Last year I mentioned a tool called DataFrame which I wanted for my worldbuilding on a story, but then my attempts to try to build the tool derailed the making of the story.
What was DataFrame? Why would I want it, and what do I use instead?
The point of DataFrame was to have a frictionless tool for creating linked text fragments: I wanted to be writing something and to be able to create a connection to a related note without having to jump through any hoops – indeed, I really wanted some terms to be linked automatically, or at least to be able to apply a link after the fact using a search tool.
I also imagined having multiple windows to navigate through the network of, as I termed them, frames – open a link in a new window, or have a secondary window which would display the connected text as the cursor passed through a linking term.
All of this sounds very similar to the idea of a hypertext authoring tool. I was familiar with the idea of hypertext from Douglas Adams’ documentary film Hyperland, but the web was barely in existence and I didn’t really know what I had or how to build it.
Unfortunately the hypertext authoring tools I’ve used have been anything but frictionless. The closest thing to DataFrame that I have found is a wiki, but:
- the editing and the viewing modes are distinct
- switching from one to the other is painful
- linking to existing pages requires that you remember the name you want to link to*
- changing the name of a linked to page is painful**
So, I promote wikis not because they are perfect, because they are the easiest route to something like DataFrame.
I tried writing DataFrame a couple of times: once as a text-mode editor on my Acorn Archimedes (I got as far as having a basic text editor), and once as a plugin for the Eclipse IDE (I got as far as labelling some things on the screen as links, as well as making up a small presentation to explain the idea to colleagues at the day job at the time***).
What I should probably do is work on an emacs plugin. emacs can basically do anything, and the fact that it can render a web page as either raw HTML text or as clickable text should be an indicator that DataFrame should be something that could be supported. And it’s a Lisp environment, which would be a good thing for me to work on.
But then I would end up spending what little creative time I have on programming, which is not the worst thing in the world but won’t get the book written.
I really can’t let that happen again.
Are there any tools you hanker for to smooth your writing process?
[*] there are a lot of things wrong with the business social tool Jive, but its UI for linking to other pages is pretty good.
[**] this is an example of where maintaining the use-mention distinction would have been a good idea.
[***] the presentation was to be given on the same day I found out I was made redundant, so it was not in fact presented.