This post is partially inspired by the Discord discussion that led @Oshyan to write his practical guide to choosing a task/project management tool outlining their major differentiating features. I’ll summarize the motivation for that guide:
There are too many task management apps. How do you choose one? You must identify your goals and needs first, then eliminate options. You can’t know what you want until you know what general features differentiate the tools. By outlining the range of existing options, the guide helps you make a personal list of your “must have” features to evaluate tools against.
I want to create something similar, but for personal knowledge management.
The post above is like a guide to the squircles in “The Idea Maze” diagram by Balaji S. Srinivasan:
Whereas I am more interested in documenting all the patterns as in A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander:
To crowdsource and document accumulated wisdom and knowledge about abstract features common to personal knowledge management tools into a central wiki like a glossary or encyclopedic resource. Specific tools are secondary or tertiary.
For example, key pages in this resource might be about Aliases or Backlinks. The Aliases page would answer questions like “What are aliases? What are aliases used for? How do/should they work?”
This resource is intended to:
- Help users understand what they need
- Help users understand what features each tool offers
- Help developers understand what users need
- Help developers understand how to design what users need
This project is not seeking to be:
- Just a list of tools, or even a list of features or differentiators
- User reviews of specific tools
Avoid reinventing the wheel
Features, requests, frequently asked questions, and documentation in one app are often the same as those in another app. The duplicated work and finding common understanding within each app and its community is a waste of time. What if we could at least speak the same language? What can we learn from each other, and from the past? Can we outsource explanations of common ideas to a single place?
These concepts, and the discussion of these concepts, and even their names, seem to be reinvented by every tool and community. Instead, we could all share one canonical resource.
Avoid confusion in communication
Concepts in PKM can be tricky to understand. For example, the idea of “aliases” causes confusion often. A recent feature request in the Logseq forum shows how hard it can be to reach common ground.
Many apps coin their own neologisms or terms of art, such as “tiddler” or “rem” (a needlessly confusing mass noun with no distinct plural form), or overload generic words like “thought”. While I have nothing against coining terms for truly original concepts, we can do better than the current tower of Babel.
Existing resources are insufficient
Lists and comparison matrices of tools exist (1, 2, 3), but are not really sufficient for describing and explaining the fundamental rationales and trade-offs of each feature in isolation. Also, those resources can never be comprehensive, their knowledge is easily outdated, and they are a burden to maintain.
A central resource doesn’t exist yet
There is a clear need for a tool-agnostic resource to document common knowledge. When people ask questions, we have no comprehensive resource to point at, so we repeat the same conversations.
It’s even hard to know if such a resource exists, because searching for things like “personal knowledge management wiki” or “PKM wiki” only gives results about specific wiki software solutions.
Challenge to developers of note-taking apps
Over time, more features are becoming table stakes. How many of these features can you implement in the next month or year? The challenge is not to implement as many of them as possible, but only what has value for your app. However, this project first needs to gain visibility for this challenge to have any effect.
This project is a significant and large undertaking, so to make it manageable, we must start small.
I am proposing that we focus on 1 letter per week. We effectively already started with “A is for Aliases.” We could continue with “B is for Backlinks” and end at “Z is for Zettelkasten” over 26 weeks. Eventually, the ABCs of PKM will help us all speak the same language.
To summarize what @Karthikk said:
We PKM enthusiasts comprehend the common language between all these apps. We sense they are all moving in the same direction, albeit at different paces and taking different routes. While each app tackles a specific issue with its own flavor of ideas and implementations, there are gaps and pitfalls. We can make an impact by bringing together the knowledge accrued by each app and making sense of them at a meta level. We already have good connections with various founders.
But we need people on board. The only way this will happen is if you contribute. Share this project wherever people are discussing or have discussed these concepts, and invite them to join.
We start by defining projects for each letter of the alphabet and creating the framework for people to jump in and start contributing. Enthusiasts and hackers of specific apps already know what’s happening within their own app space. Here we are more interested in tackling the feature problems at a meta level. By establishing groundwork and spreading the word, we could gain a lot of leverage or authority in this niche. If we complete the Aliases project, that could ignite the rest.