Fargo: A Powerful Online Outliner App

There’s nothing worse than suffering from writer’s block when you have deadlines looming large. As much as I try to keep my head above water, there are days when I just can’t seem to put my thoughts in order and get my assignments out the door. Thankfully, I’ve found a few ways to cope; my favorite way to deal with a difficult article is to create an outline of what I’m writing.

An outline is essentially a hierarchical set of ideas or notes, which can have as many or as few levels as you want. This is a great way to jot down all your thoughts for a piece, organize and arrange them and create a structure before you actually begin to write. There’s indeed an app for this, and it’s called Fargo.

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Overview

Fargo is a free web-based text editor that supports outlining, basic formatting and saves all your files to your Dropbox account. It’s perfect for writers of all disciplines and can even be used for to-do lists and blogging.

Fargo allows for easy outlining and text editing in your browser

Fargo allows for easy outlining and text editing in your browser

 

Getting started

Before we get into how Fargo works, let’s understand exactly what an outline is. Let’s say I want to (surprise!) write an app review: instead of struggling to write the entire piece from start to finish, I could instead begin by listing all my headers (intro, sign-up, interface, features, usability, and a conclusion) and then putting down my ideas for each header, before I actually begin writing. This way, I have an overview of the ground I intend to cover, along with the points I mean to make — and I can expand on these however I like.

Signing up for Fargo is as simple as granting access to Dropbox

Signing up for Fargo is as simple as granting access to Dropbox

Fargo looks like a plain text editor, but also allows you to create outlines, rearrange items within your outline, and structure your piece the way you want it. All you need to get cracking is a Dropbox account: simply grant Fargo access to it and you’re good to go. The app also has extensive documentation to help you get to grips with outlining and using Fargo in a number of ways.

The interface

There are two types of content in Fargo: headlines and text. A headline is simply a header or a name of a list, that can have text under it. This text can be hidden when you want to see all the headers at a glance, and revealed when you want to look at the expanded content within each header. You can have as many levels of information as you need, and every headline and piece of text can be rearranged within your document.

A sample outline in Fargo

A sample outline in Fargo

To create an outline, begin by typing in a headline (which could be a header or a name for a list), and then hit Enter to create a second headline, or hit Enter and Tab to indent and add text within that headline. Every headline and piece of text has a triangle to its left; a black triangle indicates that there is text within that can be revealed. You can also click any triangle to switch from the normal text mode to structure mode, in which you can navigate easily between headlines and click-and-drag to rearrange them. It takes a little getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of things in a couple of days.

Features

Apart from outlining, Fargo also features basic formatting and can be shared in a read-only view with your formatting intact. You can also share outlines with other users for various purposes:

  • by creating a post and sharing the link to the public-viewable page — a dead-simple way to share a blog post without setting anything up.
  • by sharing the link to the OPML file of your outline — if you’re working in a team, you can use this method to share an outline of your progress and keep everyone in the loop as to how you’re getting along.
  • by creating a simple text presentation — by simply modifying an attribute of your outline, you can choose to have your outline displayed a neat presentation complete with titles, bullet points and navigable slides.
Fargo allows you to share simple text-only presentations, generated from an outline

Fargo allows you to share simple text-only presentations, generated from an outline

Using Fargo

Outlining is a great process to include in any writing workflow, and can also aid in brainstorming and note-taking. I personally find it helpful when reviewing apps and hardware and writing essays, because I constantly rearrange ideas to fine-tune the flow of a piece. Plus, it helps me set the tone for articles before I begin to dig very deep, and that allows me to separate the planning process from the actual writing.

Displaying an outline from Fargo in Reader mode

Displaying an outline from Fargo in Reader mode

As far as outlining goes, Fargo is a great choice. The interface is clutter-free and gets out of the way when you need to work, and allows you to keep multiple documents around for quick reference. There’s also support for keyboard shortcuts for everything from navigating within text to formatting, so you can get as comfortable with this as with any other text editor.

I did have a little trouble getting used to all the navigation and publishing controls — Fargo is particular about hierarchies sometimes, and it’s not always obvious where you’re going wrong when a post doesn’t display correctly. I didn’t care much for the app’s simple blog posts or presentations either, as I prefer full-featured programs with more control over formatting when publishing content. I would, however, have loved a way to embed outlines with their structure intact in web pages.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a simple outlining tool, you can’t do much better than Fargo — it works in any web browser, saves files to your personal Dropbox so you have full control over your work, and costs nothing. I’d consider using it as my regular text editor too if there was a way to turn outlining off; hopefully that feature will make an appearance in the future. It’s not as user-friendly as I’d like, but I guess spreadsheet software isn’t either, and you’ll have to learn the ropes if you want to include outlining in your workflow. Whether you’re looking to write up a storm, make detailed plans or even take better notes in class, Fargo is definitely worth a try.


Summary

Fargo is a free web-based text editor that supports outlining and saves files in OPML format in your Dropbox account, so you can work anywhere and have your with just a browser.

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