Captivated by Public Note Systems

I fell into an emacs hole the last couple of weeks. I’m liable to try any productivity system you put in front of me for at least a little bit, and emacs’ org-mode is pretty much the king. And I can definitely see the benefits of a fully developed org-based workflow, especially as someone who constantly writes things down in little notebooks and various other digital nooks.

The worst of these tools create piles of notes, impossible to organize. Slightly less worse are tools that trap my notes in proprietary systems I don’t control. The only real answer is plain-text, of course.

The most ambitious plain-text, analog note system I’ve ever seen is zettelkasten. Essentially, you write notes on index cards and assiduously tag and index them, keeping them forever in a slip box. Notes can refer to other notes in an ingenious analog addressing system.

But what kicked me fully down this particular rabbit hole was finding Ian Jones’ site. I stumbled on one of his articles about progressive summarization in org mode and basically found everything you see in this blog post. I think this is the last formal “blog post” that I’m going to write for this site. Okay, this is clearly not true as there are going to be date-related posts. But it’s pretty close; most of the updated content is going to be on the notes side.

First steps to public plain text: now

The first thing I did was create a “now” page for my site. What am I working on, in general, right now? What are my interests? Which topics, if you broached them with me, would I not shut up about?

Thanks to Derek Sivers for the great idea. My now page is listed on his now site:

So here’s what I’m doing right now. I’ve also got a note listing the projects I’ve got on my mind.

Next steps: public notes

I think Tom Critchlow has it right: this is a digital garden. Evergreen things will grow here that reflect my interests and what I discover along the way as these interests germinate, grow, mature, and fade away. The note itself is the result, not a means to some other end.

Tom’s wiki is an interesting structure, but not quite what I want. There are great design ideas there that I want to steal, so here is credit given.

Andy Matuschak’s notes are probably my gold standard at this point. I dig how interconnected they are, how the next note stacks on the previous, and how each note shows what links to this note. I’m excited to think about writing in my site and seeing what links develop in the browser as I write. Seems very powerful for preserving context and sending messages to my future self.

Buster Benson has a great notes section as well. I especially appreciate his concept of piles and the Codex Vitae. More ideas to steal for my site.

Joel Hooks has a page that basically outlines my current thinking. I think I’m going to transition my site away from a blog format and more towards a place where the knowledge I can offer is on display as I develop it.

Further in the future: A Personal Canon? An exocortex?

I was charmed to find Brendan Schlagel’s personal canon and I’m thinking about my own.