As a degenerate emacs user, as it were, I have of course used org-mode a lot, and indeed it's probably the mode I end up doing a huge amount of my editing in, because it's great with text and I end up writing a lot of text. I'm not, really, an org mode user in the sense that it's not the system or tool that I use to stay organized, and I haven't really done much development of my own tooling or process around using orgmode to handle document production, and honestly, most of the time I use reStructuredText as my preferred lightweight markup language.
I was thinking, though, as I was pondering ox-leanpub, what even is org-mode trying to do and what the hell would a product manager do, if faced with org-mode.
In some ways, I think it sucks the air out of the fun of hacking on things like emacs to bring all of the "professionalization of making software" to things like org-mode, and please trust that this meant with a lot of affection for org-mode: this is meant as a thought experiment.
Org has a lot going on:
- it provides a set of compelling tools for interacting with hierarchical human-language documents.
- it's a document markup and structure system,
- the table editing features are, given the ability to write formula in lisp, basically a spreadsheet.
- it's a literate programming environment, (babel)
- it's a document preparation system, (ox)
- it's a task manager, (agenda)
- it's a time tracking system,
- it even has pretty extensive calendar management tools.
Perhaps the thing that's most exciting about org-mode is that it provides functionality for all of these kinds of tasks in a single product so you don't have to bounce between lots of different tools to do all of these things.
It's got most of the "office" suite covered, and I think (particularly for new people, but also for people like me,) it's not clear why I would want my task system, my notes system, and my document preparation system to all have their data intermingled in the same set of files. The feeling is a bit unfocused.
The reason for this, historically makes sense: org-mode grew out of technically minded academics who were mostly using it as a way of preparing papers, and who end up being responsible for a lot of structuring their own time/work, but who do most of their work alone. With this kind of user story in mind, the gestalt of org-mode really comes together as a product, but otherwise it's definitely a bit all over the place.
I don't think this is bad, and particularly given its history, it's easy to understand why things are the way they are, but I think that it is useful to take a step back and think about the workflow that org supports and inspires, while also not forgetting the kinds of workflows that it precludes, and the ways that org, itself, can create a lot of conceptual overhead.
There are also some gaps, in org, as a product, which I think grow out of this history, and I think there are
They are, to my mind:
- importing data, and bidirectional sync. These are really hard problems,
and there've been some decent projects over the years to help get data into
org, I think org-trello is the best
example I can think about, but it can be a little dodgy, and the "import
story" pales in comparison to the export story. It would be great if:
- you could use the org interface to interact with and manipulate data that isn't actually in org-files, or at least where the system-of-record for the data isn't org. Google docs? Files in other formats?
- collaborating with other people. Org-mode files tend to cope really poorly
with multiple people editing them at the same time (asynchronously as with
git,) and also in cases where not-everyone uses org-mode. One of the side
effects of having the implementation of org-features so deeply tied to the
structure of text in the org-format, it becomes hard to interact with
org-data outside of emacs (again, you can understand why this happens, and
it's indeed very lispy,), which means you have to use emacs and use org if
you want to collaborate on projects that use org.
- this might look like some kind of different diff-drivers for git, in addition to some other more novel tools.
- bi-directional sync might also help with this issue.
- beyond the agenda, building a story for content that spans multiple-file. Because the files are hierarchical, and org provides a great deal of taxonomic indexing features, you really never need more than one org-file forever, but it's also kind of wild to just keep everything in one file, so you end up with lots of org-files, and while the agenda provides a way to filter out the task and calendar data, it's sort of unclear how to mange multi-file systems for some of the other projects. It's also the case, that because you can inject some configuration at the file level, it can be easy to get stuck.
- tools for interacting with org content without (interactive or apparent) emacs. While I love emacs as much as the next nerd, I tend to think that having a dependency on emacs is hard to stomach, particularly for collaborative efforts, (though with docker and the increasing size of various runtimes, this may be less relevant.) If it were trivially easy to write build processes that extracted or ran babel programs without needing to be running from within emacs? What if there were an org-export CLI tool?