ConnectedText as replacement for Blackwell Idealist

Lawrence Osborne’s thoughts on why he replaced Blackwell Idealist with ConnectedText:

For me, the main advantages of CT are its support for Unicode, its ability to display rich text formatting (via Markdown), its support for LaTeX commands (which makes it possible to include equations in notes), and the fact that it is supported by a very active developer and an enthusiastic community of users. Most importantly, with a bit of tweaking, it is possible to make CT import Idealist records from one of Idealist’s export formats and treat them as CT topics with the same name.

I should add that CT does not currently support Markdown (although it’s a feature that has been requested), so Lawrence probably meant CT’s own wiki markup (which nonetheless is not that terribly different from Markdown).

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Setting up ConnectedText

In an earlier post I have discussed how to set up your desktop layout in ConnectedText, as part of getting started with CT. In this post I will offer a few more tips on setting up CT for general use but also for our intended purpose here as a CAQDAS tool.

One of the things that puts people off from using wikis in general and CT in particular is the need to use (and having to learn) markups. Especially if you have never learnt or used a markup before, it may seem too technical and daunting and even unnecessary in this day and age of icons and touch screens.

The good news is that CT makes it relatively easy to use markups. First, it uses a simplified markup language, so there is no need to learn a huge amount of markups. I only use maybe 4 or 5 markups on a regular basis. CT also reduces the need to type markups in a number of ways.

First, it offers a number of buttons in the header and commands in the right-click context menu that obviate the need to type the markup yourself.

Second, you can just drag and drop certain items, such as URLs from your browser and file links from your Windows Explorer, rather than having to type the associated markup. Some markup also gets inserted automatically for you if you are starting a list, such as a bulleted or numbered list or a list of comments. Finally, there is also something called “completion proposal,” which means that if you start typing a certain markup, it brings up a pull-down menu of options, and you just click on the markup you need to insert it automatically.

One complaint about having to use markups is that they disrupt the flow of writing or reading in edit mode. As far as the speed of writing is concerned, I think this might be more of an issue of perception stemming from the habit of clicking buttons and selecting menu items in the headers of standard office applications. While it may seem that it is easier or quicker to highlight a piece of text, go to the menu, select a command, and click on it, in reality that also disrupts your flow of writing because you need to take your hand off the keyboard, grab the mouse, move it, click on things, and then move your hand back to the keyboard. If you know the markup, it’s much quicker to just type the markup and achieve the same result, without your hand having to leave the keyboard.

But it is true that the presence of markup in the text itself may disrupt the comprehension of the text you are writing, after all you might be inserting some notation that looks like gibberish  (at least until you get used to it, which is another way of dealing with this problem: use it long enough for it to become second nature).

Fortunately CT has a feature that can somewhat alleviate this effect of disruption. If you select custom colours for specific mark-ups, they become more easily recognisable in the text, and your eyes will learn to skip over them and ignore them when you want to concentrate on the content of your writing in edit mode (and of course you can always just switch to view mode, if you don’t want to see any markup at all).

Here is how to select the custom colours for your markup: go to Tools > Options (or hit CTRL+O) > Editor, and you will see a box called “Colors,” as well as a corresponding preview box at the bottom that will show you the colours you have chosen. You can change both the foreground colour (the font colour) and the background colour (which works as highlighting) for your given markup or feature. You will also need to tick the box “Use syntax highlighter” for this to show in the edit mode.

You can see that I have selected orange for my comments, dark blue for internal links, light blue highlighting for headings, green for commands (which also includes external links), and red for “includes.” (By the way, the “include” command is a powerful feature. It allows you to include sections of other topics in the body of your current topic. More about that later.)
And this is what these markups look like in CT’s edit mode (note that internal links to other topics are dark blue, while external links – which are recognised as a type of command – are green).
And this is what this topic looks like in view mode (the orange comments are not visible because they are only meant for the edit environment, a kind of a “note to self” feature):