Yesterday I participated in, or more accurately listened in on, a IndieWeb conversation on wikis and their relationship to blogs (session notes).

I didn’t feel like saying much so kept quiet, other than at the start during a (too long) intro round where I described how I’ve looked at and used wiki personally in the past. That past is almost as long as this blog is old. Blogs and wikis were to me the original social software tools.

  • Between 2004 and 2010 I kept a wiki as the main screen on my desktop, sort of like how I used The Brain in years before that. In it I kept conversation notes, kept track of who’s who in the projects I worked on etc. This after a gap in turn got replaced by Evernote in 201210
  • Between 2004 and 2013 I had a public wiki alongside this blog (first WakkaWiki, then WikkaWiki). In those years at one or two points I recreated it from scratch after particular intensive waves of automated spam and vandalism
  • Between 2004 and 2010 I had a wiki covering all the BlogWalk Salons I co-organised from 2004-2008
  • I had a script that let me crosspost from this blog to the wiki alongside it, so I could potentially rework it there. I don’t think that happened much really.
  • At one point I glued blogs, wiki and forum software together as a ‘Patchwork Portal‘ for a group I worked with. Elmine and presented about this together on BlogTalk Reloaded in 2006, showing the co-evolution of a budding community of practice and the patchwork portal as the group’s toolset. Afterwards it was used for a while in a ‘wiki on a stick’ project for education material by one of the group’s members.
  • Two years ago I re-added a wiki style section of sorts to this blog. As I’m the only one editing anyway, I simply use WordPress pages, as when I’m logged in everything has an edit button already. The purpose is to have a place for more static content, so I can refer to notions or overviews more easily, and don’t need to provide people with a range of various blogposts and let them dig out my meaning by themselves. In practice it is a rather empty wiki, consisting mostly of lists of blogposts, much less of content. A plus is that Webmentions work on my pages too, so bidirectional links between my and someone else’s blog and my wiki are easy.
  • With clients and colleagues over the years I’ve used Atlassian as a collaborative tool, and once created a wiki for a client that contained their organisation’s glossary. Current items were not editable, but showed sections directly below that which were. Colleagues could add remarks, examples and propose new terms, and from that periodically the glossary would be changed.

Stock versus flow, gardening and streams
Neil Mather, who has a really intriguing wiki as commonplace book since last fall, mentioned he writes ‘stream first’. This stock (wiki) and flow (blog) perspective is an important one in personal knowledge management. Zettelkasten tools and e.g. Tiddlywiki focus on singular thoughts, crumbs of content as building block, and as such fall somewhere in between that stock and flow notion, as blogging is often a river of these crumbs (bookmarks, likes, an image, a quote etc.) Others mentioned that they blogged as a result of working in their wiki, so the flow originated in the stock. This likely fits when blog posts are articles more than short posts. One of the participants said his blog used to show the things from his wiki he marked as public (which is the flip side of how I used to push blog posts to the wiki if they were marked ‘wikify’).
Another participant mentioned she thinks of blogs as having a ‘first published’ date, and wiki items a ‘last edited’ date. This was a useful remark to me, as that last edited date in combination with e.g. tags or topics, provides a good way to figure out where gardening might be in order.
Ultimately blogs and wikis are not either stock or flow to me but can do both. Wikis also create streams, through recent changes feeds etc. Over the years I had many RSS feeds in my reader alerting me to changes in wikis. I feel both hemmed in by how my blog in its setup puts flow above stock, and how a wiki assumes stock more than flow. But that can all be altered. In the end it’s all just a database, putting different emphasis on different pivots for navigation and exploration.

Capturing crumbs, Zettelkasten
I often struggle with the assumed path of small elements to slightly more reworked content to articles. It smacks of the DIKW pyramid which has no theoretical or practical merit in my eyes. Starting from small crumbs doesn’t work for me as most thoughts are not crumbs but rather like Gestalts. Not that stuff is born from my mind as a fully grown and armed Athena, but notes, ideas and thoughts are mostly not a single thing but a constellation of notions, examples, existing connections and intuited connections. In those constellations, the connections and relations are a key piece for me to express. In wiki those connections are links, but while still key, they are less tangible, not treated as actual content and not annotated. Teasing out the crumbs of such a constellation routinely constitutes a lot of overhead I feel, and to me the primary interest is in those small or big constellations, not the crumbs. The only exception to this is having a way of visualising links between crumbs, based on how wiki pages link to each other, because such visualisations may point to novel constellations for me, emerging from the collection and jumble of stuff in the wiki. That I think is powerful.

Personal and public material
During the conversation I realised that I don’t really have a clear mental image of my wiki section. I refer to it as my personal wiki, but my imagined readership does not include me and only consists of ‘others’. I think that is precisely what feels off with it.
I run a webserver on my laptop, and on it I have a locally hosted blog where very infrequently I write some personal stuff (e.g. I kept a log there in the final weeks of my father’s life) or stream of consciousness style stuff. In my still never meaningfully acted upon notion of leaving Evernote a personal blog/wiki combo for note taking, bookmarking etc might be useful. Also for logging things. One of the remarks that got my interest was the notion of starting a daily note in which over the course of the day you log stuff, and that is then available to later mine for additional expansion, linking and branching off more wiki-items.

A question that came up for me, musing about the conversation is what it is I am trying to automate or reduce friction for? If I am trying to automate curation (getting from crumbs to articles automagically) then that would be undesirable. Only I should curate, as it is my learning and agency that is involved. Having sensemaking aids that surface patterns, visualise links etc would be very helpful. Also in terms of timelines, and in terms of shifting vocabulary (tags) for similar content.

First follow-ups

  • I think I need to return to my 2005 thinking about information strategies, specifically at the collecting, filtering stage and the actions that result from it. and look again at how my blog and wiki can play a bigger role for currently underveloped steps.
  • Playing more purposefully with how I tie the local blog on my laptop to the publlic one sounds like a good experiment.
  • Using logging as a starting point for personal notetaking is an easy experiment to start (I see various other obvious starting points, such as bookmarks or conversations that play that role in my Evernotes currently). Logging also is a good notion for things like the garden and other stuff around the home. I remember how my grandmother kept daily notes about various things, groceries bought, deliveries received, harvest brought in. Her cupboard full of notebooks as a corpus likely would have been a socio-economic research treasure

10 reactions on “On Wikis, Blogs and Note Taking

  1. Really great to read your thoughts on this, Ton! 15+ years is a lot of experience. I also came across a post from Lilia Efimova related to the wiki/blog combo from a BlogWalk salon from 2004(!) – My dream wiki/weblog tool.

    I feel both hemmed in by how my blog in its setup puts flow above stock, and how a wiki assumes stock more than flow.

    I think you are right and that perhaps we are restricted by thinking about this in terms of wikis and blogs, because there is a lot of preconceptions associated with each of those. Perhaps thinking at the level of values/requirements, about something which can help us produce both stock and flow, can help us think about the process first, and then later comes the thinking about what tool or combo of tools can support us with that.

    I often struggle with the assumed path of small elements to slightly more reworked content to articles.

    I really like the ideas of patterns, constellations, Gestalts. Constellations is naturally quite close to the idea of connecting the dots! For my wikiblog to help me learn and grow my ideas, it definitely needs to help me see these constellations. I do sometimes wonder about the merits of making every concept as small as possible. Perhaps in the right context, yes, but I don’t feel that doing it dogmatically will always be helpful.

    visualisations may point to novel constellations for me, emerging from the collection and jumble of stuff in the wiki. That I think is powerful.

    I am hoping to explore a bit more how some of the mapping and bi-directional links in org-roam might help me with this.
    Perhaps the ultimate requirement is for something that helps us see the constellations of our thoughts? I think for me this will be part stream (for sharing/receiving ideas from others), part note-taking tool, part garden, part visualisation.
    Plus plenty of staring out of the window, away from tools!

  2. @ton what a small world, I was actually at that IndieWeb meetup about wikis & blogs last week (I’m Hibs), it’s what sparked my current renewed interest in wikis!One of the things I noticed you mention a few times in your post is the idea of combining bookmarking and wikis, which is the train of thought I’m now exploring, along with the idea of visualizing the relationships between wiki nodes (what you called a constellation). I’m trying to decide what that would look like for me.

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