an additional ‘dimension’: this is the organisation of information items via relationships. It is the approach taken by TheBrain and all wikis, including ConnectedText. Sure, these tools also provide tagging, but this is complementary. At their core lies the original concept of hypertext.

How would this be depicted? I believe that a triangle would be in order, i.e. Search - Topics - Relationships. I expect this is not so easy to produce, but I think that it more accurately represents the various approaches.


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