Extending my note / notion collection in the past three months has emerged a new tagging practice.

I’ve started tagging notes that I encounter with the keywords that led me to wander through the notes and encounter such a note.

A significant difference between my current notes collection and my previous use of Evernote for it, is the ease of linking between notes. Adding new notes means linking them to relevant existing ones. Following those links later means I end up in notes from a thought or association that led me down a path. If one of those notes strikes me as relevant I find myself adding tags based on the thoughts or associations that led me there.

This is an extension of my existing tagging practices, as it adds traces of my searches through the collection of notes, or rather my findlings.

Existing tagging practices already included adding tags naming the reasons and associations why I made the note, what triggered my interest. (An article ‘the 10 biggest tech developments to watch in 2021’ might be tagged ‘prediction’ and ‘2021’ e.g.)
I also use as tags the terms with which I think my future self should be able to find them, tags allowing search in different languages (I write notes in 3 language, but have notes with parts in at least 4 other languages which I can read ok enough to keep the original), and tags denoting some time, status or action (urgent, waiting, sharpen etc, year/month/day of creation) which taken together means usually tags are words that do not feature in the content of the note otherwise (which would already surface in a full text search). I don’t use tags as objective descriptors much, as mostly those terms will be in the article or note already, and they don’t add much meaning for me other than as pretend categories.

The way I look at other people’s tags is how their use of different words than mine for the same things is an expression of socio-professional distance. Others likely will be using their own jargon for things, and the more different that is, the more likely you are part of a different community than the circles I operate in. This lets me use tags as a pivot to find other people and communities of interest and connected to my own current interest. (Allowing me to e.g. extend my feed reading by social distance to additional voices unlike the ones I already follow. This was what I appreciated in the Delicious bookmarking service, as it showed you the tags used for your bookmarks by others, and let you navigate to their collection and profile).

With the new tagging practice, adding tags to a note over time based on how/why I found that note will allow me to see how my own language evolves. This leads I think to a similar measure of socio-professional distance, but now between my past, current and future selves. It will be highly interesting to watch over time if that happens.

Tags to me are a tool to aid associative emergence of connections and meaning, and I think this new tagging practice I find myself adopting will aid in that.

Ever since the Dutch government uttered the words “herd immunity” after the UK gov framed it as meaning doing mostly nothing, internationally the Netherlands is mentioned in lists of countries that are supposedly taking a wait and see approach. That isn’t what’s happening of course. The country is in lock-down all but name, but as is the Dutch way it is implemented as an appeal for collaboration and solidarity (and people are indeed complying), and isn’t implemented heavy handed from the top down yet. It doesn’t mean that in the background there are no emergency decrees signed allowing the enforcement of every measure by police and even military police (it’s just that these are done on regional level, signed by the mayors in that region, so it isn’t on the radar of most people these things have been signed.) It also doesn’t mean no enforcement in practice.

One such example is Tomas Pueyo ‘Hammer and Dance’ piece. I’d have commented there, but it needed jumping to all kinds of hoops to be allowed to comment on Medium, and posting it here anyway is easier for future reference. He writes “Some countries, like France, Spain or Philippines, have since ordered heavy lockdowns. Others, like the US, UK, Switzerland or Netherlands, have dragged their feet, hesitantly venturing into social distancing measures.” “Governments around the world today, including some such as the US, the UK, Switzerland or Netherlands have so far chosen the mitigation path.

The French and Dutch measures are actually much on the same level, only with different cultural accents on the role of central authority, and from what I can see the same is true for Switzerland.

The Netherlands isn’t following a ‘mitigation strategy’ in the ‘weak tea’ meaning in the article as such, but doing much as Pueyo’s article suggests. Bring down the transmission rate, and then release and tighten the measures for the coming months to keep the transmission rate low.

Two quotes from the director of the infectious disease unit (RIVM) who is in charge from an interview (in Dutch).
Based on infection models we use, we estimate the effectiveness of interventions. If we add up the current interventions we conclude from those models that the transmission rate is reduced sufficiently. That is the most important goal.. (Dutch: “Op grond van de infectiemodellen die we hanteren, kunnen we het effect van de interventies inschatten. Als we de huidige interventies optellen, volgt uit die modellen dat de overdracht van het virus voldoende teruggaat om de verdere toename te doen afnemen. Dat is het belangrijkste doel,….”)

…That is why we must align everything, and next to interventions research their actual impacts. It could be we can reduce measures, and later need to introduce them again. It could also be we’ll introduce additional measures, it can go both ways. (Dutch: Daarom moeten we alles zorgvuldig afstemmen op elkaar en naast interventies ook onderzoek doen naar het effect daarvan. Het zou kunnen dat maatregelen versoepeld worden en later weer worden ingevoerd. Het zou ook kunnen dat er dan nog éxtra maatregelen volgen, het kan beide kanten op.”)

Actual behaviour of people will determine this mostly he adds. In short, it’s the ‘hammer and dance’ suggested in the linked article.

In conclusion, what you assume to see from further afield based on choice of words (‘herd immunity’ e.g.), headlines and your own cultural reference points, isn’t necessarily what’s happening on the ground. The same is true here inside the country, many people are making very different assumptions based on what they perceive the RIVM and government doing or not doing. Part of it is that the RIVM isn’t very pro-active in getting information and data out there to put it mildly. The interviews with its director in the past week have provided me with much more clues and understanding of what they are working on than their press communiques or their own website. I assume the director has better things to do than give interviews, so there’s room for much more pro-active disclosure and transparency, as it would free up his time at least. RIVM doesn’t have a knowledge, data or decisiveness issue, they’re clearly following every bit of available science, it has a communication and transparency issue. Key question for me is what we can do to assist RIVM in taking on their data publication and communication needs.

Two blogging connections of old have recently restarted their blogs. First, all of a sudden a feed that had been long dormant in my reader showed (1), meaning a new unread post was available. It turned out to be the return to blogging of Luis Suarez after a 3 year hiatus, who has been in my feed reader since I began working in knowledge management.

Today I came across a posting by Lee Lefever on LinkedIn where he says

I recently decided to resurrect my personal website, leelefever.com, which had languished for years as a static site. The site started as a blog in 2003 and I blogged there until 2007. The good old days!
This time around, I built the site on WordPress … And of course, the new site has a blog and I am dedicated to being a blogger at leelefever.com once again.

Lee is also a longtime blogging friend, back to the BlogWalk days (2004/2005). I followed his blog, his global travel blog with his wife Sachi, and then their company’s blog. Looking forward to reading new postings from him.

Both run their sites on WordPress. So that’s an opportunity to tell them about IndieWeb for WordPress and hopefully convince them to add functionality to their sites like Webmentions.

The last 2 years have seen a small but noticable movement back to blogging. I picked up my own blogging pace late 2017, first motivated by a desire to escape the bottomless pit of Facebook. It’s good to see the ongoing trickle of the return to blogging. And of new blogging voices emerging.

I find there’s a completely new need to explain things to new groups that we’ve thought explained and broadly known. Things like the value of having your own domain and site, but also things like unconference formats, Creative Commons licenses, and how much you can do yourself outside of the silos. Having more of the earlier voices back in the chorus to help do that, and do it in our current context, is great.

I’m intrigued by Zettelkasten, that Roel Groeneveld describes in his blog. Zettelkasten means filing cards cabinet, so in and of itself isn’t anything novel. It’s all in the described process of course, which originates with systems thinker Niklas Luhmann. I recognise the utility of having lots of small notes, and the ability to link them like beads on a necklace, which is much like the ‘threading cards‘ I mentioned here recently. A personal knowledge management process is extremely important, and needs to be supported by the right tools. Specifically for more easily getting from loose notions, to emergent patterns, to new constructs. Balancing stock and flow. Zettelkasten coming from a paper age seems rather focused on stock though, and pays less attention to flow. Crucially it encourages links between notes, a flow-like aspect, but to me often the links carry more meaning and knowledge than the notes/nodes it connects. The reason for linking, the association that makes a link apparent is an extremely valuable piece of info. Not sure how that would find its place in the Zettelkasten process, as while links exist, they’re not treated as a thing of meaning in their own right. Also some of the principles of the process described, especially atomicity, seem prone to creating lots of overhead by having to rework notes taken during a day. That type of reworking is I think best done in the style of gardening: when you are searching for something, or passing through some notes anyway, you can add, change, link, split off etc.

Filing...Tossed out filing card cabinets of the Manchester City Library (NH/USA), image license CC BY SA

In terms of tools, I am on the look out for something other than Evernote that I currently use. What I like about it is that it ‘eats anything’ and a note can be an image, text, web page, book, pdf, or a drawing, which I can add tags to, and can access through scripts from e.g. my todo tool, etc. Zettelkasten is fully text based in contrast. As a strong point that means it can be completely created from plain text files, if you have a tool that allows you to create, edit, search and put them in an overview extremely fast. But very often ideas are contained in images as well, so dealing with media is key I think. The Zettelkasten tool The Archive is worth a try, but lacks precisely this type of media support. Devonthink on the other hand is way over the top, and let’s one loose oneself in its complexity. The Archive keeps things simple, which is much better, but maybe too simple.

UntitledProbably the top left gives the most realistic information. Image by Brooke Novak, license CC BY

An organisation that says it wants to work data driven as well as sees ethics as a key design ingredient, needs to take a very close look imho at how they set KPI’s and other indicators. I recently came across an organisation that says those first two things, but whose process of setting indicators looks to have been left as a naive exercise to internal teams.

To begin with, indicators easily become their own goals, and people will start gaming the measurement system to attain the set targets. (Think of call centers picking up the phone and then disconnecting, because they are scored on the number of calls answered within 3 rings, but the length of calls isn’t checked for those picked up)

Measurement also isn’t neutral. It’s an expression of values, regardless of whether you articulated your values. When you measure the number of traffic deaths for instance as an indicator for road safety, but not wounded or accidents as such, nor their location, you’ll end up minimising traffic deaths but not maximising road safety. Because the absence of deaths isn’t the presence of road safety. Deaths is just one, albeit the most irreparable one, expression of the consequences of unsafety. Different measurements lead to different real life actions and outcomes.

Gauges‘Gauges’ by Adam Kent, license CC BY

When you set indicators it is needed to evaluate what they cover, and more importantly what they don’t cover. To check if the overall set of indicators is balanced, where some indicators by definition deteriorate when others improve (so balance needs to be sought). To check if assumptions behind indicators have been expressed and when needed dealt with.

Otherwise you are bound to end up with blind spots, lack of balance, and potential injustices. Defined indicators also determine what data gets collected, and thus what your playing field is when you have a ‘data driven’ way of working. That way any blind spot, lack of balance and injustice will end up even more profoundly in your decisions. Because where indicators mostly look back in time at output, data driven use of the data underlying those indicators actively determines actions and thus (part of) future output, turning your indicators in a much more direct and sometimes even automated feedback loop.

CompassOnly if you’ve deliberately defined your true north, can you use your measurements to determine direction of your next steps. ‘Compass’ by Anthony, license CC BY ND

With my company we now have fully moved out of Slack and into Rocket.Chat. We’re hosting our own Rocket.Chat instance on a server in an Amsterdam data center.

We had been using Slack since 2016, and used it both for ourselves, and with some network partners we work with. Inviting in (government) clients we never did, because we couldn’t guarantee the location of the data shared. At some point we passed the free tier’s limits, meaning we’d have to upgrade to a paid plan to have access to our full history of messages.

Rocket.chat is an open source alternative that is offered as a service, but also can be self-hosted. We opted for a Rocket.chat specific package with OwnCube. It’s an Austrian company, but our Rocket.chat instance is hosted in the Netherlands.

Slack offers a very well working export function for all your data. Rocket.chat can easily import Slack archives, including user accounts, channels and everything else.

With the move complete, we now have full control over our own data and access to our entire history. The cost of hosting (11.50 / month) is less than Slack would already charge for 2 users when paid annually (12.50 / month). The difference being we have 14 users. That works out as over 85% costs saving. Adding users, such as clients during a project, doesn’t mean higher costs now either, while it will always be a better deal than Slack as long as there’s more than 1 person in the company.

We did keep the name ‘slack’ as the subdomain on which our self-hosted instance resides, to ease the transition somewhat. All of us switched to the Rocket.chat desktop and mobile apps (Elmine from Storymines helping with navigating the installs and activating the accounts for those who wanted some assistance).

Visually, and in terms of user experience human experience, it’s much the same as Slack. The only exception being the creation of bots, which requires some server side wrangling I haven’t looked into yet.

The move to Rocket.chat is part of a path to more company-wide information hygiene (e.g. we now make sure all of us use decent password managers with the data hosted on EU servers, and the next step is running our own cloud e.g. for collaborative editing with clients and partners), and more information security.