Workflowy, Dynalist (&etc) import/export - OPML

I’ve recently been investigating the personal utility of OPML as a common format in some of the programs I use.

I discovered that it can work well and is especially useful for long complex documents. Having been experimenting in writing a book as a single .md file (principally using WriteMonkey) with headings h1-h6 section levels, I thought it might be interesting to test a conversion to OPML and import into Workflowy and Dynalist. I was a little surprised to find it displayed as a hierarchy of bullets with notes containing the text - just about perfect. Exporting such a bulleted list using OPML converted the bullets to headers again.

  • I used Typora to do the conversions both ways, purely because that’s what is simplest for me (its underlying engine is Pandoc).
  • I strongly suggest that any formatting written in Workflowy/Dynalist etc is done manually using markdown syntax - using their internal formatting does not transmit using OPML. Dynalist will display most text formatting correctly except italics (it has its own weird double underline syntax for italics); Workflowy won’t. No problem for those used to using the Obsidian editor without looking at the Preview.
  • Workflowy has the ability to colour text. This does transmit, but the syntax is wrong for markdown editors; easily fixed with a global replace. It also has a kanban view.
  • I do not suggest bulk writing in one of the outliners as they have none of the usual helpful features, though Dynalist now has wordcount, but for smaller tasks they may be helpful.

Many other programs that might form part of a common workflow use OPML - eg mindmappers, Scrivener - but I haven’t tested their limitations.

Related thread:

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I’ve been procrastinating by playing with Workflowy kanban.
Imported my latest part-done manuscript. Quite a complex structure - Sections, Chapters, Passages/Scenes. Looks good very usable.

And discovered a planning trick. Added a synopsis to planned scenes by adding an empty bullet to the scene, writing a synopsis in the note and then colouring the synopsis. This expands the scene size in the kanban. Text for the scene goes in the note to the scene itself.

Not that I’d intend to do that in Workflowy. But a simple, quick, easy planning with a visual process suits me, and something I’d consider in the future. Once done, export via OPML.

Other annotations can be added to the synopsis - tags etc in a different colour.

Colours won’t survive export to markdown for writing in Obsidian or other markdown editor. And it might be a nuisance to delete all the synopsis sections; this could be scripted or otherwise probably fastest done in an outliner either at the beginning or end of process.

@Dor ~ I have no experience working with OPML files, but I too would like to experiment with importing a Workflowy database into Obsidian.

When you have time, could you explain in a little more detail how you used Typora to manage this import?

Also, I’m curious: What happens to mirrored items when they are imported into Obsidian? I have a lot of mirrored content in my WF database, and I’m wondering if this is going to create a lot of redundant clutter if I import the whole WF database in one go.

Finally, do you recommend installing either/both of these plugins before or after doing the OPML import?

  • Outliner
  • Obsidian Zoom

With my thanks in advance,

I don’t know because I haven’t tested it.
But I’m sure you are right. The mirrors can’t come, so you’d just have duplicates.

I never consider importing the whole database. With markdown, I work with nested vaults and I’d only ever want to import part of the database. And what you get is just one file, so you have a limited number of levels to play with and again best just to import part of it.

If you wanted many small files you’d have an extra step to split it at the headings.

I simply use it as a converter. Export from Workflowy as OPML. Import the OPML file into Typora and save as a markdown file in an Obsidian vault. And reverse the process to go the other way. You could use Pandoc direct, or any other converter, but I’m most comfortable using Typora.

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Thank you very much, @Dor, for your prompt follow-up! I appreciate your feedback, and it will be very helpful now in moving forward. :slightly_smiling_face:

With appreciation,

The one thing you have to watch for is Workflowy’s tendency to concatenate text in its notes. Paragraphs are less at risk than lines, so I’m insistent now on working with paragraphs rather than the faux paragraphs of markdown lines.

Whether it’s an issue depends on your use of notes.

If it does happen, I’d complain to Workflowy. They have 16 developers now, which ought to be sufficient to tackle such problematic bugs

I’ve not seen this problem with Dynalist. Or any other program tbh.

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@Dor ~ Thanks so much for the heads up, and the suggestion, on this potential issue. Much appreciated!