Design a blogging feature for OneNote

I thought it might be fun to try a little interactive design experience. There's been a lot of discussion about blogging from OneNote, and how it would make a good tool for managing posts, etc. So it is easy to say "hey, add support for blogging to OneNote!". But if you've read my previous posts on how software feature decisions get made (link), then you know it is not as simple as just wanting something. The feature has to be justified on several levels: value to customer, development/test cost, completeness of solution, appropriateness for the application, likelihood of being competitive with alternatives, etc.

So I thought it might be a fun exercise to take y'all through this process for something that I am sure most of you can relate to: reading and consuming blogs. Now, I want to be clear that as we do this, I am not foreshadowing or promising anything about future versions of OneNote. This is only an exercise - however, I am going to apply the same rigour we would use for any proposed feature for OneNote.

First a word of caution - don’t let your enthusiasm for blogging carry you away. We're a business, so we don't do stuff because "its cool", or "I'd love it" or "blogging and RSS *rules* so all apps must support it". Or "Blogging is the answer. Now what was the question?" You have to make a business justification for the feature and your approach.

So, let's dive in. How should blogging from OneNote work? Is that even the right first step? Maybe we should instead subscribe to RSS feeds and consume blogs rather than produce them? Why are we even considering this? Where's the value in any of this vs. single-purpose free software tools? Is it in integration with the rest of your info in OneNote?

Is the power of OneNote that you can "blog offline" then sync up later? If so, is this automatic or a manual "publish now" button that only works when online? Or is it just a pretty good text editor (not as good as Word though, so why use OneNote when Word is there?)

What's the scenario? Are you writing single entries in OneNote and publishing them, then forgetting them (like Word docs)? Or are you keeping a OneNote section that matches your blog one page per entry, so at any time you can change or update past entries and upload the changes in bulk? If we are consuming RSS, do we have a feed going directly into a OneNote section? If so, does that scale to hundreds or thousands of items? Are we blogging for fun, or for business? If the latter we can hope to generate much more revenue than for pleasure, but it is harder to show that blogging is viable in an organization. What's the business case you would make to a customer if we did this for business users? Do we need to integrate with portal software, etc...

Well, that's enough questions. I'm curious to hear what you think. I've created a new category for this discussion, so we can continue it while the main part of my blog meanders on...

Comments (18)
  1. Colin Walker says:

    The real doozy would be for blogs to support ink so you can scribble away and upload directly rather than convert to text πŸ˜‰

    Seriously though, with a multitude of different blogging engines out there would blog support support within an app such as OneNote be realistic? Would it have to be designed to work withaselect few? Or is this kind of thing better off dealt with via the add-in route?

  2. P. Frigerio says:

    I have to agree with Colin. The beauty of OneNote is that it is very open ended; it is "generic" enough that it has many uses, and can be customized to fit your specific needs. Personally, I would never use OneNote as a blogging tool, as I already have one specifically for that purpose, and would cringe at seeing that added as a native feature. To me it would put OneNote well on the path to "Bloatware" – something with which you guys at Microsoft are kinda familliar ;). What was it that Albert Einstein said "Things should be as simple as possible, but not simpler". An add-in would be a lot better, because people like me can then choose not to add it if we don’t want it. BTW – Congrats on the awards, you truly have a great product here – but don’t let it get to your head πŸ™‚

  3. Personally, I would be just as happy with a real simple OneNote API I could tap into. Maybe even an option to transfer a block of text from OneNote to InfoPath?

    As for blogging, there is one core API that just about everyone blog tool supports, the MetaBlogAPI. Although it is not a very robust API, it does provide a common way to post a title, body, and category to many blogs.

    How I would quickly envision it working? Basically right click on a block of text, select blogging from the context menu. If I had only configured* one blog, then post away (maybe prompt me to select a category). If I had configured more than one blog, then you could provide a secondary menu with a list of blogs.

    It’s not always this cut and dry. You could take it the next step and allow posting to more than one blog, etc, etc. But as with any new feature, start small and build from there.

    Again, support for some kind of OneNote API means you do not have to worry about bloating the core project…just leave that to the devs πŸ™‚


    * Yes, you would need some kind of configuration form as well.

  4. I agree with Scott, open the API for OnetNote, so that we (the developers) can come up with lots of different uses for OneNote (including a bloggging tool). For some reason I thought that the SP1 for OneNote was going to include opening the API, but maybe I confused OneNote with InfoPath.

    One of the extra features I would add to a blogging to is the ability to syndicate a blog post to multiple sites, since a lot of us have content specific blogs, along with or own personal blogs that contain everything we write.

  5. Philip Rieck says:

    Don and Scott have it:

    It’s nearly impossible to come up with a good justification for the OneNote team to add blogging support. While I have no data to back this up (I don’t have access to your customer surveys or profiles), I will go with the assumptions that:

    1) Only a small percentage (under 15%) of OneNote users would use it to blog even if they could.

    2) A very very small number of people would buy OneNote for this feature alone.

    Add to that these problems:

    1) Adding blogging functions would cause increased calls to PSS, for the normal "one more feature" reasons, and when a person’s blog host is not responding or malfunctioning.

    2) The "blogosphere" can be fast-moving.. any feature(s) you put in today could be completely useless to a large percent of your users tomorrow, with almost no warning.

    3) If you support posting, you’ll probably need to support editing. Retrieveing information from un-authenticated hosts (most blogs aren’t on https) means extra input validation points that might be missed. Oops, remote code execution vulnerability!

    So what’s the answer? Mine would be- don’t add it. Instead, add an open API (I would prefer a managed one)

    Why? Let’s look at best case:

    1) A person comes up with the "killer" OneNote plugin (perhaps blogging). People love it and buy it

    2) Other ISVs see this success and build OneNote integration into their applications

    3) People buy OneNote because of all the add-ons that are available (sally likes addon x, bob likes addon y…)

    Worst case?

    1) Only a few crappy add-ons are ever developed — the time spent on the API is wasted

    2) The instability of the add-ons is blamed on OneNote, and people start to think of it as "buggy"

    3) Another vendor competes with OneNote, and people buy it instead because of the stability issues.

    I think you can alleviate #2 (and therefore #3) by isolating the add-ons (plugins, whatever). #1 is really the issue.

    The API gives us the ability to implement choices for the blog feature. Now, I’d rather have one standard way of doing something for OneNote’s core functions, but blogging isn’t one — so choices are good.

    It allows agile blogging functionality – as the specs change, OneNote doesn’t have to be patched… just the plug-ins (which are much, much smaller, I would assume)

    It allows others to add functionality to your product. Every good plugin means OneNote gets better. It’s not free (you need to create the API in the first place. test security, etc..). It’s not without risk (bad plugins can be detrimental to OneNote) But the API is the feature that needs justification and analysis, not a blogging feature.

  6. Brian says:

    I would agree with these guys saying that it probably would not be beneficial considering the rate of change of the blogosphere and the current percentage of mainstream usage. However, it would be excellent to consume feeds. For instance, if your client is company x, you keep a page of notes on company x, meanwhile you have your personal company x "homepage" of sorts listing the last few notes you added, any appointments you had, and maybe an rss feed directly from the company’s stock/website/etc. THAT would be an excellent feature.

  7. Ralph Poole says:

    Thanks for your post! As a user, I use One Note to collect information that I want to turn into a post. I do my research and write my work in process notes. When it comes time to publish, I may transfer the content to Word, but most frequently I go directly to Typepad to enter my post. I don’t see a lot of value to adding blogging functionality to OneNote. BTW, I also use NewsGator in Outlook to read RSS feeds and I find that a perfect solution to me. Although I think OneNote could be improved on other dimensions, blogging is not one of them.

  8. Steele Price says:

    I would really, really like to see an API for OneNote. And also the ability to Add-In modules.

    I find OneNote indispensible, but only input to it on my TabletPC. Bearing this in mind, I find many things that I would like to do very difficult to accomplish from the built-in options of OneNote. I Love the organization capabilities, I hate the auto-formatting that can’t be turned off.

    Not everyone needs to write every single page in Outline format, and it seems that OneNote is only geared internally for this type of note taking. Freeform notes are very popular and OneNote pales in comparison to Journal in this one respect. (think graph paper background for graphic design notes)

    I frequently (as in every day…) need to create graphs, charts and drawings then I annotate them in OneNote.

    The main reason for doing this in OneNote and not some other tools is so that I can organize everything in tabs and pages for each project.

    IF ONLY I had an API and Add-In support like every other main MS App (VS.Net, Office, etc…) I could tap into with C# or VB then I could write a specific tool that only a few people use and add it’s functionality to OneNote. Then I wouldn’t need to go into another program, make some document, then import it into OneNote… for Example, I need to write a Math Equation, or create a graph of a Fourier Transform… I could do that with a simple add-in instead of having to go write the equation in an equation editor, then go over to some other tool and make the graph…

    With an API, I could make my tool and add it in where I need it, and MS would not have to add this functionality and bloat up OneNote to the size of Word for thousands of people who will never need this functionality.

    Not everyone needs blogging (I actually do but 5 other OneNote users who work with me sure don’t) Having it available as an Add-in would be great, having it internally forced on us wouldn’t.

    So instead of adding dozens of features, just give us 3, API, Add-Ins and Scripting.

  9. Well this is like asking, "What features should we include in this here car", after shipping one without an engine. Pretty obvious, API and Add-In support answers all questions. No justification or eternal angst needed, let third-parties doing the adding on, whatever they can dream up. If a security issue or coordinational issue, fix, as no product without an API and Add-In’s can ever hope to catch on in the wide marketplace. And all these small percentages of customized users can add up to a large majority. But rather than try and endlessly meet everyone’s ever-changing needs, just provide a framework for others to do such, and that is exactly what is still lacking. Tho I assume (and hope) right around corner, in OneNote 2.0. πŸ™‚

  10. RoudyBob says:

    I hate to jump on the bandwagon here, but I also don’t see a huge amount of value in blogging from OneNote. I use OneNote all the time to collect notes and thoughts, but I don’t usually want to publish those to a blog. If I did, I would either upload the .one file to a site or save the notes in a different form and then publish.

    I think the original requests for this type of functionality might have come from those that would want to blog in ink. I love this idea (even though I don’t have a TabletPC!) as it would be very easy to crank out a thought and post it. It would also give the blogger’s site a personal look and feel.

    For ink integration, though, I don’t think you need to add anything to OneNote. Couldn’t you just build a solution based on the TabletPC ink recognition that converted the handwriting to a graphic and push it up?

  11. I use OneNote for blogging, sort of. I frequently use OneNote to gather my thoughts/ideas for blog posts, do a little research, compose the blog offline, then when I’m ready to post it I just copy/paste the text from OneNote to my blog.

    Under the circumstances I’m hard-pressed to think up a good business case for OneNote to include blog publishing (or reading) functionality natively; unless it turns out to be a fairly trivial extension of the publish to mhtml function.

    I’d leave it to the 3rd party developers to create a blog tool with OneNote (if they’re going to) in some future version after the API is exposed.

    My $.02. Keep the change.


  12. Tejas Patel says:

    yes, even if other developers can integrate their own apps into OneNote than it is cool.

  13. JohnG says:

    Although I don’t see it as a blogging tool, it would be a great Wiki client application.

    Revisions and document tracking are a staple of Office, and a rich "hyper-collaberation" tool is where the industry is going. IMHO.

    Sharepoint integration…maybe.

  14. Belatedly (!), I think your idea about consuming RSS is far more useful. Although I blog myself and value the information I can finding blogs I’ve never used an RSS reader of any kind because I don’t have the time to keep up with all the neat blogs I could read; they come up as part of searches I do on topic X, so I rely on web search to find them. But I’ve just had a bit of a lightbulb moment. There are broadly two kinds of RSS feeds I’m interested in. Announcements and new stuff I want to know about now; and Neat stuff and useful information I’d like to store with the rest of my information.

    All that other Neat stuff is in OneNote (couldn’t live without it, frankly); how could the RSS info go in there *without my intervention*? I don’t want to look at feeds and mark posts to save because then I’m reading feeds. I want to have a list of RSS feeds in OneNote as a research source and when I search my notes, I’d like to search those feeds as well and have the results show up in OnteNote with the option to archive them locally.

    Is that a feature that sits in OneNote? Am I really wanting a system wide RSS manager that exposes information to an application like OnteNote and Windows Search and whatever I turn out to like reading the feeds in? Not sure, but I want to use OneNote to consume and bundle information from feeds because it’s where all my other valuable info goes. If that piggybacks on Vista’s RSS features, cool; if it’s an add-in, cool. But searching and browsing RSS from OneNote is where I think there’s value.

  15. Mary, that’s an interesting insight. I think RSS feeds and how people use them are both still evolving. So are the readers. For example, Oultook 12 has built-in RSS feed support, so the stuff in the feeds show up as unread "messages" in a feeds folder, one folder per feed. Outlook 12 also has instant search so you might find that a good way to do what you want. OneNote 12 provides a way to send any message in OLK 12 to OneNote, which could be the way to keep the ones you want permanently in your notes after the results of your search. But it isn’t quite what you want in terms of having everything in onenote in the first place. That would need a powertoy which I expect someone would develop.

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