Andrew, someone in the IndieWeb chat mentioned what an awesome new website you have. I thought you might appreciate our upcoming mini-camp. There’s definitely a space in the tools for thought area that your perspective may help fill. If it’s of interest, I’d invite you to join us.

Gardens and Streams II: An IndieWebCamp Pop-up Session on Wikis, Digital Gardens, Online Commonplace Books, Zettelkasten and Note Taking

Bookmarked Sheet-posting (sheet-posting.me)
Turn a Google Sheets spreadsheet into a blog page and RSS feed
This reminds me of the sort of thing that @JohnStewartPhD or someone from the space might do: Turn a Google Sheet into a website.

Kevin Marks in #indieweb 2021-09-06 ()

IndieWeb Syndication Sketchnotes: POSSE >> PESOS >> PASTA >> PESETAS >> POOSNOW
A sketchnotes diagram of IndieWeb Syndication practices featuring in decreasing order of desirability: POSSE, PESOS, PASTA, PESETAS, POOSNOW

I’ve been reading about sketchnotes for a bit this past week. As a first experiment I created some sketchnotes for a short talk on syndication in social media I prepared a while back. Here’s to hoping that no one ends up taking the actual spiral down to POOSNOW with their own social media presence.

Gardens and Streams II: An IndieWebCamp Pop-up Session on Wikis, Digital Gardens, Online Commonplace Books, Zettelkasten and Note Taking

Event Details

Date: Saturday, September 25, 2021
Time: 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Pacific
Event page: https://events.indieweb.org/2021/09/gardens-and-streams-ii-pPUbyYME33V4

We’ll discuss and brainstorm ideas related to wikis, commonplace books, digital gardens, zettelkasten, and note taking on personal websites and how they might interoperate or communicate with each other. This can include IndieWeb building blocks, user interfaces, functionalities, and everyones’ ideas surrounding these. Bring your thoughts, ideas, and let’s discuss (and build).

This will be a continuation of the ideas from the Garden and Stream pop up session in 2020. Everyone is welcome and need not have attended prior sessions.

Format

We’ll try to do something between a traditional all day IndieWebCamp and a single session pop-up over the span of several hours so that we can accommodate a brief introduction and three BarCamp topic related sessions. Feel free to brainstorm session ideas in advance of the mini-camp, but we’ll choose session topics the morning of the event.

Tentative Schedule

All times Pacific.

  • 9:00 AM 30 minute introduction & IndieWeb building blocks
  • 9:30 AM 20 minute session pitches and scheduling
  • 9:50 AM 10 minute break
  • 10:00 AM 60 minute Session 1 (including 10 minute break)
  • 11:00 AM 60 minute Session 2 (including 10 minute break)
  • 12:00 PM 50 minute Session 3
  • 12:50 PM 10 minute closing remarks
  • 1:00 PM pop up finished

Hack day? Yes, we’ll all gather the following day for 3 hours at roughly the same time with a short demo session to follow for folks to show off what they’ve been working on. Details for this will be forthcoming.

Everyone is welcome to attend.

Resources

RSVP (optional)

And if none of the above methods means anything to you or you can’t log in to use them, don’t worry about it; just show up on the day!

Questions? Concerns? Volunteers?

Feel free to ask in the IndieWeb chat: https://chat.indieweb.org/indieweb/ or post a question below or on the call for volunteers post.

Social Media, Fast and Slow

I like the differentiation that Jared has made here on his homepage with categories for “fast” and “slow” posts.

It’s reminiscent of the system 1 (fast) and system2 (slow) ideas behind Kahneman and Tversky’s work in behavioral economics. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow)

It’s also interesting in light of this tweet which came up recently:

Because the Tweet was shared out of context several years later, someone (accidentally?) replied to it as if it were contemporaneous. When called out for not watching the date of the post, their reply was “you do slow web your way…”#

This gets one thinking. Perhaps it would help more people’s contextual thinking if more sites specifically labeled their posts as fast and slow (or gave a 1-10 rating)? Sometimes the length of a response is an indicator of the thought put into it, thought not always as there’s also the oft-quoted aphorism: “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter”.

The ease of use of the UI on Twitter seems to broadly make it a platform for “fast” posting which can too often cause ruffled feathers, sour feelings, anger, and poor communication.

What if there were posting UIs (or micropub clients) that would hold onto your responses for a few hours, days, or even a week and then remind you about them after that time had past to see if they were still worth posting? This is a feature based on Abraham Lincoln’s idea of a “hot letter” or angry letter, which he advised people to write often, but never send.

Where is the social media service for hot posts that save all your vituperation, but don’t show them to anyone? Or which maybe posts them anonymously?

The opposite of some of this are the partially baked or even fully thought out posts that one hears about anecdotally, but which the authors say they felt weren’t finish and thus didn’t publish them. Wouldn’t it be better to hit publish on these than those nasty quick replies? How can we create better UI to solve for this?

I saw a sitcom a few years ago where a girl admonished her friend (an oblivious boy) for liking really old Instagram posts of a girl he was interested in. She said that deep-liking old photos was an obvious and overt sign of flirting.

If this is the case then there’s obviously a social standard of sorts for this, so why not hold your tongue in the meanwhile, and come up with something more thought out to send your digital love to someone instead of providing a (knee-)jerk reaction?

Of course now I can’t help but think of the annotations I’ve been making in my copy of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. Do you suppose that Lucretius knows I’m in love?

Differentiating online variations of the Commonplace Book: Digital Gardens, Wikis, Zettlekasten, Waste Books, Florilegia, and Second Brains

A fluorescence of note taking tools

Over the past three or so years there has been a fluorescence of digital note taking tools and platforms.

Some of these include:

Open source projects like Org Mode, Logseq, Foam, Jupyter, Trilium, Databyss, Athens, Dendron, Anagora, and Hypothes.is.

Closed sourced projects like: Roam Research, Notion, Knovigator, Amplenote, RemNote, Memex, Nototo, nvUltra, and Are.na.

Some are based on earlier incarnations of note taking and writing tools like OneNote, Evernote, Simple Note, TiddlyWiki, DEVONthink, Scrivener, etc.

This brief list doesn’t take into account a sea of other mobile apps and platforms in addition to a broad array of social media platforms that people use for similar note taking or annotations.

My particular interest in some of this note taking field comes in the growing number of people who are working in public and sharing their notes in online settings with others. This has been happening organically since the rise of the internet and has happened on blogs within the blogosphere and on personal and communal wikis.

As was highlighted (pun intended) at the recent I Annotate 2021 conference, the note taking space seems to have been coming to a new boil. With the expansion of the ideas of keeping a zettelkasten or a digital garden, these versions of notebooks seem to be a significant part of this new note taking craze.

One thing I have noticed, however, is a dramatic lack of continuity in the history of note taking within the longue durée of Western civilization. (Other cultures including oral cultures have similar traditions, but for our purposes here, I won’t go into them except to say that they’re highly valuable, spectacularly rich, and something of which we should all be aware.)

Many of these products are selling themselves based on ideas or philosophies which sound and even feel solid, but they’re completely ignoring their predecessors to the tune of feeling like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. As a result, some of the pitches for these products sound like they’re selling snake oil rather than tried and true methods that go back over 2,000 years of intellectual history. I can only presume that modern education is failing us all dramatically. People are “taught” (maybe told is the better verb) to take notes in school, but they’re never told why, what to do with them, or how to leverage them for maximum efficiency. Perhaps the idea has been so heavily imbued into our culture we’ve honestly forgotten the basic parts and reasoning behind it?

Even Vannevar Bush’s dream of the Memex as stated in his article As We May Think (The Atlantic, 1945), which many of these note taking applications might point to as an inspiration, ignores this same tradition and background, so perhaps these app creators and users aren’t all to blame?

Delineating Online Forms

I’ve been doing some serious reading and research into these traditions to help uncover our missing shared history. I’ll write something longer and more specific about them at a later date.

In the meanwhile, I want to outline just a bit about the various flavors as they relate to some of the more public online versions that I see in the related internet spaces. I hope to help better delineate what they have in common, how they differ, and what they may still add to the mix to get us to a more robust version of Bush’s dream.

Other’s thoughts and comments about these various incarnations and their forms and functions are both encouraged and appreciated.

Commonplace books

Historically commonplace books are one of the oldest and most influential structures in the note taking, writing, and thinking space. They have generally been physical books written by hand that contain notes which are categorized by headings (or in a modern context categories or tags. Often they’re created with an index to help their creators find and organize their notes.

They originated in ancient Greece and Rome out of the thought of Aristotle and Cicero as a tool for thinking and writing and have generally enjoyed a solid place in history since. A huge variety of commonplaces have been either copied by hand or published in print book form over the centuries.

Most significant thinkers, writers, and creators throughout history have kept something resembling a commonplace book. While many may want to attribute the output of historical figures like Erasmus, Newton, Darwin, Leibnitz, Locke, or Emerson to sheer genius (and many often do), I might suggest that their works were the result of sustained work of creating personal commonplace books—somewhat like a portable Google search engine for their day, but honed to their particular interests. (One naturally can’t ignore their other many privileges like wealth, education, and time to do this work, which were also certainly a significant factor in their success.)

Many people over the past quarter of a century have used a variety of digital forms to keep digital commonplace books including public versions on blogs, wikis, and other software for either public or private consumption.

Florilegium

Florilegia are a subcategory of commonplace book starting around 900 CE but flourishing in the 12th and 13th centuries and primarily kept by theologians and preachers. The first were a series of short excerpted passages often arranged in order of their appearance in a single text, but eventually were arranged systematically under discrete headings. Medieval florilegia where overwhelmingly, and often exclusively, concerned with religious topics from the works of scriptures, the moral dicta of the Doctors of the Church, and—less frequently—the teachings of approved, classical moral philosophers. The idea and form of florilegium generally merged back into the idea of the commonplace book which had renewed interest and wide popularity during the Renaissance.

These didn’t add any new or innovative features over what had come before. Perhaps, if anything, they were a regression because they so heavily focused only on religion as a topic.

Few (if any) examples of florilegia can be found in modern digital contexts. Though I have seen some people talk about using digital note taking tools for religious study, I have yet to see public versions online.

Zettelkästen

Born out of the commonplace tradition with modifications by Conrad Gessner (1516-1565) and descriptions by Johann Jacob Moser (1701–1785), the Zettelkasten, a German word translated as “slip box”, is generally a collection of highly curated atomic notes collected on slips of paper or index cards. Zettelkasten were made simpler to create and maintain with the introduction of the mass manufacture of index cards (and card boxes and furniture) in the early 20th century. Slips of paper which were moveable within books or files and later on index cards were a significant innovation in terms of storing and organizing a commonplace book.

Generally zettels (or cards) are organized by topics and often contain dates and other taxonomies or serialized numbers as a means of linking them to other cards within the system. The cross linking of these cards (and thus ideas) were certainly a historical physical precursor of the internet we have today, simply in digital form.

Almost all the current references I’ve seen online to Zettelkasten mention Niklas Luhmann as their inspiration, but none of them reference any other well-known historical examples despite the fact the idea has been around and evolving for several centuries now.

This productivity system and sets of digital tools around it came to greater attention in Germany in 2013 with the exhibition “Zettelkästen: Machines of Fantasy” at the Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar and in 2014 with the launch of the zettelkasten.de website. A subsequent boost in the English speaking world occurred following the publication of Sönke Ahrens’s book How to Take Smart Notes – One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers in February 2017. The recent ability to use platforms like Roam Research, Obsidian, Notion, et al. has helped to fan the flames of their popularization.

More often than not, most of these digital tools (like their card-based predecessors) are geared toward private personal use rather than an open public model. Roam Research and Obsidian Publish have features which allow public publishing. TiddlyWiki is also an excellent tool for this as its so-called Tiddlers have a card-based appearance and can be placed in custom orders as well as transcluded, but again not many are available to the online public.

Waste books/Sudelbücher

This sub-genre of notebooks comes out of the tradition of double-entry book keeping where accountants often kept a daily diary of all transactions in chronological order. These temporary notes were then later moved into a more permanent accounting ledger and the remaining book was considered “waste”.

In the commonplace book tradition, these books for temporary notes or (fleeting notes in a Zettelkasten framing), might eventually be copied over, expanded, and indexed into one’s permanent commonplace collection.

In modern digital settings, one might consider some of the ephemeral social media stream platforms like Twitter to be a digital version of a waste book, though to my knowledge I may be the first person to suggest this connection. (To be clear, others have certainly mentioned Twitter as being a waste and even a wasteland.)

Wikis

Inspired, in part, by Apple’s HyperCard, Ward Cunningham created the first public wiki on his website on March 25, 1995. Apple had designed a system allowing users to create virtual “card stacks” supporting links among the various cards (sound familiar?). HyperCard was designed as a single user system.

Wikis allowed multiple users to author and edit pages on the web with a basic web browser. They were also able to create meaningful links and associations between pages, whether they existed or not using [[WikiLinks]]. They were meant to allow the average visitor to participate in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration.

Here there is some innovative user interface as well as the ability to collaborate with others in keeping a commonplace book. Transclusion of one page into another is a useful feature here.

Personal wikis have been used (as have many blogs) for information aggregation and dissemination over the years in a manner similar to their historical predecessors.

Second brain

Second brain is a marketing term which stands in for the idea of the original commonplace book. It popped up in the note taking context in early 2017 for promoting the use of commonplace books techniques using Tiago Forte’s expensive online course Building a Second Brain which focused on capturing, organizing, and sharing your knowledge using (digital) notes. It is a platform agnostic method for improving productivity wholly using the commonplace underpinning.

Google searches for this term will be heavily mixed in with results about the gastrointestinal system being the body’s “second brain”, the enteric nervous system, second brain tumors, a debunked theory that dinosaurs had two brains, and other general health-related topics.

Some websites, personal wikis and other online versions will use the phrase second brain, but they generally have no innovative features that are missing from prior efforts. Again, I view the phrase simply as marketing with no additional substance.

Digital Gardens

Informed heavily by their cultural predecessors in commonplace books, zettelkasten, and wikis, digital gardens are digital first note collections which are primarily public by default and encourage the idea of working in public.

Digital Gardens arose more formally in 2019 and 2020 out of the work and influence of Mark Bernstein’s 1998 essay Hypertext Gardens: Delightful Vistas, Ward Cunningham’s Smallest Federated Wiki (which just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary), Mike Caulfield’s essays including The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral as well as some influence from the broader IndieWeb Community and their focus on design and user interface.

Digital garden design can often use the gardening metaphor to focus attention on an active tending and care of one’s personal knowledge base and building toward new knowledge or creations. The idea of planting a knowledge “seed” (a note), tending it gradually over time with regular watering and feeding in a progression of 🌱 Seedlings → 🌿 Budding → 🌳 Evergreen is a common feature.

There are a growing number of people with personal digital gardens in public. Many are built on pre-existing wiki software like WikiMedia, the Smallest Federated Wiki, or TiddlyWiki, static site generators like Jekyll, note taking platforms like Obsidian Publish and Roam Research, or even out of common blogging software like WordPress. A growing common feature of these platforms is that they not only link out to resources on the open web, but contain bidirectional links within themselves using either custom code (in a wiki-like manner) or using the W3C Webmention specification.

The Future?

With luck, application and platform designers and users will come to know more about the traditions, uses, and workflows of our rich cultural note taking history. Beyond this there are a few innovations, particularly in the public-facing arena which could be useful, but which aren’t broadly seen or available yet.

Still missing from the overall personal knowledge and note taking space is a more tightly integrated version of both a garden and a stream (in Mike Caulfield’s excellent framing) that easily allows interaction between the two arenas. Some of the more blog-based sites with notes, bookmarks, articles and IndieWeb friendly building blocks like Webmention, feeds (RSS, JSON Feed, h-feed), Micropub, and Microsub integrations may come the closest to this ideal.

One of the most fascinating recent entrants on the scene is Flancian’s Anagora which he uses as a personal commonplace book in a wiki-esque style. Over other incarnations it also has the ability to pull in and aggregate the notes of other digital commonplace books to create a larger marketplace of ideas. It also includes collaborative note taking space using Etherpad, which I’ve seen as a standalone tool, but never integrated into a digital commonplace book.

Ultimately, my dream—similar to that of Bush’s—is for individual commonplace books to be able to communicate not only with their users in the Luhmann-esqe sense, but also communicate with each other.

Niklas Luhmann apparently said:

Ohne zu schreiben, kann man nicht denken; jedenfalls nicht in anspruchsvoller, anschlussfähiger Weise.

(Translation) You cannot think without writing; at least not in a sophisticated, connectable way.

I think his conceptualization of “connectable” was much more limited and limiting than he might have guessed. Vannevar Bush, as the academic advisor of Claude Shannon, the godfather of the modern digital age, was more prepared to envision it.

(Luhmann’s “you” in his quote is obviously only a Western cultural referent which erases the existence of oral based cultures which have other ways to do their sophisticated thinking. His ignorant framing on the topic shouldn’t be a shared one.)


This post has grown out of my own personal commonplace book, portions of which are on housed on my blog, in a wiki, and in a private repository of which I hope to make more public soon. Further thoughts, ideas and expansions of it are more than welcome.

I’ve slowly been updating pieces of the history along with examples on shared commonplaces in both the IndieWeb Wiki and Wikipedia under the appropriate headings. Feel free to browse those or contribute to them as you would, at least until our digital commonplace books can communicate with each other.

I’d also invite those who are interested in this topic and who have or want online spaces to do this sort of thing to join us at the proposed upcoming Gardens and Streams II IndieWebCamp Pop up session which is being planned for later this Summer or early Fall. Comment below, stop by the page or chat to indicate your interest in attending.

I love the idea of doing IndieWeb for one's mental health! :)
Text Card showing tweets about IndieWeb and mental health next to each other

 

Planning for Gardens and Streams II: An IndieWebCamp pop-up session on Wikis, Digital Gardens, online Commonplace Books, and note taking

Following this past week’s I Annorate 2021 note taking sessions and the original Gardens and Steams IndieWeb pop up event last year, I thought it wold be a good idea to have a structured and open follow up.

I’ve sketched out some ideas on the IndieWeb wiki at https://indieweb.com/2021/Pop-ups/Sessions#Gardens_and_Streams_II. Feel free to share your ideas there or indicate your interest and preferred dates. If you have ideas for discussion sessions within the pop up, feel free to start sharing those as well. These should be discussion oriented. Depending on interest/demand we can add additional tracks, days, and times as necessary.

You can also use the IndieWeb chat as well. See their chat page for other methods for joining the chat using your favorite platform.

This will be a volunteer-led BarCamp style online event, so help in organizing and executing is greatly appreciated. The more help we get, the easier it is to do and the more we can potentially accomplish. Participants must agree to abiding by their Code of Conduct.

Happy 10th Anniversary to the Smallest Federated Wiki! Congratulations Ward Cunningham! And thanks as well to Mike Caulfield and all those who’ve worked on, iterated, and expanded on its foundations since.

Jake Reeder’s Return to Cinder site and related Databyss platform

The coolest thing I think I saw at I Annotate 2021 today was Jake Reeder’s commonplace book for his reading notes and annotations. It’s very IndieWeb in some of the coolest ways.

He apparently began collecting his notes and annotations of Jacques Derrida using paper and pen, but transferred them into the cleverly named website Return to Cinder.

The site ultimately grew to include additional writers and works (thus also making it a personal library of sorts. It ultimately became valuable enough to Reeder that, with the help of Paul Hine for development they turned his site into a note taking platform available for other people called Databyss, which appears to be a silo note taking platform that allows users to:

Write and cite, research and re-search, and never get lost in Databyss. Welcome to your new word processor.

Users can register for a free account which includes hosting and storage, though doesn’t appear to allow custom domain names. I’m not clear what the potential business model is or may be, so be sure you’ve got the ability to back up and save your data elsewhere just in case. The interface looks very similar to Roam Research and some of the similar products in that same niche, though in this case the result is online rather than necessarily a private local repository or a private space in the cloud.

While the lack of end game for Databyss might worry me, the user interface examples of Jake’s personal site and the bigger platform are fascinating for the overall space. It would be cool to see how other IndieWeb building blocks might be included in these platforms to expand the space of both personal libraries and digital gardens.

Just days before the 10th anniversary of the Smallest Federated Wiki, Ward Cunningham will be talking about the future of note taking tomorrow morning.

Free registration for the event at I Annotate 2021 should still be open.

There are also expected appearances by Daniel Doyon, Co-Founder of Readwise; Tienson Qin, Creator/Founder of LogSeq; Oliver Sauter, Founder of WorldBrain/Memex, and Flancian of the Anagora.

With any luck, it may help mark a resurgence of digital versions of the commonplace book on the order of magnitude represented by the works of Rudolphus Agricola, Desiderius Erasmus, and Philip Melanchthon during the Renaissance.

Promo card for I Annotate 2021 with the subtitle Reading Together and featuring a drawing of a book with two hands writing on each other in an ouroboros-like style

Replied to a tweet by Maggie AppletonMaggie Appleton (Twitter)
A great question to be sure.

Define “ours“. “Tweetspace” is only Twitter? Perhaps not all of those at once…

The education space definitely. Many are still in the “old” blogosphere. They use phrases/hashtags like “Domain of One’s Own” (#​DoOO), personal learning networks (#​pln), #​EdTech, #​EthicalEdTech, etc.

Maybe a dash of #OpenScience, along with maybe @LibCarpentry and @theCarpentries?

#​IndieWeb is platform interoperability, along with a smattering of the others but you already knew of that overlap.

Replied to a thread by Mike CaulfieldMike Caulfield (Twitter)
We will remember who did that work Mike. Thank you again for it!

I also remember Anil Dash’s Stop Publishing Web Pages essay in August 2012 and then 4 months later The Web We Lost. Those garden-like pages were definitely something we’ve lost. We need more of them on the higher ground outside of the floodplain of the raging waters of the storming corporate rivers. A few babbling brooks, sympathetic streams, and cordial and comforting creeks would also be most welcome in our landscape.

I’m glad to see that some are pushing back—returning to publish on the web in old, new, and even different ways. Hopefully, as in nature, the gardens and fields flourish after the unrestrained wrath of the storm.

With a lush mountain backdrop, a woman pictured from behind reaches up to suspended rocks and plants hanging from an artistic bamboo and metal structure.
Photo by Fathul Bilad on Unsplash

 

Featured photo by Saikiran Kesari on Unsplash