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Other articles in the series StorySpace 1.1

 

 

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MATT: Storyspace's fundamental metaphor is the "writing space," whose algebra is simply this: a writing space may contain one "text space" and/or any number of writing spaces; a text space is a scrolling field which may contain text and pictures.

A little thought will reveal that this describes merely an outliner of the old Apple ][ ThinkTank variety: a hierarchy of headings, each with or without an associated "paragraph." And in fact, one of Storyspace's "views" of your document is outline format. Yet as an outliner, Storyspace is annoyingly weak. In outline view, titles of writing spaces (headings) are limited to 25 characters of (non-configurable) Geneva 12, not enough to say anything meaningful and hardly enough to serve even as a mnemonic; if you want any more you have to add a text space. This text space may be hidden or revealed, and you can reveal several text spaces simultaneously; but each sits as an inconveniently shaped (non-resizable) scrolling field below the heading, so no matter how much is in them you can only see about three of them open at once. As a result, getting a good look at your document as a genuine outline is difficult - Acta will hold the same information in less than half the screen space. Outline view feels like an afterthought, which in a sense (I am informed by Eastgate) it is: apparently the question of whether to include it at all, or, just the other way, to develop it fully, has been the subject of some debate. If the casting vote were mine, I'd give it for the latter; not being able to use Storyspace as a real outliner is a disappointment.

ADAM: Another historical note here. Storyspace has been supported by several companies over its lifetime. At one point, the company supporting it was interested in getting into the personal information manager/outliner/hyper-whatever niche of the market, which had just been created by HyperCard. I believe some of Storyspace's features, such as the outliner, stem from that period in its development. I personally have never been much of an outliner fan, so I just ignored that feature, although in theory I must agree with Matt that the outline capabilities should be stronger. If nothing else, an outline is merely an enforced textual format, no more or less valid than any other format that you could come up with in Storyspace's "storyspace" mode. But I'm getting ahead of Matt.

MATT: The other two views of your document are "chart" view, showing the hierarchy of writing spaces horizontally in tree format, and "storyspace" view, showing it as boxes beside or inside boxes. The associated text spaces in these two views, unlike outline view, open as genuine Mac windows that can be resized and moved. It is possible to open simultaneously the text spaces from more than one writing space, but this requires a little planning (you can't do it if a text space is already open), and the natural tendency is to move about the document doing one of two things: either opening a text space for reading and writing and then closing it again, or else adding, deleting, or rearranging writing spaces within the hierarchy. (Such rearrangement is very easy - just click-drag into a new position - and there are a few useful associated menu commands such as one might expect from an outlining program.) Further, an extremely useful feature in all three views lets you keep the document view in the left half of the screen and a region for a text space in the right half (called "anchoring windows"): here the text space for the writing space last touched is always automatically open without taking up any space in or on top of your view of the document, and so the two functions of manipulating writing spaces and working with text are combined.

A floating toolbar provides the tools you need to create and manipulate these writing spaces in each of the views. Tools include an arrow for selecting and moving writing spaces, a creator tool that creates a new writing space with a single click, a Zoom In/Out tool, and a navigational rosette (to take you up, down, left, right in the hierarchy). The remaining tools allow you create and navigate links, which we'll explain in a minute.

ADAM: If you wish, Storyspace can also find spaces by name and by text located in the associated text spaces, although I found the text searching to be somewhat flaky in the current version.

MATT: Yes, and finding a space by name is not so great either. In outline view, finding a space by name does select that space - but it doesn't change what you see in the window, so you may now have selected something off the screen, and you don't know where it is: but that's why you were trying to find the space by name in the first place! It's little user-interface things like this that make Storyspace unnecessarily frustrating.

ADAM: There are some other outline-related tools we should describe here. Working with text in small chunks has advantages, but sometimes you want to be able to see everything in a single text space rather than in a number of them. A Combine command and a Gather Command allow you to combine the text from the selected spaces or gather them all in a new writing space called "Gatherings." You can then move spaces in and out of "Gatherings" just as you would with any other space. Conversely, an Explode command will break up a large text space into many small text spaces by paragraphs, or, with the option key held down, as chunks based on any character or characters. The advanced Explode command can be quite useful for bringing things into Storyspace, because many external texts are carefully formatted. For instance, you could import a file containing email into Storyspace and explode it using the word "TO:" as the item delimiter. Even documents which don't have such rigid formats, like TidBITS issues, could be imported into Storyspace quite easily with a little help from Nisus's pattern matching and macro capabilities.

MATT: Interesting idea, Adam; and then you could use the linking properties of Storyspace to make a database out of it. So let's explain linking now.

 

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