Replied to Really Simple Syndication by Erik VisserErik Visser
Vanaf begin dit jaar ben ik RSS weer aan het afstoffen. ... Netvibes weer eens bekeken en 99% van alle rss feeds werkten niet meer. ... Ik ben blij met mijn hervonden feed (die potentieel het hele internet bestrijkt). En als je nog mooie, bijzondere mensen met een site kent. Ik hoor het graag.

Naast RSS heb je, las ik bij Frank, ook Webmention aan dus schrijf ik een reactie vanaf mijn eigen blog. Ik heb 3 jaar geleden toen ik weer vaker ging bloggen en FB achter me liet, mijn feedreader leeg gegooid en opnieuw langzaam gevuld. Ik lees wat mensen schrijven (geen ‘bronnen’) en orden feeds op basis van mijn gevoelde sociale afstand tot hen. De aloude blogrol heb ik ook weer terug, nu in de vorm van een mens- en machineleesbare OPML file, die je in de meeste rss readers kunt importeren om te zien of er schrijvende mensen tussen zitten van je gading.

As LinkedIn has sold Slideshare to Scribd (Slideshare’s more evil twin), and the practical handover happening on September 24th, I am preparing to close down my Slideshare account. As part of that I’m downloading my material on Slideshare. The first step is getting a CSV file from them that lists all the download URLs for my slides. It also provides some statistics with those download links, so for archiving purposes I’m adding some of those stats here.

My usage of Slideshare was always intended for two things: 1) have a way to embed my presentations in my blog and for others to view them, 2) have a place that can store those files, 3) allows others to download those files. Those last two reasons were way more of an issue to solve when I started using Slideshare in 2006. Hosting packages back then were generally too small to also host presentations, both in terms of bandwidth and storage. The first reason still is an issue: having a decent viewer to show these files on a website.

My first Slideshare was in December 2006, my last November 2019, so thirteen years exactly. I uploaded 132 presentations so about 10 per year on average, but in reality it was much less spread out:

2006 1
2007 6
2008 13
2009 17
2010 32
2011 24
2012 14
2013 10
2014 6
2015 0
2016 1
2017 1
2018 3
2019 4

The peak years were 2008 through 2013, which coincide with becoming self-employed and doing a lot of awareness raising for open data. From 2014 most of my presentations were for my company, and I posted much less under my own account. (I also will need to download the material from my company’s accounts before the 24th as well).

My 2 most downloaded presentations form an interesting combination:

  • My 2008 presentation at Reboot in Copenhagen (332), that I remember very much (and that I recently converted into Notions)
  • A 2010 presentation on FabLabs (259) that I gave to an engineering company (says the description) for an internal workshop, but I have no immediate recollection of doing that. (Checking my 2010 calendar just now I do remember, seeing the client’s name)

The total views for my 132 presentations were 292708 (2217 on average)
The three most viewed presentations were:

  • My 2010 Lift Marseille, France, talk about FabLabs, 11338 views
  • My 2010 brief remarks on private sector open data during Open Data Week in Nantes, France, 8242 views
  • My talk at PolitCamp Graz, Austria in 2008, the event where I got interested in open data, but this one was about social media use w.r.t. political communication, 8009 views

The three presentations that were mostly viewed in embeds were:

  • My 2010 Lift Marseille, France, talk about FabLabs again, 7157 views in embeds, or about half of total views
  • My 2013 opening keynote for a software company’s European customer event, 3285 embed views
  • My 2012 workshop on open data as policy instrument, at the Dutch national open data conference, 3055 embed views

Given that Slideshare for me was about allowing downloads, and providing embeds, let’s look at those totals. Thirteen years with 132 uploaded presentations come out at 2286 downloads and 51633 embedded views. It’s not nothing obviously, but one can wonder if it is something worthwile enough to allow thirteen years of third party tracking.

Screenshot of my current digital garden

The blogpost I posted earlier today, on cities as a source of inspiration, is the first one that fully came from stringing some of my notes together. An earlier posting, a meta one about note taking, was based on notes, but this one is basically just putting notes together, and writing a few sentences to make them flow over into each other. With a twist though. Because the notes used as a basis are already in full text form (although mostly in Dutch), there wasn’t much writing involved in bringing the point across I started out with. In the end that freed up time that was then used to write additional things, ending up in a conclusion that wasn’t part of the source notes, but in itself ended up as new content for those notes. It think that is a nice example of writing/blogging as thinking out loud.

The source notes themselves were created last week. And while creating them I noticed for the first time that the notes in the Garden of the Forking Paths, form a thinking tool, not a collection, a garden, not a back yard. I started out with just making one or two notes on cities, and while thinking how it connected to other notions already in there, additional patterns stood out to me. Additionally I couldn’t remember where I got some of the notions (e.g. cities being efficient, cities being crossroads), and that had me searching for the literature I got it from in the first place adding them to my reference library (in Zotero), which in turn teased out additional patterns ending up in notes. Feedback happening, in short. At first it bothered me that what I was doing (‘making just one or two notes on cities’) took much longer than expected, but then I realised it was an effect I intended to create, and that thinking takes time. That it took me beyond those one or two notes, but not in a yak-shaving kind of way, but as an act of creation.

Both those effects, new things rising because of writing about existing ones, and spending time thinking to be able to create, are most welcome ones.

As I write this, I realise I’ve developed a dislike for the word ‘notes’ in the past weeks to describe the plantings in my digital garden, as it invokes primary/raw note taking mostly. Maybe I should call them ‘notions’ instead. My Garden of the Forking Paths now has 234 ‘notions’, and another batch that size of ‘notes’ outside it, but somewhat interlinked with it (think day logs, tickler files, ideas, raw notes, thoughts and snippets for projects). That second batch basically is a folder structure similar to my existing Evernote notebooks.

Taking Notes
The wiki I used to take both primary and secondary notes in, in 2006. It was wikkawiki which I ran locally on my laptop, with the css adapted to that of my then employer.

Bookmarked Eight Colours by Alex Schroeder
If you’ve looked at Recent Changes on this wiki, or on other Oddmuse wikis, you might have noticed that some of the edits are from people identified by a four-coloured “flag” of some kind. If you select the “flag” you’ll see that every colour belongs to a number. What’s up with this? .... we don’t want hostnames, we don’t want IP numbers, but we still want a way to know whether one person edited ten pages, or each of the ten pages was edited by a different person. This is important for peer review: If I look at two or three edits and they all make sense, I can be chill about the remaining seven or eight edits by the same person. It also helps to get a sense of “presence” if I can look at the list of changes for today and see that there was just one person (me), or whether it was two of us, or five. What I’m doing in the code is I’m taking the IP number of people making an edit, use it to compute a number, and take the first four octal digits (in the range from 0–7) as the “flag”

This seems a nice visual way to see who’s editing a wiki, without showing (or storing) host names or IP addresses: turn the IP number into a small ‘flag’ of different vertical color bands. Then it is immediately obvious if a range of edits come from one editor or from multiple. Look at this image for what I mean.

A few days ago Om Malik blogged about his writing advice, ‘write like a human‘, saying there’s no need for more bland mediocrity like ‘freeze-dried news reports’. Being real will always be as unique as yourself.

It coincided with me rereading something I blogged around this time in 2003, saying ‘blogging is about people first and people only, personal relationships are the stuff of our lives‘.

Om Malik also writes that writing in your own voice means your words will reflect who you are, that there’s no hiding behind fancy words.

I think it is even impossible to hide behind fancy words, or even freeze-dried reporting, the longer you sustain a personal blog. Through the years your blog will always reflect who you are, as your interests move with your own life and experiences, regardless whether you chose to limit yourself to non-personal topics and interests. It is very hard impossible to portray yourself as anything other than you over the course of many years, or not have your self be revealed through your writing during that time. (For instance Peter and Frank have been blogging for 2 decades or more, and I’m coming up on 18 years on this blog.) Even more so if your blogging leads to face to face encounters, repeated meetings a few years apart, and generates distributed conversations. It’s the reason that when a couch-surfing initiative for bloggers was suggested by Henriette Weber in 2005, I added a requirement to my profile there for anyone interested in staying with us would need to have a blogging history of at least a year. It would let me see you, to decide upon your request.

Your blog is your avatar, not in the one-dimensional sense of a profile pic, but in the original sense of a god made flesh in terrestrial form, in the sense of Ultima IV, where your own ethics determined the outcome by presenting you dilemma’s with short and longterm consequences attached to your choices. Your blog is your avatar, a full representation of yourself, made manifest online in HTML texts. Whether you want it to be or not. Time makes it unavoidable.

In the past 2.5 weeks I have focused some time on building better notes. Better notes, as in second order notes: processed from raw notes taken during the day. Below are some experiences from that note taking.

My intention

This in order to build a better thinking aid, by having an easy accessible collection of my own ideas and concepts, and interesting viewpoints and perspectives of others (and references). It isn’t about collecting factual info.

I want to build a more deliberate practice this way, to enable a flow to create more and better output (writing, blogging, idea development etc.), in which more ideas are turned into something I apply or others can apply. In past years I have regularly stayed away from reading non-fiction books as I felt I had nowhere to go with the thoughts, associations and ideas reading something normally generates. No deliberate practice to digest my readings, resulting in it bouncing around my head and a constant nagging notion ‘I should be doing something with this’. Getting it out in atomic notes is a way of letting those associations and ideas build a network of meaning over time, and for me to see what patterns emerge from it.

In turn this should make it easier and faster for myself to create presentations, e-books, and blogposts etc. To have those writings start within me more. Only doing responsive writing based on daily RSS feed input feels too empty in comparison. And more importantly to not reinvent my own concepts from the top of my head everytime I e.g. put together a presentation (making it very slow going).

Curent state

I’m now at 140 notes. Which is about double the number I expected to be at, as I estimated earlier some 4 notes per day should be possible. Notes get linked to eachother where I feel there’s a connection. The resulting cloud is shown below.

(The singular points around the outer edge are not part of the thinking tool, they’re ticklerfiles from my GTD notes. Similarly there is a series of daily logs that aren’t part of the thinking tool either, but may point to notes in it. I don’t count or discuss those notes here.)

Two tactics helped me generate notes more quickly to incorporate more of my own previous thinking/writing.

  1. Daily I check my old blog postings made on today’s date in previous years. This presents me with a range of postings during the week (not every day), for me to process. Sometimes it will be easy and short to capture key notions/ideas from them, other times it might be a trip down the rabbithole.
  2. I go through presentations I made earlier, and lift out the concepts and ideas from the slides. I’ve done four sofar, one on Networked Agency, MakerHouseholds, on FabLabs, and on Community building / stewardship.

Doing just those two things resulted in the cloud of linked notes above. Especially going through presentations is a rich source of notes. I tend to build new stories every time for a presentation, so they often represent my current perspective on a topic in ways that aren’t documented elsewhere. With these notes I am turning them into re-usable building blocks.

What’s additionally valuable is that making the notes also leads to new connections that I hadn’t thought of before, or didn’t make explicit to myself yet. The first time happened early on, at about 35 notes, which was a linking of concepts I hadn’t linked earlier in my mind. In subsequent notes processing my SHiFT 2010 keynote ‘Maker Households’, that connection was fleshed out some more.
Another type of linkage isn’t so much previously unlinked concepts, but linking across time. A blogpost from a year ago and one from last month turned out to be dealing with the same notions, and I remember them both, but hadn’t yet perceived them as a sequence or as the later post being a possible answer to the earlier post.

Garden of Forking Paths

I call my collection of notes my Garden of Forking Paths. It refers to the gardening metaphor of personal knowledge management tools like wikis, commonplace books etc., often named digital garden, like my public wikisection here.
The fantastic title “Garden of Forking Paths” comes from a 1941 short story by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges titled El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan. It foreshadows the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and has also been referred within hypertext fiction and new media. In 1987 it was worked into Victory Garden, an early hypertext novel, published by Eastgate. Eastgate is Mark Bernstein’s company, an early blogger I first met 16yrs ago, that also creates the Tinderbox software, an amazing tool I use almost daily. Such a rich layering of connections and meaning, both contentwise and personally, are precisely what my notes collection is about, which makes ‘Garden of Forking Paths’ the most fitting title I could hope to find.

The set-up now

My current set-up for taking notes currently is based on using the tool Obsidian. This is a closed source app, but my notes are stored as regular text files, so can be accessed, edited etc through the file system itself. Obsidian provides bidirectional linking, and builds a connection graph on the fly (as shown above). I mentioned Tinderbox, which is also very useful for storing notes. In this case I’m not using it. Though notes in Tinderbox would be available as XML through the file system too, they aren’t easily human readable as the mark down notes I am creating now are, and thus access through the file system is of limited use. While Tinderbox is very useful at visually presenting information, that visual presentation is created by myself. What I am looking for is the emerging patterns from such visualisation, which Tinderbox can’t provide.
Obsidian not being open source is only slightly problematic to me at the moment, as it provides a view on a collection of text files, and nothing is lost except the visualisation if the application falls away. However, an open source alternative exists, which is Foam. However that in turn builds on the only pseudo-open application VS Code by Microsoft, unless I would compile VS Code myself. I may well go that way, but currently I’m experimenting and I’m not sure I want to spend that effort right now. The text files can be used in Foam, so that’s not a barrier. I did install Foam and VS Code, and will try it out in the coming days, although I haven’t fully figured out how to work with it.

Next to Obsidian I use Zotero to keep references to books, documents and snapshots of webpages. This removes these types of material from Evernote, which I count as a positive, without diluting the notes collection as something that are just my views and other things in my own words. In notes I point to references in Zotero where appropiate. It allows notes to be properly referenced, which is valuable when using them to write material based on them.

The note taking process

The process for note taking has several inputs, which currently aren’t all in use:

  1. old blogposts, which I look at daily
  2. old presentations, which I’ve been doing
  3. notes resulting from feed reading, which I am doing
  4. notes from primary notes (made during conversations etc.), which I’m not yet doing
  5. notes from reading books / texts, which I haven’t done yet.

The first two inputs are my key way of building up notes capturing my existing notions, ideas, concepts etc. This is a way to create a repository of existing thought, and that’s the phase I am now in. Especially presentations are a rich source, but can take a lot of effort to process.

Notes as output from feed reading is currently limited but I expect this to grow over time. The same is true for notes from primary notes and from reading books, both I expect to pick up pace over time, once the first wave of ‘braindumping’ is over.

There is another part of my book reading-to-notes process that is already in place, however. That is the part which pertains to Zotero. I am reading non-fiction books on a Nova2 e-ink tablet. Both highlights as well as notes I make during reading, can be easily exported from it, and I add those to Zotero alongside the metadata of the book itself. The same can be done for notes made on a Kindle (find your Kindle notes here). This keeps those annotations as raw material available in Zotero, and allows me to more easily process them into proper notes, capturing a concept or perspective. I have read a few books this way, but haven’t gotten around to processing my annotations from one yet. It’s next on my experimentation list.

My intention, reprise

At the start of this posting I wrote note taking in this way should make it easier and faster for myself to create blogposts and other written output. This post was written re-using notes, which sped up the creation time considerably, so that part of the experiment seems to be working. A true test will come when creating a new presentation I think, outlining a narrative using existing singular notes. The current set-up supports that much in the same way Tinderbox supports it: it’s easy to create a note that contains references to other notes and/or embeds them, turning them into a readable whole, even as you’re still shifting singular points around.