Just discovered Bike on SetApp and am excited to see it supports OPML. I see this has been asked before—I’ll just add my spin.
I use mind map programs heavily to organize my thoughts (SimpleMind is my favorite, and I use MindNode as well), but I find it difficult to move an outline into a word processor doc—there are a few issues: This is my current (convoluted) workflow:
Create mind map in SimpleMind
Export OPML or FreeMind format and open in MindNode.
Export to Markdown (MindNode exports the first three levels–actually the title and two levels–into Markdown headings and the remaining levels into a dashed list).
Open the Markdown document in Ulysses.
Clean up any Markdown errors or weirdness.
Export to Microsoft Word or RTF
Open in Word
Clean up excess formatting from Ulysses (I could probably build an export filter with basic styling I like to eliminate this step).
I’d love to be able to go straight from OPML to a basic Word or RTF document that can be edited in a word processor. Word claims to read OPML, but it won’t read OPML files from SimpleMind—not sure what it objects to, but it complains about deprecated OPML tags. Even if it does read the OPML, it will probably format it as a list, not as heading styles. That’s how it processes HTML headers.
The crux for me is that nothing but MindNode will output an outline as an outline in RTF or Word format. Everything else outputs outlines as unordered lists, which aren’t the same thing. Outline styles in Word allow you to do formatting, build tables of contents, and collapse/fold documents for a high level view and easier management of long documents. Hardly anyone knows these features exist in Word, and almost no programs support them.
I’d love an outline processor that would allow me to choose to export to headings in RTF or Word, period. It would be even better if I could choose how many levels to export as headings and how many to export as lists. That’s my dream anyway.
Did some more looking–Pandoc will probably do this, although I’d need to figure out the command line to configure the conversion. Marked is a Mac Markdown preview/converter, but it read my OPML as headings without any issue–I suspect it’s a front end for Pandoc. Making progress.
I think a standard export from and outline to word is difficult, since each user might use/structure their outline in different ways. Make sure to search Bike’s forums for scripts/pandoc/etc. There are a number of custom solutions that people have made.
One of the most recent is:
Export to Word or RTF?
Bike does have some built in support for RTF. For example create a .rtf document in text edit. Save it. And then you can open it directly in Bike. It’s imperfect… you will be missing a number of Bike features such as row types, row attributes and ID’s… but maybe it helps.
Also in any Bike outline you can copy the “inline” formatting as RTF. What I mean is any formatting that you apply directly to selected text … bold, italic, links… but not row level formatting such as task checkboxes, heading bold style.
To copy inline formatting use Bike > Edit > Copy > Rich Text, then Paste into a rich text document in TextEdit. It’s important to use that version of copy, instead of standard Command-C copy. When you do Command-C copy Bike puts rich text, html, many formats on the pasteboard, but it seems that most apps choose one of the other formats.
Thanks for your detailed reply—that’s very helpful. I also posted on the Marked forum, and they suggested using iThoughts, whic has really configurable Markdown and DOCX export. Since my source work is in a mind mapping program, that’s an easy switch. I also use outlines heavily, and I’ll try the methods you describe as well.
FYI, I work in IT support at a university medical center, and I write a fair bit of documentation and process descriptions for end users. I also worked in graphic design and page layout doing mostly production work—I was the geek in the studio. I used Quark Express styles heavily then, way back in the 90s, and Markdown and XML tagged formats are a natural development of that. Word has decent style support, but hardly anyone knows how to use it.
@jessegrosjean and @hollandsf thanks both for your input. Definitely going to look at Bike more closely for outlining, and I’m probably going to buy multiple licenses for iThoughts (Mac, Windows, and iPad). At least one for converting stuff. I like SimpleMind’s interface the best of the mind mappers I’ve tried (iThoughts is a little clunky at times), but iThoughts has a ton of useful features, not the least of which is Markdown styled type (sorry Jesse, I’m a Markdown convert). Just being able to type 1,2,3, etc. to reveal that many layers of children is soooooo helpful.
Jesse, take a look any Typora’s Markdown interface–it’s the most elegant I’ve seen for both hiding and revealing markdown formatting/characters, and it has the advantage of working with standard Markdown files. It also intelligently just has a gorgeous, minimal interface.
Additionally, Typora inserts double carriage returns at the end of paragraphs to generate standard Markdown code without having to manually type double returns. Ulysses is nice in that it lets me add paragraph spacing with a single return, but then I have to add returns to work with standard Markdown apps.
An inescapable architectural problem of Markdown is that it squashes different layers of meaning into a single flat layer of text.
Fine for some purposes, but no way, without hideous noise, of achieving, for example, the unique ids of Bike rows, which enable links from outside (and within) Bike to specific rows, even after an outline has been re-arranged.
Bike’s strength is that in addition to its visible layer, it has a hidden layer for the things that you need, but don’t want to visually distract you (IDs, attributes, row types, inline emphases and links) – all encoded in standard XML / HTML terms, and immediately accessible to standard tools.
I have been a heavy user of Markdown in my time, but I have to say that I use it less and less now.
(Mainly because it conflates structure with visually intrusive decoration, is poorly suited to outlining – a finite number absolute levels, without consistent indentation – and lacks scope for unique IDs and row specific links)
Markdown inline formatting and 6 absolute heading levels, are well served by many other tools.
Bike provides fluid and undistracted structuring of thought.
These are all good items in my food for thought bucket. I am also a markdown writer, emphasis on writer. Markdown tools like iA Writer, my own app of choice, make the composing process a breeze.
But your points here @complexpoint articulate the drawbacks in tools for thinking I often run up against. I usually move to another tool when I need to organize my thoughts and Bike has been my go-to choice. Now I know why. Thanks for articulating the structures in this paragraph.
Bike provides fluid and undistracted structuring of thought.
Your closing line mirrors my experience. I won’t abandon a markdown tool like iA Writer, but Bike gets that primary space in those earlier phases of my writing processes where I’m working out the messy parts of figuring out what it is I want to say (structuring thought).
@hollandsf@complexpoint Both good thoughts. My question originated because I used mind mapping tools for thinking and organizing my thoughts and (currently) Ulysses for writing. iAWriter is a lovely and powerful writing tool as well, but I’m fairly new to writing and haven’t used it to any depth.
My primary writing block (and what almost prevented me from graduating college) was always being overwhelmed by the whole process and being unable to break it down into manageable bits. Outlines and mind maps fit my thinking process and allow me to organize my ideas visually. If a specific thought pops into my brain, I create a quick topic and drop into more or less the right position in the tree—I can always move it to a more appropriate place later. The important thing is capturing thoughts and a rough organization, then refining it later. Once that is done, writing the individual bits of text is relatively simple. I know how to write sentences and paragraphs—pages are what scare me. I was initially drawn to Ulysses, not because of its implementation of almost-markdown formatting, but because it chunks the writing process into manageable bits. That’s why the mind map/outline to heading conversion is so important to me—I need a way to get my outline or mind map into document headings that I can flesh out in a composition tool, like Ulysses (or iAWriter). Once the text is done and mostly tagged, I can format it in whatever tool I choose.
I did page layout and typesetting professionally for about eight years, and I’m very aware of the limitations of Markdown as a layout tool. That doesn’t bother me, because I see writing/composition as a separate process from layout. Clients who didn’t understand the difference and gave our studio unfinished copy to set were the bane of my existence. They’d get completed proofs, then instead of making small proofreading changes, they’d cut, move, and add paragraphs and entire sections of text, and I’d have to redo the layout and almost from scratch—I often had to reapply all the little tweaks and proofreading changes I’d already made because our clients edited text in Word and not our layout program. We regularly ended up charging Xerox three times our original estimate because of author’s alterations. And they regularly paid because we documented all AAs and billed them as such.
@hollandsf Side question on iThoughts: I’m fleshing out an outline that I created as a mind map, and I can add markdown formatting to notes just fine; however, when I export to Word, all the note formatting is lost. Exporting to Markdown works fine, but since the point of the exercise is to get to Word (and MS Teams) eventually, that’s a problem. I ended up making extra long sub-topics rather than adding notes higher level branches. I can set the conversion to output levels 1-2 as headings and the rest as bullets, which works for my purposes. I’m doing technical documentation, so bullets are appropriate.
Your questions here are a bit over my head and probably beyond the parameters of a Bike-centric forum. I’d recommend contacting the developer via the help menu in the app. Like Jesse here on Bike, the iThoughtsX developer is quite responsive. That’s what I appreciate most about artisanal software developers.
I’ve found the best way to translate incompatible formats in lieu of native solutions is to task ChatGPT with writing a python script that I can run on Google Colab. This is quite flexible because you can make up the rules as much as you want. There’s always some debugging involved, but GPT seems to understand issues quickly.
@hollandsf No worries–I knew it was a long shot. I’m already emailing the iThoughts developer about a multi-platform license discount.
@Gorgonzola I would never have thought of that. I’m not a Python programmer by any stretch, and not even a programmer (I studied programming in the 70s and 80s, and make the occasional script). I do work in IT support, and I’ll see what I can manage. Always up for a new challenge . . .
Longtime geek and reader (I read The Hobbit in third grade and tried reading LOTR—didn’t finish that until college) and newbie memoir writer. I had no idea how huge the Markdown ecosystem had grown since I first encontered Gruber’s seminal Daring Fireball post. Even M365 apps recognize some markdown formatting (I work in a MS shop).