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Opml Camp: Applications of OPML

May 23, 2006

As we began to discuss where OPML could be applied the conversation got really interesting. We glossed over the most obvious application of the format, outlines and moved straight on to reading lists.

Halley Suitt, CEO of top ten sources, departed from the structured presentation most of us were giving and shot straight into "what do *you* think is a reading list". Ranging around the room lots of different answers were given, Matt Terenzio luckily noted some of the definitions. Individuals could clearly see in reading lists something interesting and that the value seen was colored by their own particular ideas and or application. Individuals such as Pito of Blogbridge, Eric Hayes of Attensa and Matt had 'reading list as manifestation of attention' clearly in mind. That's not a slight, it shows that reading lists have some depth and 'directed' utility beyond a simple subscription or discovery mechanism, and even beyond attention mining. The definitions ranged from pointers to resources, to a digital analog of 'whats on my bookshelf' a way to gather more information about an individual (which begs an interesting implied question of will it evolve to the point where a reading list will be manipulated to incorporate resources that make you 'look' smart or like a prolific reader even if you don't actually read them, like that dusty Chaucer that's sitting there on the shelf?). The concept of a reading lists, organized under unifying themes, (like food) starts to encroach on the idea of taxonomies and bookmarks. All this from a simple list of feed resources.

Marc Barrot followed Halley and discussed web outlining and publishing using OPML. Watching him take opml nodes from published content (such as scripting news) moving it around, quoting, annotating, reformatting, adding rich media and then re-publishing hi-lighted the application he seemed most interested in, distributed structured web authoring. He demonstrated that the CMS of the future for web authors may be the OPML format and the emergent web tools. Again I couldn't help but be reminded of the very first web browser that included not only viewing but editing capabilities. Tim Berners-Lee had envisioned a collaborative web where it was a many-to-many publish/consumption model rather than the few-to-many that came to dominate the early web. Now that blogs have show the power of the many-to-many relationship and the value of the 'wisdom of crowds' perhaps the 'parallel web' of the world outline will keep this seamless editor/viewer mentality.

This of course leads into to the next topic that was discussed, OPML wiki's (which is what we defaulted to calling collaborative outlines). Dan Weinstein and Bela Labovitch led the discussions. Dan presented his applications of collaborative authoring in education, and was very interested in the structure and meta-data that OPML could provide to enable even better collaboration. He discussed how his students were co-writing papers using 'writely' and inserting their own improptu meta-data (via styles for particular authors). Bela started a discussion with 'is there any interest in opml wikis'? There were clearly interesting applications of distributed outlines (look at the success of indiePodder.org) but having the ability for multiple people to have access to the same 'branches' seems like the next logical step. There was discussion of the pros and cons, along with the technical and socialogical difficulties inherrent in wikis.

Richard Edwards talked about social tagging and the resultant cloud as being a complimentary technology to the seemingly rigid structure of an outline (or table of contents). I feel like I might have missed some of the points of his talk but what I did grasp I thought was really cool. He talked about how clouds (from tags) and context free entry points (from say a search result) could be manipulated to create continuous and directed 'paths' through information. Richard is at microsoft so his examples described the msdn documentation system and how it could use opml as the structural toc component. He talked about the potential for something like 'documentation mashups' or table of contents 'mashups' using the same underlying documentation information. Exchanging or including (via opml include) docsets would allow rich documents to be constructed and remain 'up to date' even as included sub node structure changed. I asked whether the combination of the structural components (since they have some overlap with taxonomies) could be used to create other kinds of clouds but I think at that point I may have missed something and created a circular dependancy. :) I imagined something like multiple software component authors building documentation based on what they referenced to create their software, and then the 'overlap' of their particular structures being used in search results or to create more generic structural guiding components (as other opml files). Ok what I just wrote seems a lot more complicated than what I was trying to say so clearly I need to stew on these ideas more. (maybe richard will comment) :)

The next day there was a directed discussion of 'application wishlists' and the general future. There were discussion of using opml in structured real estate applications, presentations, project management, rich media meta data structuring, Critt Jarvis seemed really excited about his application, a game of some sort where opml would lend structure somehow. I wasn't clear on exactly what it was (which he admitted was somewhat intentional) but his enthusiasm was infectious. I surmised that his project somehow uses a game metaphor (or a real game I wasn't sure) to model global interactions of complex issues. It's something I'm going to look into more when I get a chance. ;)

Although Kosso didn't present, he opened up podcast.com during opml camp. The dynamic podcast directory with sub tree nodes being able to be pruned and transplanted is yet another cool application for OPML. Thanks to podcast.com for providing travel scholarships so people could attend. (And thanks to Kosso and podcast.com for the beers sunday night!)