#52Tech Week 33–Outline Lists with Workflowy

For week 33 of the #52Tech series, Workflowy is highlighted.

Firstoff – I’m not a huge fan of Workflowy anymore. Some other reviewers have loved it, others hated it. Workflowy – or any outliner – is a bit like vegemite in that respect – you either love it or hate it, there appears no middle-ground.

If you don’t get on with the Workflowy format, in Week 34 I’ll be profiling some alternatives.

What is Workflowy?

Good question. Workflowy markets itself as an “organisation” list-making app nowadays. Some fans even suggest it as an alternative to note-takers like Evernote.

Format-wise, Workflowy began as a webapp – a simple little multi-level list-maker. It began to get popular when an offline app came out – built on top of Google Chrome. And also, with a good iPhone and iPad app which looks pretty much identical to the browser webapp.

Workflowy lost me as a fan (and lost me some important lists) when it changed front-end format. The app used to provide multiple lists – you could create multiple target projects and go into them from a front screen, then add multiple layers of lists as outlines within. With a later UI change, Workflowy changed to holding all lists within a master list, and an even more minimalist look (which many people love).  You can “zoom in”, as they call it, to view only one of those lists on a page, but that home page list – in my opinion – can look very large and unwieldy.

Being a project-orientated person I miss having defined projects on a front page, I miss the separation. Although there is now a method for saving the important lists by starring them. Starred lists will appear as boxed items at the bottom or the webpage when shown.

Being a visual-orientated person I also prefer brainstorming in a more visual way – like, say, with mindmaps or free-form text and multi-media apps like Scapple, or MagicalPadHD. Workflowy is very linear and structural. But that also makes it very quick to add more and more items.

Never-the-less, for a free webapp service with off-line capabilities, Workflowy may well be extremely useful for some writers. You can outline to a certain extent (see my final review notes below). For the sake of this post, I’ve also setup my own Workflowy to show you a typical use for it, showing lists for my writing, home, school and sport aspects.

Each item in a list in Workflowy can be “completed” off, and tagged with # or @ symbols to make filtering and search powerfully successful.

Workflowy web


Workflowy Features

  • workflowy logoFree webapp service, with list limitations of 500 list items per month. (You can get 250 more if you recommend the app to friends).
  • Premium Workflowy Pro users ($49 p.a.) get themes, different fonts, more storage and lists, Dropbox backup and some collaboration features.
  • Google chrome app for offline desktop access.
  • iOS apps – these work offline also, and synchronise when back online.
  • Collapsable branches of lists supporting deep levels or hierarchy
  • Cross-out completed items
  • Star and find important lists
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Zoom in to main lists – opens on a new page
  • Powerful search with additional operators, and tagging with # and @
  • Markdown support.
  • Export (forced to all) in formatted, plain text or OPML – from the export screen you must copy and paste manually.

Link: Workflowy

Is it Helpful for Writers?

I know a lot of techy gurus really like the minimalist approach of Workflowy for list making.

But many writers I know can brainstorm outlines very quickly, and the freenium limitations of only 500 per month could feasibly halt any full-on brainstorming outlining session. The Workflowy Pro cost of $49 per year could provide much more features (including web-clippings, and multi-media, images and checklists with reminders) in Evernote – most of which come free anyway. Or if you’re on Mac OS, the same price can net you the most popular and feature rich outliner of them all – OmniOutliner. If you’re after collaboration for writing, there are many free or much cheaper web and tablet apps like Quip. Coming up next week I’ll profile some other web-based alternative outliner also.

But if you do like a very minimalist look, and to hold your main lists within the same home page for a big picture view, then possibly the free Workflowy webapp is worth consideration. It’s certainly worth a quick try.

52tech year#52Tech: This was Week 33 post in the #52tech goal – to investigate and share one technology post once a week for 2014. You can find all the posts indexed via the #52tech tag, or top menu option at hunterswritings.com

2 thoughts on “#52Tech Week 33–Outline Lists with Workflowy

  1. I found in astonishment that some lists were missing in my workflowy
    I feel dissappointed and helpless
    Can I retrive them from some history version?

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