Following up on what seems a metablogging fashionable thing this spring, I added a /feeds page that provides an overview of all the various feeds you can subscribe to, to follow (parts of) my site’s content.
First in Peter’s favourites from his feedreader, then from Matt Webb’s feed directly, which both showed up right beneath eachother when I opened my feedreader this morning, I read Personal Software vs Factory Produced Software.
In that posting Matt points to Rev Dan Catt’s recent week notes, in which he describes the types of tools he makes for himself. Like Matt I love this kind of stuff. I have some small tools for myself like that, and it is the primary reason I have been running a local webserver on my laptop: it allows me to do anything I could do online right on my laptop, as home cooking. Transposing code snippets into safe HTML output for instance. Or converting bank statements into something I can import in my accounting spreadsheet. Those are however somewhat of a mechanical nature. They’re by me, but not about me. And that is the qualitative difference specifically of the letter/cards tracking tool described in Rev Dan Catt’s post.
That is more akin to what I am trying to slowly build for myself since forever. Something that closely follows my own routines and process, and guides me along. Not just as a reference, like my notes or wiki, or as a guide like my todo-lists and weekly overviews. But something that welcomes me in the morning by starting me on my morning routine “Shall I read some feeds first, or shall I start with a brief review of today’s agenda.” and nudges me kindly “it’s been 15mins, shall I continue with …?”, or “shall I review …, before it becomes urgent next week?”. A coach and PA rolled into one, that is bascially me, scripted, I suppose. I’ve always been an avid note taker and lists keeper, even way before I started using computers in 1983. Those lists weren’t always very kind I realised in 2016, it became more a musts/shoulds thing than mights/coulds. Too harsh on myself, which reduces its effectiveness (not just to 0 at times, but an active hindrance causing ineffectiveness). I wanted a kinder thing, a personal operating system of sorts. Rev Dan Scott’s correspondence tool feels like that. I reminds me of what Rick Klau described earlier about his contacts ‘management’, although that stays closer to the mechanical, the less personal I feel, and skirts closer to the point where it feels inpersonal (or rather it challenges the assumption ‘if you don’t know it yourself and keep a list it’s not authentic’ more).
Building personalised tools, that are synchronised with the personality and routines of the person using it, not as an add-on (you can add your own filter rules to our e-mail client!), but as its core design, is mostly unexplored terrain I think. Because from a business perspective it doesn’t obviously “scale”, so no unicorn potential. That sort of generic scaling is unneeded anyway I think, and there is a very much available other path for scaling. Through the invisible hand of networks, where solutions and examples are replicated and tweaked across contexts, people and groups. That way lie the tools that are smaller than us, and therefore really provide agency.
It’s also why I think the title of Matt’s post Personal Software versus Factory Produced Software is a false dilemma. It’s not just a choice between personal and mass, between n=1 and statistics. There is a level in between, which is also where the complexity lives that makes us search for new tools in the first place: the level of you and your immediate context of relationships and things relevant to them. It’s the place where the thinking behind IndieWeb extends to all technology and methods. It’s where federation of tools live, and why I think you should run personal instances of tools that federate, not join someone else’s server, unless it is a pre-existing group launching a server and adopting it as their collective hang-out. Running personal or group tools, that can talk to others if you want it to and are potentially more valuable when connected to others, that have the network effect built in as an option.
I’ve now kept daily logs of my activities for a month and a week, on a blog run on my laptop. It hasn’t been an effort to do it as a daily habit, logging activities, notions/ideas/brief thoughts, and state of mind. Early on I noted how it led more easily to spin-offs in the shape of blogposts or (local) wiki pages. There are other benefits as well. It helps me see what I did on days that feel like I’ve done nothing, usually by more readily showing the variety of small things I did do. In the past two weeks as I was extremely stressed out from writing two client reports, it also showed me what progress I actually did make in a day, as opposed to my mind only seeing the amount of work that still needed to be done. Finally it is now gradually allowing me to see and tweak how I take breaks, build in relaxation. That is something I easily ignore otherwise, spending too many hours in one sitting behind the screen.
Starting my day now has a clear and predictable marker: I open up my laptop, click the shortlink to a new blogpost in edit mode, hit two keyboard shortcuts (.dag for the title with date, and .dlist to populate the post with a basic list) and enter what time I started working and on what. After thirtyseven days I think this habit is a keeper.
Almost all of what I do is in response to something I see, read or hear. So I read and gather information widely. Second,… I go on deeper dives. Third, I link things together. Fourth, I create. Finally, sharing freely. Society – and your success – is based on giving, not taking.
For a moment I was tempted to install NextCloud on my laptop today, on a whim to see if I could use a local instance for note taking. Both as a step away from Evernote, as well as to strengthen my digital garden. Then I checked myself, and realised I need to think about my process and needs first, not think in terms of tools. Over the past weeks exploring posts and discussions about note taking and digital gardening, I noticed how much of it is focused on tools, and how little on envisioned or existing workflow, process or intended effect.
So I should take my own advice in the first of three follow-ups in a recent conversation on wikis, and look at my information strategy first. Starting from this 2005 image and posting about filtering:
If after such an exercise I conclude that running a local (non-cloud) instance of NextCloud makes sense, it will be early enough to install it.
“A mind garden is not a mind backyard. It’s not about dumping notes in there and forgetting about them.”
Ouch. That describes well the bookmarks in my Evernotes. It also, on the flip side chimes with how I treat my blog archives, which I regularly browse seeing new connections between postings. Evernote bookmarks in the backyard, my blogposts in the garden.