Yesterday, musing about traversing my social graph through blogrolls, I suggested using OPML’s include attribute as a way of adding the blogrolls of the blogs I follow in my own blogroll. Ideally using a spec compliant OPML reader, you’d be able to seamlessly navigate from my blogroll, through the blogroll of one of the blogs I follow, to the blogroll of someone they follow, and presumably back to me at some point.
It does require having an OPML version of such blogrolls available. Peter publishes his blogroll as OPML as I do, allowing a first simple experiment: do includes get correctly parsed in some of the Outliner tools I have?

Adding an include into my OPML file

This little experiment starts with adding to my list of RSS feeds I follow a reference to Peter’s own OPML file of feeds he follows. I already follow two of Peter’s RSS feeds (blogposts and favourites) which I now placed in their own subfolder and to which I added an outline node of the include type, with the URL of Peter’s OPML file.


Screenshot of my OPML file listing the RSS feeds I follow. Click to enlarge. On line 22 you see the line that includes Peter’s OPML file by mentioning its URL.

Trying three outliners

Cloud Outliner (which I in the past used to first create outlines that could then be sent to Evernote) does not parse OPML includes correctly upon import. It also doesn’t maintain any additional attributes from OPML outline nodes, just the text attribute.


Screenshot of Cloud Outliner showing incorrect import of my OPML file. Click to enlarge.

Tinderbox like Cloud Outliner fails to load OPML includes as per spec. It does load some of the attributes (web url, and description, next to the standard text attribute), but not any others (such as the feed url for instance, the crucial element in a list of RSS feeds). It looks like it only picks up on attributes that are directly mappable on pre-existing default attributes within Tinderbox itself.


Screenshot of how Tinderbox imports my OPML file. It keeps some attributes but ignores most, and for includes just mentions the URL

Electric Drummer does correctly import the entire OPML outline. As Dave Winer is both the original creator of the OPML specification and more recently of the Electric Drummer app, this is consistent. Electric Drummer picks up on all attributes in an imported OPML file. Upon import it also fetches the external OPML files listed as includes from their URLs, and fully incorporates them into the imported outline.


Screenshot of Drummer, which incorporates the content of Peter’s OPML file I linked to in my OPML file. Click to enlarge.

Opening up options for tinkering

So at least there is 1 general outliner tool that can work with includes. It probably also means that Dave’s OPML package can do the same, which allows me to tinker at script level with this. One candidate for tinkering is, where a blogger has a blogroll, just not in OPML, to use the OPML package to convert scraped HTML to OPML, and include it locally. That allows me to traverse sets of blogrolls and see the overlap, closed triangles, feedback loops etc. I could also extend my own published blogroll by referencing all the published blogrolls of the bloggers I follow. For you my blogroll would then support exploration and discovery one step further outwards in the network. In parallel I can do something similar for federated bookshelves (both in terms of books as in terms of lists of people who’s booklists and their lists of people you follow)

Favorited dev Notes for Markdown in RSS by Dave Winer

As part of celebrating twenty years of RSS, Dave Winer adds the ability to incorporate markdown in RSS feeds. Essentially this was always possible, but there was no way to tell a RSS reader that something was to be interpreted not as HTML but as Markdown. Doing this makes it possible to provide both HTML and Markdown in the same feed, if Markdown is e.g. the way you’ve written a posting and want to be able to also edit it again in Markdown, and not in HTML.

After my hiatus I think this is worth an experiment to see if I can generate an RSS feed directly from my markdown notes on my local system. Just like I already can generate OPML feeds and blogposts or website pages from my notes. Chris Aldrich recently asked about using WordPress and Webmention as a way of publishing your own notes with the capability of linking them to other peoples notes. Could RSS play a role there too? Could I provide selected RSS feeds for specific topics directly from my notes? Or for specific people? For them to read along? Is there something here that can play a role in social sharing of annotations, such as Hypothes.is provides? I need to play with this thought. RSS is well understood an broadly used, providing not just HTML but also Markdown through it sounds like a step worth exploring.

In reply to Call for Model Examples of Zettelkasten Output by Chris Aldrich

Even while on hiatus I obviously cannot ignore Chris Aldrich’s call for examples of output creation systems and the actual output created with Zettelkasten style note card systems. For two reasons. One is that I fully agree with him that having such examples publicly visible is important. The other is that I recognise his observations about the singular focus on system design and tweaking often being a timesink precluding outputs (with the loudest voices often being utterly silent on output).

Here’s a first list of outputs from my system, without the receipts though as I’m writing this away from home with limited tools. After the list I’ll make a few general observations as well.

  • I have created 2 or 3 slide decks for client internal and conference presentations from my conceptual notes. First searching for notes on the topic, and the contextual factors of where the slide deck will be used. Then gathering the findings in what I call an ’emergent outline’ (Ahrens calls them speculative outlines). Or perhaps I already have an overview of sorts in the form of an ‘elephant path’ (a map of content, or annotated topical index) which normally help me navigate.
  • I have written blogposts directly from my notes. This is now easier than before, since earlier this year I created a way of publishing to this site from my internal notes. This allows me to write in a note, linking internally or including, all within the notes environment and then push the result out to the website.
  • I created some new personal insights from new connections within my notes. Not sure if that counts towards Chris’ definition of outputs. This results in new notes where the edge, i.e. the newly found link between two notions, gets expressed as a note in its own right. The first such connection (between my notions of Maker Households and Networked Agency) happened when I was about 35 notes ‘in’.
  • For a recent panel at a conference I collated my talking points from my notes
  • I use my notes a lot in work conversations, pulling up concepts as needed. I used to do this to pull up facts and earlier meeting notes with the same participants. Now I also use this to provide richer input into the conversations themselves, including pointing to sources and references. This emerged during the many video calls in the pandemic lockdowns, where it was easy to pull up additional material on one of my screens. Now that I have more meetings in person again, I find I still do this automatically. Whatever material I mention I also link in my own meeting notes. This has been remarked upon by conversation partners as a valuable thing.
  • I have some elephant paths I regard as output in their own right. One currently important to me is the Practices elephant path. It gives an overview of things I want to approach as a practice (which I place somewhere on the spectrum between habit/routine on one end and literacy (in the Rheingoldian sense of skill plus community) on the other end. Practices are the sweet spot to me for (groups of) knowledge workers to implement fields of theory in their own daily work
  • I maintain a client website directly from my notes on EU digital and data legislation. I have conceptual notes for all the regulations involved and maintain summaries alongside them. Those summary notes are automatically synced to GitHub and then published on Github pages as well as the client’s own domain. These same summaries also serve as outline and text for my frequent presentations on this subject, where the slidedeck is kept up to date from the notes that I am certain are always up to date because they are the notes I work with daily.

Some other observations:

What constitutes output? The ‘Luhmann had 90k notes and wrote 70 books’ mantra makes for a rather daunting benchmark to be compared against. I propose we count outputs that have utility to its creator. For me then there are two types of outputs from my notes. A group that is the result of better project tracking, allowing me to pick up where I previously left of, which is a valuable ratcheting effect. Me building my own micropub tools resulted from such ratcheting in 15 minute increments. This group of outputs results from notes, but not the conceptual notes of my ‘Garden of the Forking Paths’ (ie my Zettelkasten style collection). The other group results from re-using and re-arranging the material in my ‘Garden of Forking Paths’ and the example outputs listed above follow from it. In a sense all my work is an output of my notes and my experience, and my tools have always been aiding in my work. Yet there is a qualitative difference.

I have used notes based PKM for over two decades, and in hindsight it was mostly focused on reporting conversations, project stuff, conversations with myself, and many many examples of things I thought relevant. Those I would tag extensively, and I think most of those historic tags would now be their own conceptual notes, expressing the communality of the tagged examples and material, or expressing the link/edge between two or three of the tagged source notes as a notion.

Many of my conceptual notes (now 1000+) and ideas plus non-conceptual atomic notes (another 500 or so) stem from ‘atomising’ my archive of blogposts, and my presentations of the last 10-15 years. Many notes are thus created from earlier outputs themselves.

I recognise what Stephen Downes remarked, that creating the notes is the valuable part towards pattern recognition, and making output needs further gathering of new material. In part this is because adding things to my notes is aiding memory. Once it’s noted it’s no longer novel, and in that sense looses part of the surprisal (informational worth) that led to its creation in the first place. If outputs in my own mind need to be novel, then my notes are limited in value. (This goes back to earlier conversations of the 90% is crap heuristic which I see as feeding impostor syndrom. Outputs imo highly connected to impostor syndrom.

I don’t think I have actual established processes for outputs yet, I’d like to, and I don’t yet feel outputs created suggest as-effective-as-can-be processes yet. Maybe that is because I have not been really tracking such outputs and how I created them. I have become better at starting anything with interrogating my notes first, and putting them together, before starting exploration further afield. Often I find I already have some useful things, which gives a headstart in exploring anything new: there’s something to connect new findings to.

I do not think my current notes could yield something along the lines of a book, other than the nonsense kind of a single idea padded out with anecdotes. I also feel the method of information collection isn’t good enough to base any work on academically. This goes back to the earlier remark as to what qualifies as output of good enough quality.

The interwebs have been full off AI generated imagery. The AI script used is OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 (Wall-E & Dali). Images are created based on a textual prompt (e.g. Michelangelo’s David with sunglasses on the beach), natural language interpretation is then used to make a composite image. Some of the examples going ’round were quite impressive (See OpenAI’s site e.g., and the Kermit in [Movie Title Here] overview was much fun too).


One of the images resulting from when I entered the prompt ‘Lego Movie with Kermit’ using Dall-E Mini. I consider this a Public Domain image as the image does not pass the ‘creativity involved’ threshold which generally presupposes a human creator, for copyright to apply (meaning neither AI nor macaques).

OpenAI hasn’t released the Dall-E algorithm for others to play with, but there is a Dall-E mini available, seemingly trained on a much smaller data set.

I played around with it a little bit. My experimentation leads to the conclusion that either Dall-E mini suffers from “stereotypes in gives you stereotypes out”, with its clear bias towards Netherlands’ more basic icons of windmills (renewable energy ftw!) and tulip fields. That, or it means whatever happens in the coming decades we here in the Rhine delta won’t see much change.

Except for Thai flags, we’ll be waving those, apparently.

The past of Holland:

Holland now:

The innovation of Holland:

The future of Holland:

Four sets of images resulting from prompts entered by me into the Dall-E mini algorithm. The prompts were The past of Holland, Hollond, the innovation of Holland, the future of Holland. All result in windmills and tulip fields. Note in the bottom left of the future of Holland that Thai flags will be waved. I consider these as Public Domain images as they do not pass the ‘creativity involved’ threshold which generally presupposes a human creator, for copyright to apply. Their arrangement in this blog post does carry copyright though, and the Creative Commons license top-right applies to the arrangement. IANAL.

Robin Sloan has proposed a protocol, Spring ’83, that serves publisher’s content like a magazine stand. You see a board of cards, where cards get replaced whenever its publisher releases a new one. He aims to ditch the timeline experience it seems, partly considering form and content as pieces of the same expression, as well as a way to maintain space for voices that do not express themselves every other minute but way more infrequently.

A Beijing news stand with spread out mags competing for your attention. Image by Peter Ashlock, license CC BY

Others in my feedreader have commented on it in the past days and it gets me thinking. Not in any structured way yet. No idea yet therefore what I think about this in a form I can narrate, but some associations come to mind.

I do like the notion of small cards. Makes me think of Hugh’s Gaping Void back-of-a-business-card drawings, and of tiny zines made as a folded single sheet chapbook. The set limit creates friction for creativity to feed on. Yet, the built in size limit, when putting more of them together on a ‘board’ may well mean the same drawbacks as in Twitter, aiming for the highest attention grabbing value. Magazines in a kiosk do the same thing after all, using the cover to try and lure you into reading them. Look at that image above. Does that make a board of cards just a collection of adverts for your attention? Reading Maya’s annotations, there too the scarcity mindset a board of such cards might introduce is raised. Are there other ways to thread such cards?

The focus on p2p distribution, and on making it easy to put out there, chimes with me in terms of networked agency and in terms of low thresholds for such agency.

The notion where softer voices have the same claim to space as louder ones (i.e. more frequently posting ones) I appreciate a lot. Kicks Condor in his Fraidycat feedreader provides neat sparklines indicating frequency of posting, and allocates every single author the same space by displaying their last few postings regardless of timelines. That points back as well to my use of social distance (not the pandemic kind!) as a method to order presentation of feeds I follow, in a person focused way, and less a timeline. I follow people’s expressions, not blogs as publications. It also makes me cringe at the use of the word publisher in Robin Sloan’s explanation.

À propos following people, Maya also mentions how she likes to see friction between different strands of her online expression (e.g. blogposts, and Mastodon messages). Such different strands have different qualities to them, and having them in one place, like an IndieWeb enabled site may put them too closely or too obviously together. The notion of friction is important I think when getting to know someone online in more detail by following more of their online traces. I follow people, and for a good number I follow multiple traces (photos, posts, tweets e.g.). Combining those traces needs friction I feel, getting to know someone better from their expressions needs a certain effort. That’s about me having something at stake in building interaction. Blogs are distributed conversations to me and you need to invest your presence in such conversations. Connecting with others should be extremely easy in terms of being able to connect, but certainly not effortless in terms of time spent on the actual connecting. Way back when (2006), Lilia and I had conversations about this, and it’s still relevant now. My site purposefully introduces friction to readers: casual visitors see only a fraction of the postings, some content is only shared through RSS and not findable in the site, some content is both not listed nor shared through feeds etc. All the fragments are still in the same place, mine, though, and not farmed out to various silos to create the same effect of deliberate fragmentation. It means I’ve greatly reduced the friction for me as author using IndieWeb, not eroded the needed friction for readers. Someone who puts in the effort will be able to gather all my traces in their reader.

Tracy Durnell has some remarks, and compares Spring ’83 to IndieWeb efforts and discusses the visual aspects. Her suggestion showing a blogroll as cards, not as a list, is a good one I think, perhaps showing the last three postings the Fraidycat way? I’ve seen others do it as a river of news, but that once more provides additional amplification to the loudest authors.
Louis Potok takes a first look under the hood.

Over in the IndieWeb community we were having a conversation about how easy it should be for people to create their own websites (also for small local businesses etc.) Where making the site is basically the same as writing the text you want to put on it. Social media silos do that for you, but out on the open web?

Aaron mentioned that one a tech conference, someone had a linktree site on the last slide for people to find more info, because it was the easiest way apparently to make a small site just for that info, by using a third party silo.
Tantek then said that is a good summary of the use case:

easiest way to make a small site

Seeing that single line on my screen, I was mildly shocked that my own first instinctive answer to “easiest way to make a small site” is “write my own html in Notepad“. That answer is almost 30 years old, it’s how I made my very first web page. And handwriting html is still my first answer! No other path immediately comes to mind. Of course, I wouldn’t want to hand write this weblog in html, but ‘small site’ as in a few simple pages, yes, I would do that by hand in some plain text app like Notepad.

Can it be that three decades on the closest answer to ‘making a website is as easy as making a plain text note’ is still hand written html? Dave Winer uses an outliner to blog, and more recently created Drummer for the rest of us, that for him at least means blogging is as simple as writing plain text. I can post to this blog from my plain text notes on my laptop (from Obsidian using micropub), but I use markdown to style it a bit. What else is out there?

Can making your web page be as simple as writing a note you put on the door or in the window of your business?
The answer can’t really still be Notepad, can it?


No not really, also because I don’t use Windows…but it could still be, and it was back in ’93. Image by John Lester, license CC BY