My business partner Paul every now and then spends a few hours on the phone or eagerly refreshing a website to ensure he is allowed to buy 1 or 2 cases of beer brewed by the Westvleteren Trappist monks of the Saint Sixtus abbey. Then he drives down to Belgium with a friend to pick up a dozen or two bottles at a time.

A while ago he got the opportunity to make an extra trip: due to the pandemic lockdowns not all who had made reservations were able to do the pick-up. He gave me and my other business partners a bottle.

The bottle of Westvleteren 12 is a dark beer coming in at 10% alcohol, so not something for the warm summer days when I received the bottle.

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Today however was a perfect fall day. Sunny and clear, not cold but nice enough, leaves falling, geese flying overhead to their winter destinations.
So today was the day to enjoy this beautiful dark beer, voted the best beer in the world a few times over. I’m not sure about that, wouldn’t want to make presumptions. But it was tasty, not too sweet, I like my beers on the more bitter end of the spectrum. Enjoyed it with a few nuts and some locally sourced Metworst (dried sausage).

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Westvleteren don’t have labels, they differ only in the color of their caps to indicate the type.

Having described my overall system and how I use Obsidian in more detail for daily work, task management and networked note writing, in this posting I turn to how I arrange for low friction flow in Obsidian.

An important functionality of Obsidian is that you can arrange different panes in which you can show files or other things. This is useful in various basic ways, e.g. to have a note you are editing open twice, once to edit, once seeing the preview. Or, as in the image below, to have a note open, with search results, a graph of connected ideas, and an overview of backlinks.

Basic pane layout in Obsidian, search results, a file, a network graph and backlinks
Basic pane layout in Obsidian, search results, a file, a network graph and backlinks

Every pane can be split horizontally and/or vertically, and again, up to the point it fills your entire screen. This allows me to for instance in a client conversation have my task list for that project, notes from our previous conversation as well as in-depth notes about the work, all in one overview, next to the file in which I’m taking notes from the ongoing meeting itself. While in parallel to all that I still have the ability to pull all kinds of other information or conceptual description during the meeting. This allows me to quickly bring up things in high detail, and easily switch between high-level and low-level things, organisational aspects and the topic at hand etc.

Where this functionality comes into its own is where you can save specific pane / screen set-ups and switch between them as different workspaces. Since recently there is a workspaces plugin that does this. You can also do it by hand or scripted in the background. The current set-up is always stored in a file called workspace in the Obsidian folder in your vault. It’s a JSON file describing the screen lay-out. If you copy and rename that, you have saved your workspace. If you put it back and reload Obsidian you have reinstated that workspace. The plugin does the same thing but smoothly from within Obsidian itself.

This means I can switch between workspaces at will, such as:

  • The daily start workspace (which includes today’s daylog, yesterday’s daylog, the root task list and month map, the quarterly goals and an #urgent search)
  • The weekly review workspace (quarterly goal list, weeklog, review template, root tasklist, monthmap)
  • The month map workspace (#urgent, root tasklist, last month map, this month map, quarterly goals)
  • The conference call workspace (Project main note, project task list, last call’s notes, new notes, project details)
  • Note writing (search, graph, pane with relevant other note(s), note being written)


The workspace I use at the start of the day: #urgent things on the left, today’s log and yesterday’s log in the middle, full taks list, quarterly goals, and month map on the right.

This list of handy workspaces may still grow over time I suspect for different aspects of my work.

There’s one more posting on my use of Obsidian left. It will be more of a summary, on what makes Obsidian work well for me, and why it fits my preferences.

Today I read a Guardian article about the iconic bookshop Shakespeare and Company, across the Seine from the Notre Dame in Paris. It made me remember our own trips to Paris, and Elmine browsing the mentioned bookstore. I thought about having a box of nice books sent to our home, as a souvenir now that we can’t visit other cities for inspiration ourselves. The website was clearly not equipped to deal with the Guardian readership taking the article as a cue to order something the same way I did, so it took all day to get through and place an order. (Peter, they also suggested ‘Ma vie à Paris‘ en francais, not in English though)

shakespeare and company
The Shakespeare and Company bookstore, photo by Zoetnet, license CC BY

While trying to order I thought about how there are other cities we love to visit. Could I order a box of interesting and beautiful things from several cities, and present them as gifts to E to travel in our mind? Cities such as Copenhagen. Maybe I thought, I can have something shipped from a Danish ceramics artisan we appreciate, Inge Vincents. We have several things she made in our home, mementos from different trips.

Thinware, Inge Vincents ceramics
Inge Vincents’ store on Jægersborggade, when we visited in 2012

But I cannot order with her, because Inge Vincents uses Instagram as her only sales channel online. Instagram doesn’t allow me to scroll past the first few images without an account, let alone interact with the poster to request a quote. It’s something E and I have seen with a wider variety of artisans. Do they realise their shops are within walled gardens where not all are able to visit? How many missed sales will they never notice?

Wednesday it was 18 years ago that I first posted in this space. The pace of writing has varied over the years, obviously intensively at the start, and in the past 3 years I have been blogging much more frequently again (with a correlated drop off in my Facebook activity to 0), more than at the start even.

This year is of course different, with most of the people I know globally living much more hyper local lives due to pandemic lockdowns. This past year of blogging turned out more introspective as a consequence. In the past few years I took the anniversary of this blog to reflect on how to raise awareness for grasping your own agency and autonomy online, and reading last year‘s it’s so full of activity from our current perspective, organising events, going places. None of that was possible really this year. I returned home from the French Alps late February and since then haven’t seen much more than my work space at home, and the changing of the seasons in the park around the corner, punctuated only with a half dozen brief visits to Amsterdam and two or three to Utrecht in the past 8 months. A habit of travel has morphed into having the world expedited to our doorstep, in cardboard packaging in the back of delivery vans.

Likewise my ongoing efforts and thinking concerning networked agency, distributed digital transformation and ethics as a practice has had a more inward looking character.

Early in the year we completed the shift of my company’s internal systems to self-hosted Nextcloud and Rocket.chat. When the pandemic started we added our own Jitsi server for video conferencing, although in practice with larger groups we use Zoom mostly, next to the systems our clients rolled out (MS Teams mostly). Similarly I will soon have completed the move of the Dutch Creative Commons chapter, where I’m a board member, to Nextcloud as well. That way the tools we use align better with our stated mission and values.

I spent considerable time renovating my PKM system, and the tools supporting it, with Obsidian the biggest change in tooling underneath that system since a decade or so. It means I am now finally getting away from using Evernote. Although I haven’t figured out yet what to do, if anything, with what I stored in Evernote in the 10 years I’ve been using it daily.

This spring I left Facebook and Whatsapp completely (I’ve never used Instagram), not wanting to have anything to do anymore with the Facebook company. I departed from my original FB account 3 years ago, which led to me blogging much more again, but created a new account after a while to maintain a link to some. That new account slowly but steadily crept back into the ‘dull’ moments of the day, and when the pandemic increased the noise and hysterics levels aided by FB’s algorithmic amplification outrage machine, I decided enough was enough. A 2.5 year process! It more or less shows how high the, mostly misplaced, sense of cost of leaving can be. And it was also surprising how some take such a step as an act of personal rejection.

I also see my Twitter usage reducing, in favour of interacting more on my personal Mastodon instance, through e-mail (yay for e-mail) and LinkedIn (where your interaction is tied to your professional reputation so much less of a ragefest). Even though I never dip into the actual Twitter stream, as I only check Twitter using Tweetdeck to keep track of specific topics, groups and interests. This summer I from close-up saw how the trolls came for a colleague that moved to a position in national media. Even if the trolling and vitriol was perhaps mild by e.g. US standards, it made me realise again how there was an ocean of toxic interaction just a single click away from where I usually am on Twitter.

On the IndieWeb side of things, I of course did not get to organise new IndieWebCamps like last year in Amsterdam and Utrecht. I’ve thought about doing some online events, but my energy flowed elsewhere. I’ve looked more inwardly here as well. I’ve been bringing my presentation slides ‘home’, closing my Slideshare account, and removing my company from Scribd as well. This is a still ongoing process. The solution is now clear and functional, but moving over the few hundred documents is something that will take a bit of time. I don’t want to move over the bulk of 14 years of shared slide decks, but want to curate the collection down to those that are relevant still, and those that were published in my blog posts at the time.

I am tinkering with a version of this site that isn’t ‘stream’ (blogposts in reverse chronological order), and isn’t predominantly ‘garden’ (wiki-style pseudo-static content), but a mix of it. I’ve been treating different types of content here differently for some time already. A lot never is shown on the front page. Some posts are never distributed through RSS, while some others are only distributed through RSS and unlisted on the site (my week notes for instance). Now I am working on removing what is so clearly a weblog interface from the front page. The content will still be there of course, the RSS feeds will keep feeding, all the URLs will keep working, but the front of this site I think should morph into something that is much more a mix of daily changes and highlighted fixtures. Reflecting my current spectrum of interests more broadly, and providing a sense of exploration, as well as the daily observations and occurrences.

Making such a change to the site is also to introduce a bit of friction, of a need to spend time to be able to get to know the perspectives I share here if you newly arrive here. I think that there should be increased friction with increased social distance. You’ll know me better if you spend time here. The Twitter trolling example above is a case of unwanted assymmetry in my eyes: it’s incredibly easy for total strangers to lob emotion-grenades at someone, low cost for them, potentially high-impact for the receiver. Getting within ‘striking distance’ of someone should carry a cost and risk for the other party as well. A mutuality, to phrase it more constructively.

Here’s to another year of blogging and such mutuality. My feed reader brings me daily input from so many of you, around the world, and I’m looking forward to many more distributed conversations based on that. Thank you for reading!

In this next part looking at my use of Obsidian I want to describe in more detail what notes I take and how I take them.

Taking better notes is the actual reason I started using Obsidian. Using Obsidian for my work, day logs, and task management came later, and that covers the hierarchical part of my PKM system. The note taking part is the networked part of it. The system works for me because it combines those two things and has them interact: My internal dialogue is all about connected ideas and factoids, whereas doing activities and completing projects is more hierarchical in structure.

I make four types of notes: Notions, Notes, Ideas and work notes.

That last type, work notes, are the project and task related notes. Things I write down during meetings, notes from interviews, or ideas on how to move forward in a project. These live in the hierarchical structure I described in Pt 2. They can be linked to Ideas, Notes or Notions, or may give rise to them, but they serve a purpose firmly rooted in ongoing work. They are always placed within the context, and folder, of a specific project. This post isn’t about those notes.

The other notes live in the non-hierarchical, networked part of my system. They are added as I go along based on things I think about and information I come across. They become part of the system and get context not by the folder they are placed in (as is the case with work notes in a project folder), they become part of the system because they get linked to existing notes that I associate them with. They are never not linked to at least one other note. The links over time form patterns, and emergent patterns lead to new insights. Those new insights get expressed in additional links and in new notes.

These networked type notes come in three shapes, Notions, Notes, and Ideas. Each has their own folder to keep them separated from other material.
The folders are named Garden of the Forking Paths (for Notions), Notes (which I may yet rename), and the Ideas-greenhouse. I will discuss them one by one.

Ideas-greenhouse
The ideas-greenhouse holds ideas I have, ideas that seem like something that can be put to action more or less quickly. They may be connected to notes in the other two folders, or to notes in the project folders. An example would be, that I jotted down the idea of making a digital garden for my company two months ago, triggered by a posting on how a community should have its governance documented in combination with having reread the communication handbook of Basecamp while thinking about remote working. It has since morphed into building a collective memory, and turned into a budding internal website documenting the first few things. This is useful when we are onboarding new people, and as a reference for all of us, so colleagues feel better equiped to decide something on their own or ask better questions if they do need someone else’s advice on a decision. So the ideas greenhouse contains ideas that can be acted upon after some tweaks. They may be refined over time, before such action, or connected to and recombined with other ideas in the greenhouse.

Notes
Notes, things I come across that strike me as interesting (filtered by my current favourite topics, but not exclusive to it, to aid serendipity), which I jot down while adding why I find it of interest. They’re more like general resources, in which I can keep/find examples, quotes or pointers, extended with some notes on what I think of them. Notes are things that may result from work notes (something someone said in a meeting, an example held up), or from feed reading (pointers to things, perspectives found in someone else’s blog), regular browsing and reading, or questions that I come up with. It’s a mix of stuff, and that’s why it still is called simply ‘Notes’. I may yet come up with a different name for them. An example would be a note I made last week, called SensRnet. SensRnet is the attempt at creating a national database of sensors placed in publice spaces, by local and national government entities. It came up in a meeting with a client. I jotted it down, adding a few links to its source code on GitHub published by the Dutch Cadastre, and links to articles written by some local governments about it. I also mention the outcome of a project my colleague Marc did a few years ago writing local regulations governing the placement of such sensors in public spaces, and doing an analysis from the legal viewpoint. That’s how a Note starts. I may copy some text into at some point, and summarise it over time, or add other context in which I encountered the same thing again. Notes are ‘factoid’ like, resources written down with the context added of how I found them and why I was interested. That’s different from Notions which are already at creation more about the future use it may have.

Notions and proto-notions
Notions are conceptual notes taken from my own work and experience mostly, and give my own perspective on these concepts. Most of the current well over 500 come directly in my own words from my blogposts of the past 18 years and presentations I gave during that time.

As they are more conceptual than factual I started calling them Notions to distinguish them from the other more general resource Notes. I keep these Notions in a folder called Garden of the Forking Paths (see the name explained)

Each Notion links to at least one other Notion, and while I write them I think about how what I am writing connects to other things already in the Garden of the Forking Paths (GotFP). I may also add additional links or tags, as I come across a Notion while pursuing something else.

Usually while writing a Notion, I show the graph of how it connects to other Notions/Notes alongside it. I set the graph to show not only the 1st level links, as that only shows the links already apparent from the text I have in front of me. I set it to show 3 steps out at the start, and reduce to two steps when there are more links. That way you see the entire vicinity of a Notion, and it may trigger additional perspectives and associations. It’s a way to leverage the ‘weak ties’ between Notions, which is the place where new information generally comes from.

Below you see two graphs for a Notion called ‘3D to navigate information’, gleaned from a 2006 blogpost I wrote. The first image is the graph for direct links, showing two links. The second image is the graph for a distance of 2 (links of links), and it shows a much wider picture. It may well be that seeing that graph being created alongside a Notion while I am writing it, leads to adding in another link.

The Notion ‘3D to navigate information’ is linked to two others, one on how the physical and information landscape overlap and correlate, and one about what I think would be useful functionality for social software tools.

If you look at the same graph with distance 2, the layer of additionally visible nodes show how my new Notion might be connected to things like online identity, using the environment to store memory and layered access to information. This triggers additional thoughts during the writing process.

I spin out notes and potential Notions from my project notes, as I encounter things in my work where some idea or thought jumps out. Those potential Notions I put in a folder called proto notions, inside my GotFP.

Processing notes and proto-notions
Both the notes and proto-notions I touch upon every now and then, further summarising them or adding explanation and perspective, rewording them, linking them to other notes (this is what Tiago Forte calls progressive summarising). Proto-notions may yet become Notes and not evolve into Notions. Some of what starts as a Note may become a Notion in the GotFP, but most will always remain notes. Most ‘factoids’, even if reworded and put into the context of why I find them interesting will always be Notes. Notions usually are about concepts pertaining to vision, values and practices. Linking them is a key part of those concepts, as it binds them into my network of concepts and thoughts, it puts them as atoms into the constellations that make up my perspective of things. Notes can be specific examples of Notions.

I previously described how I use certain tags and referencing and naming conventions for Notes and Notions.

Using Notions and Notes
I use Notions and Notes in my work directly, pulling them into project notes, by transclusion, or e.g. when writing project proposals. I regularly call them up in conversations when something related gets being discussed, so I can re-use parts of them.

I also use Notions to create new blogposts and presentations. Last month I gave two presentations which were entirely created from collating a few Notions and adding a line or two to have them flow over into each other. One was on government core (base) registers, the other on Ethics as a Practice. Two months ago I blogged about how I see the role of cities, and that too was constructed from Notions.

Next to actual output, I pull together Notions, and sometimes Notes in what I call ’emergent outlines’ (Söhnke Ahrens in his book about Zettelkasten calls them speculative outlines, I like emergence better than speculation as a term). These are brief lists to which I add Notions that I think together flow into a story. As I use transclusion I can read them using the underlying Notions. Emergent outlines are a lightweight and bottom-up way to write more, that has a much lower threshold than thinking up a writing project and sitting down trying to write it out.

Feedreading and Notes / Notions
Feedreading is a source for Notes, sporadically for Notions. I notice a rising need with myself for higher quality material as input. Blog reading is conversational to me, and for a long time I’ve been content with that conversation as it is. Now I more often want to look into things more deeply. A blog conversation is no longer mostly the endpoint and more frequently the starting point for an exploration, leading me down a trail of links deeper into a topic. In the past three months I’ve read more scientific articles than in the past 3 years I think. Scientific articles and other documents I keep in Zotero, and from my notes I reference the Zotero entry. This difference in how I perceive my feed reading will likely shift my focus to how to read those feeds much more ‘inside-out’, i.e. starting from a question or topic, and checking what specific people in my blogroll say about them. This is funcionality more or less missing from feed readers, so it may lead me to want to tinker some more.

This concludes the 4th part of describing how I use Obsidian. There’s one more coming, which is all about Obsidian’s functionality as a viewer on my markdown files: the use of workspaces.

Thirteen years ago today I blogged about Google launching Open Social, an API that would allow developers to tap into multiple social networks at once. It was supposed to be an answer to Facebook (who then had opened up their platform silo for developers to build small applications (since removed as an option). The NYT called it Google ‘ganging up’ on Facebook, the ‘new kid on the block’ (FB became globally available to all in the fall of 2006).

Seeing that 2007 posting in my ‘on this blog today in…’ widget I was curious to see whatever happened to Open Social. After the launch in 2007, I don’t remember hearing much about it anymore.

Following the link to Google’s own page on Open Social now gets a 404 error message (which isn’t different from 2007 when I blogged it, because news leaked before the launch, so that page wasn’t active yet. In between today and today in 2007 it has been a working link for some years though as the Internet Archive can attest) Wikipedia has the story of the years in between in more detail. The Open Social standard saw it latest release in August 2013, and then development stopped.

By the end of 2014 it was all transferred to the W3C’s Social Activity, the Social Web Working Group, and the Social Interest Group. All those three are defunct now too (the interest group closed in 2016, the working group and activity early 2018).

Yet, the still remaining W3C Working Group page has a photo with a number of familiar faces: core members of the IndieWeb community. And the Working Group delivered in their 2014-2018 period of activity the W3C standard recommendations for all the major building blocks of the IndieWeb (Webmentions, Micropub, Microsub, Activitypub, IndieAuth). The W3C activity wound down and reduced to a single W3C IRC channel #social that sees little activity. The log files of #social are hosted on indieweb.org.

So here we are, thirteen years down the road. It’s not Google but IndieWeb-enabled websites like mine ‘ganging up on Facebook’ instead. 😉