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Terms like OPML & XOXO are too technical and specific — let's call them "live outlines"


Live outline icon

I propose we use the term "live outline" to refer to dynamic content — such as OPML files that contain lists of feeds — that people create using XML outline formats.

I've seen some discussion about what to call the information organized using these formats, but there doesn't seem to be a convention for referring to them in general. This leads to difficulties sharing ideas related to the formats, and explaining them to people who aren't familiar with them. I really like Dave Winer's idea of a reading list, but that's just one kind of live outline; these formats can be used to create live outlines that can serve various purposes (for example, the one on my blog's sidebar or a travel outline).

"Live outline" is friendlier and easier to talk about (and say!) than "OPML", "XOXO", etc. It's a good general term everyone can use and understand without too much difficulty. It's fine to use "outline" and "outlining" in context; "live" can be omitted when people know what's being discussed.


This proposal is intended for people creating content and applications using structured outlines based on XML formats, such as OPML, XOXO, and OML.


To encourage widespread adoption and use of these formats and reltated technologies, we need simple, non-technical terms that convey meaning well. People are much more open to learning something new if it has a name they can relate to, understand, and pronounce.

Live outlines will have a significant and growing role in how people consume, organize, and share feeds:

If we want people to get comfortable using structured outline formats, we need to talk about them in terms that won't alienate or put people off. Try telling someone about the cool OPML file you're building, and watch how quickly their eyes glaze over. Changing the language we use can make all the difference, and we already have a familiar example of this: Consider the idea that live outline is to OPML document as web page is to HTML document. People can relate to the idea of writing a web page, and it's easy to talk about web pages; a major reason is the lack of hard-to-pronounce technical acronyms.

  • People are already familiar with the concept of an outline. They don't have to learn an entirely new concept to understand a live outline, just a new use for something they already know.
  • People can easily understand that live = dynamic (e.g., feeds). Again, though, "live" sounds better and is easier to say than "dynamic". I know that OPML, etc. are not just for feeds, but I think organizing and managing feeds will be the highest-profile common use for the formats, at least for a while.
  • Firefox has already begun to popularlize the term and concept of "live bookmarks". We can take advantage of that and extend the idea to live outlines.
  • Non-technical people who use these outlines aren't going to (and shouldn't) care much about the details of the format in which they're written.. They'll need to recognize names for compatibility, but only until services and applications interoperate well (how many feed readers support RSS and not ATOM, or require a specific version of either?) Recognition can be important for a while when a technology is new, but how many people that use the web care about the language in which web pages are written? In most cases, they don't want to know.

I'm not arguing that we should stop using format-specific terms in technical discussions and documents; they certainly have their place. I just want to promote the use of terms that insulate people from unnecessarily technical, specific acronyms that aren't likely to be relevant to them. Plus, I want a general way to talk about the information structures we build with these formats. "Live outline" conveys meaning without being overly technical or specific to a particular format or technology. I hope the term will help these formats and creative uses of them proliferate more quickly and easily.

What do you think?

I hope this proposal will provoke some discussion. Unfortunately, I've had to disable comments due to spam (and the lack of a good mitigation capability), but if you have thoughts on this proposal, link to this post from your blog. If discussion ensues, I'll add a live search feed of links to this post to tie it all together.