Today Richard Olsen and I presented about Fargo at TeachMeet Melbourne. TeachMeets are regular, free events where teachers get together (often on a Saturday) to talk about all aspects of teaching and learning. Often this talk turns to new technology so we thought Fargo was a good one to show to the 50 or so teachers who came along.

Both Richard and I are pretty passionate about the possibilities of Fargo. Richard is using it to stay organised for his PhD and given the amount of rigorous research work he is doing it's a sign of how powerful outliners can be. I'm still more of dabbler but I'm really interested in how Fargo can be used for different forms of publishing like blogging, short posts and linkblogs. I also like the way that Fargo keeps all user data stored in one location (Dropbox) which is easily backed up. It's a model that makes more sense for a user than having to rely on services that lock data away. In education we tend to often rely on free services and that can leave us in the lurch when services close or are acquired by the bigger companies.

The video of our presentation is below and an outline of our presentation notes is here. I was really pleased that people seemed interested in Fargo and outliners in general. The TeachMeet crowd are really savvy and they tend to critically consider the value of a new tool and think about whether it's worth exploring. From the questions after the talk it seemed like there may have been a few people who were willing to explore Fargo to see if it's for them (and possibly their students).

Some of the questions from the crowd give a good indication of how Fargo might be used or some of the new features that could be added to make it even more useful. The questions included:

  • Does it allow for collaboration? A: In some ways it does, but more in the way you can 'watch' someone else's outlines. It's not going to give you the same level of collaboration as Google Drive or a service like Meeting Words.

  • Does it integrate with Evernote? A: Not at this stage (Dave did talk about it once), but if you want to blog with Evernote then I'd suggest looking at Postach.io. I would also like to back up my published posts from Fargo directly to Evernote, but using If This Then That to grab anything in the RSS feed from your blog and then save it as a new note in Evernote should work fine.

  • Does it do presentations like Prezi? A: Not quite like Prezi, but there is a presentation mode. Check out how Jay Rosen used Fargo to present at a journalism conference.

  • Can it be used to support visual thinking? A: This is one that I don't feel all that qualified to answer. I'd love to know what someone with expertise in visual thinking reckons. If the question is whether this replaces more fluid and visual mind mapping software then the answer is no; there's surely a place for both. It's a matter of using what suits. For me, I like to organise with text and then to be able to write straight into the outline. Fargo does include the option to tag different entries with different icons, so that may be of some use for those people who like visual cues.

As a former teacher of English and Literature I would certainly recommend students use Fargo for persuasive writing and text study. Creating quote banks organised into different themes from the text would help students plan their essays. An outline would also be a good way for students to analyse different aspects of a persuasive writing piece, and would also assist students in organising their arguments when it comes to writing their own persuasive pieces. Many students find it difficult to get started with a piece of writing, so using an outliner to dump all of their ideas out, organise them and then start fleshing them out is going to help them get started. Fargo could also be used to record notes and observations about a text that students are studying, and the linkblog feature would be an interesting way for students to record the types of sources they're accessing during the year. An example might be a senior student who keeps a linkblog of any persuasive texts they've read and analysed (creating a shared resource that the rest of the class can access too).

Fargo is a tool with a range of possibilities that can be adapted for different subjects. The way it can be used for different types of work (note taking, research, writing, publishing) means that it's certainly worth learning about. It's not the easiest tool to get started with, but I hope some educators persist with Fargo and outliners and start to consider how students could harness them.

I'd love to hear from other educators with ideas of how they would (or already do) encourage their students to use an outliner.

05/10/14; 10:39:34 AM

After signing up for an Imgur account so I could embed some pictures in a Fargo post, I've just discovered that you can insert media into Fargo.

Choosing 'Settings>CMS>Check the 'watched folder' create a Watched folder in your Dropbox account. Drag any media in there, wait for a few seconds and Fargo will give you a link to the media. It also moves the file into the Fargo>Media folder and organises it into a folder structure with year and month.

Here's an example.

https://dl.dropbox.com/s/c0si3umr2o1dsi6/RuvJK0cf.jpeg

The next step will be to see if there's a way to get images hosted in this way embedded directly into a Fargo post.

03/27/14; 11:04:19 PM

I've been trying to decide on a blogging platform for a while now and have settled on Fargo. There are two main reasons:

  • it offers a really intuitive writing process;

  • it synchronizes into Dropbox, meaning all of the content is backed up and stored on my computer as well.

The reason Fargo is so good for writing is that the interface is an outliner, rather than a standard blog CMS (which I've always found clunky). The first time I used an outliner was the Inspiration mind mapping software. I used this with students to plan essays and found it was a flexible way to create an essay outline that included topic sentences and quotes. When I started playing with Fargo I didn't quite get the concept of how to use an outliner for a full piece of writing, but after watching this video where Dave Winer (Fargo's creator) explains the concept it seemed to all make sense.

Outliners are a good way to write as you can easily type up all of your ideas into discrete sections and then rearrange each section by dragging and dropping. You can also nest ideas into larger topics and you can collapse or expand whole sections of text- making the writing process much cleaner and more focussed. Fargo feels like a tool for writing and organising ideas first, and a tool for publishing online second. This makes it more usable than the CMS of blogging platforms like Blogger or Wordpress.

Keeping a second copy of the blog content in another service appeals to me, and this was one of the reasons that at one stage I considered using Postach.io for a blog. The idea of our content being stored in one service (or on our own servers) and then other services plugging into them and presenting that content makes a lot of sense for the user, as it makes the migration process from one service to another much easier (App.net is a good example of a service that tries to provide the backend which other services plug into). Obviously this model won't suit companies who are looking to lock you into their proprietary service. Considering how many services get acquired or simply shut down, I think it's more prudent to try this model. I don't know how long Fargo will last, although I suspect from Dave's passion for the project that it should be around for a while. Either way, I know that if Fargo does go away then at least I'll still have my content in Dropbox as easy-to-open OPML files. It makes me much more willing to try this new platform.

After seeing Dave's blog and how he is using a Fargo linkblog for bookmarks I've also decided to ditch Diigo and instead use Fargo (with the newly created bookmarklet) as a way of saving my visited links.

I think Fargo and outliners in general are promising tools for writing and research, so I'm looking forward to committing to it and learning how it all works.

I'll keep updating here as I learn more.

(Update 27/3/14. Here's a screengrab of how this post looks in Fargo's Outliner view, so you can get an idea of what the CMS looks like.)

03/26/14; 07:20:43 AM

GfyCat is a new site (still in beta) that created more efficient versions of animated GIFs. You can upload your own video clips or grab sections from YouTube and convert them. The site uses HTML5 video to create smaller and faster versions of GIFs.

Here is an example GfyCat of Ted, my Cavoodle.

The process of creating a GfyCat is relatively easy. You can upload a video file (no longer than 15 seconds) or if your video is on YouTube or Vimeo just use the Fetch URL option. Paste in the URL to your video and enter the starting time of your grab and also the duration (again, up to 15 seconds). You don't need to login to create a grab, but if you do then your account will keep track of all your created GfyCats.

Once the process is done you'll be taken to your GfyCat page. The Links option gives you embed codes, and you can also choose to display the grab as a GIF. I had varying success viewing GfyCat files on mobile devices, so it's good that this option is available for compatibility. (GfyCat also has my favourite URL naming structure ever- with URLs like HorribleHappyBalloonFish).

Here's the finished product (if it's not displaying properly just tap on the frame and you'll be able to view as a standard animated GIF).

03/25/14; 11:47:44 PM

Last built: Sat, May 10, 2014 at 11:10 AM

By Cameron Hocking, Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 11:10 AM.