I got stuck over the weekend, so I totally missed Kevin Marks’ memex demo at IndieWebCamp’s Create Day, but it is an interesting little UI experiment.

I’ll always maintain that Vannevar Bush really harmed the first few generations of web development by not mentioning the word commonplace book in his conceptualization. Marks heals some of this wound by explicitly tying the idea of memex to that of the zettelkasten however. John Borthwick even mentions the idea of “networked commonplace books”. [I suspect a little birdie may have nudged this perspective as catnip to grab my attention—a ruse which is highly effective.]

Some of Kevin’s conceptualization reminds me a bit of Jerry Michalski’s use of The Brain which provides a specific visual branching of ideas based on the links and their positions on the page: the main idea in the center, parent ideas above it, sibling ideas to the right/left and child ideas below it. I don’t think it’s got the idea of incoming or outgoing links, but having a visual location on the page for incoming links (my own site has incoming ones at the bottom as comments or responses) can be valuable.

I’m also reminded a bit of Kartik Prabhu’s experiments with marginalia and webmention on his website which plays around with these ideas as well as their visual placement on the page in different methods.

MIT MediaLab’s Fold site (details) was also an interesting sort of UI experiment in this space.

It also seems a bit reminiscent of Kevin Mark’s experiments with hovercards in the past as well, which might be an interesting way to do the outgoing links part.

Next up, I’d love to see larger branching visualizations of these sorts of things across multiple sites… Who will show us those “associative trails”?

Another potential framing for what we’re all really doing is building digital versions of Indigenous Australian’s songlines across the web. Perhaps this may help realize Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly’s dream for a “third archive”?

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

[[wikilinks]] and #hashtags as a portal to cross site search

[[wikilinks]] and #hashtags as a portal to cross site search
[[wikilinks]] and could act as snippets for custom searches on various platforms. I’d like to be able to either click on a link or possibly right click and be presented with the ability to search that term (or nearby terms) on a variety of different platforms or trusted websites. This could be a useful form of personal search that allows me to find things within a much smaller space of knowledge I’m aware of. Sometimes the serendipity from the wisdom of the crowd via major search engines like Google, DuckDuckGo, or Bing may suffice, but shouldn’t I be able to more easily search a trusted personal group of hand curated sources?

Platforms like Wikipedia and Twitter already have these patterns as links to resources within themselves, but why couldn’t/shouldn’t a browser or browser plugin allow me an option when clicking on them to go to other resources outside of the expected (narrow) search provided? Perhaps I’m in my own wiki and a redlink [[wikilink]] obviously doesn’t exist on my site. Why shouldn’t I be able to click on it to go to another source like Wikipedia to find it?

These search resources can still be larger platforms like Google, Wikipedia, and Twitter, but could be subspecialized to include Twitter users I follow, smaller wikis I use (including my own), websites of people I follow in my feed reader or social reader (by searching on categories/tags or even broad text search). I should be able to easily define a multitude of resources for each custom search using common standards. This affordability could give me a much more refined and trusted set of search results, particularly in a post-fact society.

One could go further still and highlight a word or words on one’s browser screen and use these as a custom search query.

If built properly, I ought to be able to create “playlists” of sites and resources to search for myself and be able to share these with other friends, family, and colleagues who may trust those sources as well.

I’m curious what others think of this idea. What should the UI look like to make it clear and easy to use? What other things might one want to search on beyond plain text, hashtags, and wikilinks? Am I missing anything? What downsides or social ills might this pattern potentially entail?

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Questions as a tool for thought: “Only the questions, ma’am”

The Almighty Question

Asking questions is one of our most important tools for thinking. Questions force us to think. We’re wired to want to give them answers. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was the proximal question that started it down the slippery slope.

Socrates is still rightly famous for his pedagogic method featuring the almighty question. Creating good questions are one of the most valuable parts of the idea behind Cornell notes. Scientific research is all about asking solid questions.

The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.
—Claude Levi-Strauss

Teachers often analogize the period as the proverbial “stop sign” of a sentence, but they’re off base—the majority of periods are barely worth a rolling stop at best. I think it’s far more valuable to treat the question mark as an actual stop sign. It tells me to stop and actively think about what I’ve just read. What might the answer be? Is it answerable? Will the text indicate where to go? Will I be left hanging?

As I read, I always actively look out for the question marks in a text. When annotating, I’ll frequently highlight them in situ or in the margins with a simple “?”. What does the question mean for the current context? What might it mean for other tangential and even non-related contexts?

Questions can be used as rhetorical tools by the author to highlight what is important in their narratives or reasoning. Other times, unanswered questions in pieces are some of the most important and pressing portions of a text. They indicate what we don’t know. They indicate where we might try exploring, researching, and expanding our knowledge and place within the world.

Only the Questions

When evaluating whether or not a book will have value, it can be useful to know what sorts of questions the author is asking. Towards this end, I’ve recently come across a great digital tool called Only the Questions from Clive Thompson. It will parse through large bodies of text and extract out only the questions which were posed.

So feel free to throw in your favorite novel, your current non-fiction read, songs, poetry, speeches, religious texts, philosophy, even comics and see what comes out. Read the questions posed before you start. Once you’re done reading, revisit them to determine which ones were answered. Which ones were left as an “exercise for the reader”? Which ones can you provide the answers to now that you’ve read the text? Which questions were left open and will gnaw at your brain for years to come?

My fascination with questions has been super-charged by having such easy access to so many more of them. How will you use this tool?

Do you know of any other clever tools relating to questions? I’d love to know what they are and how you integrate them into your work.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Time lapse of The Dawn of Everything Book Club (End)

The final (?) time lapse of the contributions to the Obsidian vault for Dan Allosso’s The Dawn of Everything Book Club. I know I’ve still got hundreds of notes to process and add myself and I’m sure that there’s more that people may/might work on, but the club is officially over, so I thought I’d do one last video before the vault is “frozen”.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich