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OO needs filters - and here's why Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I've been using OmniOutliner since 2005, and though I like it very much, my main frustration is the lack of filters. As an old Ecco Pro user, I know how deeply filters can extend an outliner's usability. Let me give you a specific example of how filters can work (and please forgive my cross-posting this post on the OO3 forum as well).

Let's say you want to create an outline to collect recipes. (I can't cook worth a damn, so my recipes outline would consist of only two items: Buy take out, or Ask the wife for food.) But let's assume for a moment that I was an experienced cook with tons of recipes I've used or adapted through the years.

So I'd create a Level One item which consists of the name of each dish. Level Two items indented under the name of the dish could include Ingredients, Directions, and whatever else I wanted: notes on who among my frequent dinner guests like or don't like this dish, pictures showing what it's supposed to look like, a link to an online video showing how a master chef prepares it, etc.

Then I'd make four columns:

MEAL: a pop-up list with three choices: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.

CALORIES: a number list into which I'd type the number of calories per serving.

TIME: a duration list into which I'd type the total time it takes to prepare this meal.

MAIN INGREDIENT: a text list into which I'd type the name of the main ingredient.

I would then enter hundred of recipes. (Remember, this is fiction. I know only how to burn toast and hit the button on the Nespresso machine.)

The phone rings. It's George and Martha wanting to come over for dinner. I know they're both on diets, and they love pasta. I also know I won't have a lot of time. So the first thing I do is open my enormous Recipes.004 outline, click on the View Menu, and select Filter. A Search Box opens, with choices not unlike those we use when creating a Smart Folder in Finder. Using the little plus sign, we can add search criteria such as Meal = Dinner ... Calories = Under 500 ... Prep time = under 45 minutes ... and Main Ingredient = pasta.

When I hit enter, the main outline - which contains thousands of recipes - now shows me 3 recipes whose columns match the search criteria. Three pasta dishes under 500 calories, that take less that 45 minutes to prepare.

Now I open the sidebar, go to Batch Find and enter George and Martha's names to see if I've ever made a note in any of these about them. Sure enough, there's a note that they loathed the Sardine Linguine with Unsweetened Chocolate Sauce, so I'll scratch that. Another of the recipes has a note saying they loved it. But the note is dated yesterday, so that might be a little too soon to foist it on these freeloaders. That leaves one other, and that's what I'll make.

Imagine trying to sort through all this without filters.

If one of the criteria weren't that important, say Prep Time, you could search for the other criteria, and then sort that list by clicking on the Prep Time column and choosing Keep Sorted: Lowest t Highest, and then you'd see that filtered list sorted by shortest prep time to longest. Or by calories. It's hugley customizable.

I used Ecco Pro for years in countless ways because the filters allowed infinite flexibility. Every project, every hobby, every area of interest, pretty much everything I did had an Ecco outline. I was using them far more often than I currently use Omni Outlines, because Ecco's filters allowed me to see my data in different ways, and therefore in more useful ways. All I had to do was to decide how I wanted to look at my data, and in a few seconds, it could be done. It was amazing.

Another quick example: I had a very complicated project at work that involved multiple cities, multiple departments, multiple individuals. If I were speaking with multiple department heads about one aspect of the project, I could filter just for that aspect, and then see the data organized by department. If I were talking to one Department, I could look only at those items assigned to that department and sort it by priority, or by status. If I were on the phone with someone in the Vancouver office, I could sort the data so I saw only those open items that involved Vancouver. Etc. It was remarkably useful, and kept me more organized than I've ever been before or since.

Please note this is not a Task Manager. OmniFocus does that brilliantly (and its Perspectives are a pretty good approximation of Ecco's filters). OmniOutlienr with filters would be for managing ALL the information on a project, not just tasks. Plans, ideas, notes, research, links, etc. Anything and everything related to a project can go into an outline (instead of into a folder as separate documents).

I understand this is not currently part of OO4 because this has not been a frequently-requested feature. But my guess is it's not frequently-requested because so few of us have ever seen this capability in action.

I'm quite sure OO can have this feature without too much difficulty. OmniFocus has Perspectives ... so could OmniOutliner. If you agree, please let OmniGroup know. It would be a tremendous capability for a great, but currently-limited Outliner.

I agree. I am surprised that did not make the cut. I have been asking for filters since 1.0
+1 for this request. I just posted a similar (perhaps redundant) post in the forums:

I really like the way Workflowy has implemented tags/filters and hope the OO4 could do something similar.

I may be wrong, but I feel like that company saw what omni was doing and basically tried to ape it to create their own web-based outlining platform. So I don't think Omni should have any qualms about aping them back!
I agree. Adding filters would make OO a useful data processing tool. Unfortunately it seems that graphical fluff is deemed more important than processing features.
+1 - In my view, a most significant next step for oo4 would be adding a filtering function. Entering filter criteria, then seeing a view based on that filter criteria similar to what happens with View --> Focus, would make oo4 incredibly powerful.
Originally Posted by Simon Knight View Post
I agree. Adding filters would make OO a useful data processing tool. Unfortunately it seems that graphical fluff is deemed more important than processing features.
What's most apparent about OmniOutliner 4 may be the user interface changes, but that's definitely not what we consider to be the most important about this release—nor where most of the work towards building it went.

Most of the work in OmniOutliner 4 went towards rebuilding much of the underlying outlining engine to make it more flexible—specifically so that we could easily add features like filters, zoomed text, hiding columns, and so on. Some of those features shipped as part of the initial 4.0 release (zoomed text and hiding columns)—while others (like filters) are features which we look forward to adding in the future, now that our outlining engine can support them.
Hi Ken,

That's great news about filters being on your list of features to be added. Others have mentioned this, but I'll add my vote: without the context of parent items (perhaps greyed out, and perhaps available as an option so it can be turned on or off according to a user's needs), filtered results are sometimes not meaningful. So I hope there's a way to include parent items with the filtered results.
Ken, I claim no insight about your underlying reasons, but I can see the result of what you describe as changes to the engine. oo4 seems a little peppier in my view on certain operations I perform using it. Plus, oo4 just feels better overall in actual use from my point of view compared to prior editions. I have little to no complaints about oo4 - its a great product at this point. I only find myself wanting for more. Here's hoping we can help shape the order of functional priorities going forward...
I've been using Omni Outliner now for a week and am loving it. Almost immediately went searching for a filtering option and then headed onto this forum when I couldn't find it. I also wanted a way to filter out checked vs unchecked items.

It seems from the discussions that this is a much requested and deliberately ignored feature. My theory is that OmniGroup are concerned about the crossover in functionality between Outliner and OmniFocus.

If one product starts to have too many features from the other, they probably fear it will affect sales (kind of a cannabilisation). Trouble is once you have different columns, the ability to filter them is a very basic feature. Denying Outliner users this feature is a risk, because it opens the door for their competitors.

I think the feature needs to be added. Otherwise, a fantastic product and am using both omni outliner and focus together.
If oo4 had filters, I would think of the app as a somewhat different tool from how I think of it today. That may not be a bad thing. Who would reject extra features in their favorite software?

But it does prompt other questions -- when does an outlining tool start to become a database, which is what the example of the large collection of recipes sounds like. When an outliner gets columns, we start to think of it as a spreadsheet. How long before we start asking for ever more complex Excel-like functions to calculate and validate column values? In another thread, I ask about a word count feature, which may be another example of the same thing.

At what point do enhancements become scope creep? While the company must continue to improve the power of the products, they will also be aware of the danger of turning a high quality outliner into something perceived as an under-powered spreadsheet or weedy database.

I enjoyed the OP's post but instead of dwelling on the inadequacies of OO, he/she may want to ask whether an outliner is the right tool for storing and manipulating a large collection of recipes, along with an ever-expanding mass of peripheral data.

Last edited by willcarter; 2014-03-02 at 09:35 PM..

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