Medium-time Experience with OmniOutliner (as Circus Ponies Notebook replacement)

“Leap and the net will appear.”
John Burroughs

I’ve tried out OmniOutliner as a Circus Ponies Notebook (CPN) replacement for a couple of months now. So far, it works okay-ish to fine.

I still miss the handbook style of CPN. The ability to have all information on one topic in one file that still loads fast was great. Plus the natural structure. But that’s gone. (And to be honest, there was a scary bug that destroyed info on a page without giving you any information.)

But OmniOutliner is a good replacement.

  • Writing
    You can easily use outlines to plan your writing. I still like the style with one content column and a source column. If you store your information in topic outlines (essentially, all information about one topic in one outline, incl. the source information) you can quickly create new writings. Think of it as having the bones in the storage to create a new skeleton for text — later you just add the fleshed out text. You can also expand hierarchical outlines only to those levels you actually want to use.
  • Topic Outlines
    Still looking for the best way to store information about topics in outlines. Works well when it comes to topics with little information or individual articles/books. But more complex topics (like perception) likely need different outlines. Not fragmenting the topic over too many files might become a problem. Then again, using the search function of Finder (constrained to the directory in which you store you outlines) can quickly find the correct outline with the information you seek. There are argument for few files with lots of information and for multiple files with fewer information (quicker to load, easier to compare). Disadvantage of the later — difficult to connect content of different outlines.
  • Using folders as divider replacement works well.

Some things to remember

  • Using the escape key — which can be used to start and stop editing cells — can become an annoying habit. In pretty much every other app it cancels the last action. Still, very useful in OmniOutliner. You can also press “e” to start editing a cell.
  • Images might be shown smaller than expected if the resolution is above 72dpi. Programs like GraphicConverter can change the resolution, even automated.
  • Note that if the column is not visible, then the content won’t be copied. It’s also surprisingly easy to delete stuff.
  • If you store your images elsewhere (e.g., in DEVONthink), tagging the images you have transferred to the Outline files might be helpful. I use tags for categories (e.g., overall handbooks like Food, Drinks, Photography, etc.). I usually scale down the images to 600 px (and 72dpi) — enough for a reference. I still have the original files if I need them.

So, yeah, all in all, the outlines have a couple of advantages. You have the information with the source easily available (in the second column, where it does not distract). You can quickly deal with information hierarchically (great to find information). It’s easy to add information and easy to rearrange information.

And while not a beautiful or comprehensive as a real virtual notebook, OmniOutliner does just fine.

Categories: Capturing Ideas, Circus Ponies Notebook, Collecting Ideas, Community Aspects, Doing Science, Improving your Creativity, Infrastructure, Learning to do Science, OmniOutliner, Science, Tools, Writing

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11 Comments on Medium-time Experience with OmniOutliner (as Circus Ponies Notebook replacement)

  1. I like the simplicity of OutlineEdit, which laks Markdown export, sadly, but otherwise manages to get a decent outlining job done.

  2. Michael W. Perry // September 6, 2016 at 9:23 pm //

    I prefer to simplify. Scrivener, which now runs on iOS, has outline and card modes. It’s not as full-feature as OmniOutliner, but it does all a writer needs and makes the transition from outlining to writing effortless. And it does all that for $10 less than OmniOutliner for iOS.

  3. Yep, recently tried out the iOS version (looks great) and I get that Scrivener can be enough for a single project (e.g., a book or an article). But what about notes on different topics — more or less the building blocks for articles? Personally, I doubt that Scrivener — despite all its strengths — would work this way. But yeah, if that is a non-issue, Scrivener all the way.

  4. Have you tried One Note? The data structure is essentially the same as in CPN.

  5. Installed it, but I don’t like that you have to register with Microsoft and … well, Microsoft as a company.

  6. Nutella Crepe // July 22, 2017 at 3:45 pm //

    Any time spent with OO5 Pro? Maybe the search feature could work like the CP tags? I did like that feature and don’t see something similar in OO, but maybe I’m missing something.

  7. I tried out OO5 but I found it sluggish and there were some annoying habits (e.g., the cell borders are shown for a short moment when you move around in the outline). I’m hoping for a major update here.

  8. Today, I bought OO5 Pro after I realised that Circus Ponies Notebook no longer works in my newly updated High Sierra. I loved that app, and I tried to keep it as much as possible till now…. My question regarding OO is the following: How would you use OO as a note-taking app, given that you don’t have search across different outlines?

  9. The easiest way is probably to use Finder an limit the search to the directory of your outline files. You can set the default search behavior in the Finder preferences (“Finder” => “Preferences” in the “Advanced” Tab). Last option is “When performing a search:”. Set it to “Search the Current Folder”, this way you can simply open your Outliner folder an use the search field in the Finder windows, without having to change the scope of the search afterwards. If you want to search your whole harddrive, just open a finder window on the top level (usually “Macintosh HD”). Finder will search within Outline files and show the ones where you have matches.

    Personally, I store my Outlines in a DEVONthink database, so I use the search function of DEVONthink. I just set the search to “Content” and it does the same.

  10. Thanks Dan for the tips! I will check them, I also do have Devonthink, maybe it is the right time to put it in a more use. But, still this is a “loose binding” search and I would like to have everything under one umbrella…

  11. You can build such a structure with folders (or groups in DEVONthink). It’s not as comfortable as Circus Ponies Notebook (*sigh*), but better than nothing. 🙂

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