Humanity is the medium. Humanity is the message.

While contemplating orality and indigenous cultures and how they used their own memories, conversation, and dialectic as a means of communicating and storing their knowledge, I thought about Marshall McLuhann’s idea “the medium is the message.” In this framing, indigenous cultures certainly got things right: Humanity is the medium. Humanity is the message.

Life imitates art. We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.
— John M. Culkin, “A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan” (The Saturday Review, March 1967)

Culkin’s framing also makes humanity its own self-contained tool (hopefully for the greater good). We shape our brains and thereafter our brains shape us. While we may use technology and tools, props, and crutches to help us do more or do faster, we shouldn’t loose sight of our humanity. It may be our greatest technology. Perhaps we need to remember to pull it out of our toolbox more often as it’s better evolved and often better fit for more jobs than the tools we’re apt to turn to.

Hypothes.is + Obsidian = Hypothesidian for easier note taking and formatting

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Hypothes.is for all my online highlighting, annotating, and general note taking. They also know that if one isn’t actively using their notes to some better end, then it’s likely not worth having taken them at all, so I store mine in markdown in Obsidian for future-proofing and portability.

Hypothes.is + Obsidian

A while back I came across RoamHacker’s work to dovetail Hypothes.is for use in Obsidian and finally managed to get it up and running with my Obsidian vault. I’ve previously outlined a method for pulling in my notes from Hypothes.is using RSS, however this doesn’t give one any formatting capabilities and it also doesn’t provide any of the Hypothes.is tags as RSS has no layer for taxonomies.

RoamHacker’s work, which leverages the Templater Plugin for Obsidian, fixes both of these problems. I suspect that I’ll keep my prior method in place to create the individual notes, but use this additional work to clean up my fleeting notes from Hypothes.is in my actual commonplace book. Since there’s no server involved, it’s harder to automate the entire process so that every time you create notes they’re automatically ported across either in real-time or in batches every few hours.

Formatting your notes

I did spend some time last night to modify some of RoamHacker’s code to re-format the annotations to better suit my current notes format and layout. I’m excerpting the most relevant part below, but the entire Gist can also be downloaded or further modified for easier copy/pasting into one’s own vault for the needed set up.

I’ve only modified the section of the original Gist at the bottom that follows the line:
/* TEMPLATE STARTS HERE */

The changes still keep all the relevant data fields, but reorder them and add a bit of formatting to fit the layout and the way I use my Obsidian notebook. I changed the formatting so that tags in Hypothes.is are turned into [[wikilinks]] rather than #⁠hashtags as in the original. (The original also doesn’t do so well with multi-word tags, which I use quite a lot.)

Hopefully the small changes I’ve made and comparison with the original Gist will allow those who aren’t as code-savvy to better understand the template and potentially let them make changes to suit their own needs.

/* TEMPLATE STARTS HERE */ 
if (tp.file.content.length==0) {
  //likely a new document, insert front matter
  tR += `---\n`;
  tR += `fileType: HypothesisAnnotations\n`;
  tR += `creationDate: ${tp.date.now('YYYY-MM-DD')} \n`;
  tR += `annotationDate: ${articleAnnotations[0].created.substring(0,10)}\n`;
  tR += `uri: ${articleAnnotations[0].uri}\n`;
  tR += `---\n`;
}

tR += `# ${articleAnnotations[0].title}\n`
tR += `URL: ${articleAnnotations[0].uri}\n\n`

for( a of articleAnnotations) {
  let tags = '';
  let user = '';
  if(a.tags.length>0) tags = ' ' + (a.tags.map(t=> '[['+ t + ']]')).join(' ');
  if(insertUser) user = ' _(' + a.user.replace('acct:','').replace('@hypothes.is','') + ')_';
  if(a.text) tR += `${a.text}\n—[[${user}]]\n\n`;
  tR += `## Source \n`;
  tR += `> ${a.highlight}[^1]\n\n`;
  tR += `[^1]: [${articleAnnotations[0].title}](${articleAnnotations[0].uri}) | [syndication link](tk) \n`;
  tR += `\n---\ntags: \nlinks: ${tags} \n- broader terms (BT):  \n- narrower terms (NT):  \n- related terms (RT):  \n- used for (UF) or aliases:  \nconnected ideas:  \nMOC:  \n\n---\n`;
}
%>

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.

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.

Course Announcement: The Art of Memory

I’m teaching an upcoming course on the Art of Memory. It’ll be an hour a week for five weeks starting on July 10th at 10:00 am on Saturday mornings. I’ll be using the online learning platform Hyperlink.Academy. I hope you’ll have the chance to join me and a group of people interested in exploring the topic.

I’ve had a personal memory practice since I was about eleven years old. I started with an old correspondence course from the 1940s that I found on my parents’ bookshelf. I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty expansive. I’ve realized that the original system I learned was only a small fraction of some of the powerful techniques that humankind has created and evolved over the last 20,000 years. Sadly, the majority of this knowledge, which was once commonplace, has disappeared in Western culture.

As a kid, I used the techniques as they pertained to magic and parlor tricks like counting cards and Rubic’s cubes. Later I learned how to bend and apply them other methods. I learned new methods and used them to memorize material for classes. I discovered I could remember vast troves of information both for pleasure and for work.

Since then, I’ve been researching into the history of mnemotechniques in Western culture. I’ve been uncovering the practice in other oral and indigenous cultures. As a result, I’ve seen and experimented with dozens of other methods. Some are better and more flexible than others.

It’s rare that I encounter people familiar with even one or two of these methods. There are lots of books and internet fora dedicated to some of them. They’re generally esoteric, incomplete, or both. On the whole, they’re difficult to discover, and often even harder to learn—much less practice.

In 2011, Joshua Foer ignited some interest with his book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. He describes the magic of some of the extant systems and nibbles around the edges. But he doesn’t detail how to enter the space and leaves the topic as esoteric as he began. His book motivates the “why”, but doesn’t describe the practical “how”.

I have seen and read scores of hucksterish and facile approaches. They usually outline a handful of memory “tricks” which some people use intuitively. Most touch on only one or two aspects of a much larger and richer memory tradition.

I’ve also followed some of the bigger memory-related sites online. They discuss many pieces of the whole. But they don’t help newcomers get a bigger picture of what is possible or how to start a practice. Most people want something more practical for daily life. Many start out with interest, but they don’t get very far before abandoning the idea because they don’t find the benefit.

I know there is an easier way.

Based on my experience, I’d like to provide a solid overview and history of the topic. My goal is to give beginners a practical entry point. We’ll look at and practice the bigger and most useful techniques. We’ll also discuss some of the lesser known methods and where they can be applied.

I encourage students to bring a practical list of things they’d like to memorize for use in the course.

After a few weeks, students should have a solid base of knowledge upon which to found a regular memory practice for the rest of their lives.

Those interested can read a copy of the syllabus. If you have any questions about the course or want to discuss if it’s right for you, please reach out.

If you can’t join us for the first cohort this summer, I’ll likely offer it again in either the Fall or Winter.

I look forward to seeing everyone in class.

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.

Some brief thoughts on I Annotate 2021 from today

I both learned and had a lot of fun at I Annotate 2021 today. Since annotation is something I do literally on a daily basis (pun intended), it’s nice to devote some significant time to thinking about the idea and the process as well as to see and hear how others practice it in a wide variety of settings.

For those catching up, I’ve posted a number of items, bookmarks, reads, notes, and annotations to my website today under the I Annotate 2021 tag. You can find copies of most of it mirrored on Hypothesis (along with others using the same tag) at #⁠IAnno21.

I’ve also started a Twitter list of folks who are participating there as well if you care to either follow the list and/or quickly follow other participants. Drop me a note if you know of some I’m either missing or ought to add to the list.

One of my favorite parts is seeing a variety of non-education specific people joining in the conversation.

I can’t wait to see what Ward Cunningham and others have to say about the Future of Note Taking tomorrow. It portends to be my favorite topic of the conference though I’ll reserve judgement until the end.

I can’t see a good/convenient place to arrange a Birds of a Feather (BoF) note taking hallway discussion in the Lounge in tomorrow’s schedule unless we do it at the very end of the day. This would mean potentially missing some people from Europe who I know would like to participate. Perhaps I’ll put something together either for Wednesday morning before the official program or during the 2:30-3:00 PM slot between some of the bigger sessions? Let me know if you’d like to participate. I’m also not sure about the potential limit of 4 people at each of the Lounge areas; if we need more space, perhaps we’ll adjourn to Zoom or a similar platform?

Differential Topology—Two quarter sequence at UCLA Extension for Fall/Winter 2021

It hasn’t been announced officially in the UCLA Extension catalog, but Dr. Mike Miller’s anticipated course topic for Fall 2021 is differential topology. The anticipated recommended text is Differential Topology: An Introduction by David B. Gauld (M. Dekker, 1982 or Dover, 1996 (reprint)).

The offering is naturally dependent on potential public health measures in September, which may also create a class limit on the number of attendees, so be sure to register as soon as it’s announced. For those who are interested in mathematics, but have never attended any of Dr. Miller’s lectures, I’ve previously written some details about his stye of presentation, prerequisites (usually very minimal despite the advanced level of the topics), and other details.

A few of us have already planned weekly Thursday night topology study sessions through the end of Spring and into Summer for those interested in attending. Just leave a comment with your contact information and I’ll be in touch with details.

I hope to see everyone in the fall.

An Euclidean Declaration

So far, my favorite part of Jordan Ellenberg‘s new book Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else is this footnoted observation:

“we hold these truths to be self-evident” wasn’t Jefferson’s line; his first draft of the Declaration has “we hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable.” It was Ben Franklin who scratched out those words and wrote “self-evident” instead, making the document a little less biblical, a little more Euclidean.

Creating Internal Backlinks for MediaWiki for Digital Gardeners

I’d spit-balled the general idea of showing backlinks or bidirectional links on a MediaWiki instance last year when thinking about and adding Webmention to one. Tonight I tinkered around and actually set it up on an instance. Within a MediaWiki, one can transclude all the backlinks from other pages to a particular page by adding a line for transcluding content like the following when editing a page:

{{Special:WhatLinksHere/PageName|limit=1000}}

You can see a live example of the practice on my user page on the IndieWeb wiki at https://indieweb.org/User:Boffosocko.com#Backlinks along with the code I used by clicking on the edit tab. The effect is rather nice, particularly when put into columns when there are lots of entries. I’ll have to look into automatically coding something like this into every page now, but being able to do it manually is most of the battle, right?

Doing this along with adding display for external webmentions quickly vaults MediaWiki to a solidly first class web-enabled digital commonplace book/digital garden/Memex/zettelkasten tool that can communicate with other similarly enabled tools. (Now if only Webmention were supported natively on MediaWiki… but there are definitely ways around this in the meanwhile.)

To go the extra mile, I know there’s the ability to interlink wikis with some custom syntax or even to show hovercards within a wiki. Both MediaWiki and Wikipedia already allow this after enabling page previews using hovercards in 2018. (I’ll have to check out if one could do hovercards across wikis as well!?!)

I’ve slowed down some of my experiments with my personal MediaWiki in preference to using Obsidian lately. Perhaps, for working in public, I’m going to have to resume some of my experiments and/or figure out a way to mirror the content?

Sister Heather Kristine in knowledge-management discord for Obsidian () for re-sparking idea.

Thoughts on Jeet Heer’s Can We Bring Back Blogging?

Jeet Heer recently wrote a piece (on Substack) entitled Can We Bring Back Blogging? where he waxed a bit nostalgic for the old blogosphere.

This makes me wonder: did blogging die off because the tools changed?

Everyone had their own space on the internet and the internet itself was the medium which opened up the conversation. I could use WordPress while someone else might have been on Blogger, Moveable Type, Live Journal, TypePad, or something they made in HTML themselves.

Now it’s all siloed off into tinier spaces where content is trapped for eyeballs and engagement and there’s not nearly as much space for expression. Some of the conversation is broken up into 280 character expressions on Twitter, some on Instagram, and now people are aggregating content inside Substack. Substack at least has a feed I can subscribe to and a free form box to add a reply.

I appreciate Jeff’s comment about the “flywheel of social media”. We’re definitely going to need something like that to help power any resurgence of the blogosphere. I also like to think of it in the framing of “thought spaces” where the idea of a blog is to give yourself enough space to form a coherent idea and make an actual argument. Doing that is much harder to do on a microblog where the responses are also similarly limited. It just feels so rude to post 250 words in reply to a sentence or two that probably needed more space to express itself too.

I suspect that if we want a real resurgence of thought and discourse online, we’re going to need some new tools to do it. As Friedrich Nietzsche famously conceded to his friend Heinrich Köselitz “You are right — our writing tools take part in the forming of our thoughts.”

It would help if we could get back to the bare metal of the internet in which to freely operate again. Substack at least feels close to that, though it could be much better.

Can we have a conversational medium that isn’t constrained by a handful of corporate silos that don’t allow conversation across boundaries? Can we improve the problems of context collapse we’re seeing in social media?

I’d like to think that some of the building blocks the IndieWeb movement has built might help guide the way. I love their idea of Webmention notifications that allow one site to mention another regardless of the platforms on which they’re built. Their Micropub posting tools abstract away the writing and posting experience to allow you to pick and choose your favorite editor. They’ve got multiple social reader tools to let you follow the people and content you’re interested in and reply to things directly in the reader. I presented a small proof of concept at a recent education conference, for those who’d like to see what that experience looks like today.

Perhaps if more platforms opened up to these ideas and tools, we might be able to return, but with a lot more freedom and flexibility than we had in the nostalgic blogosphere?

Yet, we’ll still be facing the human work of interacting and working together. There are now several magnitudes of order more people online than there were in the privileged days of the blogosphere. We’re still going to need to solve for that. Perhaps if everyone reads and writes from their own home on the web, they’re less likely to desecrate their neighbor’s blog because it sticks to their own identity?

There’s lots of work to be done certainly, but perhaps we’ll get there by expanding things, opening them up, and giving ourselves some more space to communicate?

Domains at Domains

I mentioned it as an anecdotal observation in my talk, so I went back and counted the appearances of online identifiers on the 159 re-mixable badges for the OERxDomains 21 Conference. I counted 91 twitter handles, 15 domain names, and 1 Instagram handle.

There were a couple people who used email addresses. A few people listed multiple twitter handles, and one enterprising person (not me!) listed three domain names.

Because the badges were customizable, people (or their animals and a few organizations) had the individual choice of what text to put on their personal badges.

Hopefully we’ll do better on using domain names at the next domains-related conference. 😜

A Twitter of Our Own at OERxDomains 2021 Conference

The Association of Learning Technology and Reclaim Hosting hosted the OERxDomains 2021 Conference last week.

They’ve just opened up the entire conference program with links to all of the sessions and videos for those who’d like to watch them.

You’ll see my presentation video embedded above. If you’d like you can also watch it in the custom player made for the conference, though I notice that it doesn’t replay the live chat.

Due to scheduling issues beyond my control just before the conference, I had to shorten my hour-long workshop down to a 20 minute talk. I intend to do a couple of separate hands-on workshops at upcoming Domain of Our Own meetups so that people can implement the moving pieces I demonstrate into their own websites. Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll let you know when they’re scheduled.

I’m hoping that when the next conference rolls around at least some of us can participate using our own domains and not need to rely on Twitter’s infrastructure.

I posted a link to the slides last week if you’d like to follow along that way and have links to some of the resources. (You should also have access to some of my notes/rough transcript as well as alt-text for some of the images included.) The slides still have some context and links to portions of the original version that got cut out.

For those unaware of the conference or topics, it was two days of great presentations about the topics of Open Education Resources (OER) and A Domain of One’s Own which is focused on giving teachers and students to websites and underlying technology of their own for daily personal and professional use. Those interested in the IndieWeb may particularly find the Domains track enlightening. Others interested in teaching, pedagogy, and publishing will get a lot out of the OER tracks.