A gift from my colleagues. ‘Tegeltjeswijsheid’ means ’tile-wisdom’ or the often somewhat cliché phrases that are printed on tiles as an old fashioned type of decoration. We moved into new offices this January (in the same building), and since then everyone of us is getting their own tile with some characteristic phrase etc. about them. Yesterday I received mine. It reads “In my notes of 20 years ago I see that…”. A (exaggerated! really!) reference to my personal knowledge management (pkm) system. I indeed regularly inject things into conversations, when some question or topic is discussed along the lines of “last time we discussed this in 201x, we thought this or that, and concluded somesuch”.

The innovations in personal knowledge management are sparse and far between, is a phrase that has circulated in my mind the past three weeks. Chris Aldrich in his online presentation at PKM Summit expressed that notion while taking us through an interesting timeline of personal knowledge management related practices. As his talk followed that timeline, it didn’t highlight the key innovations as an overview in itself. I had arranged the session because I wanted to raise awareness that many practices we now associate with 20th century or digital origins, in fact are much older. It’s just that we tend to forget we’re standing on many shoulders, taking a recent highly visible example as original source and our historic horizon. Increased historic awareness is however something different than stating there has been hardly any notable innovation in this space over the course of millennia. Because that leads to things like asking what then are the current adjacent possible innovations, what branches might be developed further?

It all starts with a question I have for Chris however: What are the innovations you were thinking of when you said that?

Below I list some of the things that I think are real innovations in the context of personal knowledge management, in roughly chronological order. This is a list from the top of my head and notes, plus some very brief search on whether what I regard as origin of a practice is actually a more recent incarnation. I have left out most of the things regarding oral traditions, as it is not the context of my practices.

  • Narration, prehistory
  • Songlines, prehistory
  • Writing, ending prehistory
  • Annotation, classical antiquity
  • Loci method, memory palaces, classical antiquity
  • Argument analysis, classical antiquity
  • Tagging, classical antiquity
  • Concept mapping, 3rd century
  • Indexes, Middle Ages
  • Letterpress printing, renaissance
  • Paper notebooks, renaissance
  • Commonplace books, renaissance
  • Singular snippets / slips, 16th century
  • Stammbuch/Album Amicorum, 16th century
  • Pre-printed notebooks, 19th century
  • Argument mapping, 19th century
  • Standard sized index cards, 19th century
  • Sociograms/social graphs, early 20th century
  • Linking, 20th century (predigital and digital)
  • Knowledge graphs, late 20th century (1980s)
  • Digital full text search, late 20th century

Chris, what would be your list of key innovations?


A pkm practitioner working on his notes. Erasmus as painted by Holbein, public domain image.

Bookmarked Timeline of some of the intellectual history of pkm by Chris Aldrich

Today was the first day of the European PKM Summit in the Netherlands. With all the momentum around novel digital tools for thought, I thought it important to also create room for a discussion of the deep history of most of the methods that we are re-implementing in our current crop of tools. Especially since large groups assume there is no such history. At best in tech the origin of PKM like stuff is pinpointed to Vannevar Bush’s Memex. Whereas tagging, commonplacing, index cards all have their centuries or even millennia of history. Chris Aldrich has researched that history in great detail. And as Chris and I know each other through our IndieWeb efforts I reached out to involve him in this personal knowledge management conference.

Here’s a version of the timeline of some of the intellectual history I presented today at the PKM Summit in Utrecht.

Chris Aldrich

I have been interested in personal knowledge management (pkm) for a very long time. I have been an avid notes maker ever since I learned to write. Digital tools from the late 1980s onwards have been extremely useful. And a source of nerdy fascination, I confess. I am certain personal knowledge management (pkm) is of tremendous value for anyone who wants to keep learning and make sense of the world around them.

On March 22 and 23 the European PKM Summit is taking place in Utrecht, Netherlands. I have helped invite speakers and workshop hosts for this event. I am donating a ticket for a student in the Netherlands to attend this two day event.

Are you a student in the Netherlands with a strong interest in personal knowledge management (pkm)?
Is your interest in pkm to strengthen your personal learning and deepen your interests, rather than increasing (perceived) productivity?
Would you like to go to the PKM Summit on 22nd and 23 of March in Utrecht, but as a student can’t afford the 200 Euro ticket price?

Then I have one (1) conference ticket available! Let me know who you are and what fascinates you in pkm or attracts you to the event. If there are several people interested I will choose one. I will donate the ticket by March 8, so state your interest before then.

The single condition is that you attend the event on both days and participate actively. There is a session on the program that may be of interest, focused on pkm for students and teachers for learning and research contexts. It would be great if you would share some of your impressions of the event afterwards, especially if that is something you’d normally do anyway.

Interested? Email or DM me (in Dutch or English)!

Bookmarked Coding on Copilot: 2023 Data Suggests Downward Pressure on Code Quality by William Harding and Matthew Kloster

Gitclear takes a look at how the use of Copilot is impact coding projects on GitHub. They signal several trends that impact the overall code quality negatively. Churn is increasing (though by the looks of it, that trend started earlier), meaning the amount of code very quickly being corrected or discarded is rising. And more code is being added to projects, rather than updated or (re)moved, indicating a trend towards bloat (my words). The latter is mentioned in the report I downloaded as worsening the asymmetry between writing/generating code and time needed for reading/reviewing it. This increases downward quality pressure on repositories. I use GitHub Copilot myself, and like Github itself reports it helps me generate code much faster. My use case however is personal tools, not a professional coding practice. Given my relatively unskilled starting point CoPilot makes a big difference between not having and having such personal tools. In a professional setting more code however does not equate better code. The report upon first skim highlights where benefits of Copilot clash with desired qualities of code production, quality and team work in professional settings.
Via Karl Voit

To investigate, GitClear collected 153 million changed lines of code,
authored between January 2020 and December 2023….. We find disconcerting trends for maintainability. Code churn — the
percentage of lines that are reverted or updated less than two weeks after
being authored — is projected to double in 2024 compared to its 2021,
pre-AI baseline. We further find that the percentage of “added code” and
“copy/pasted code” is increasing in proportion to “updated,” “deleted,” and
“moved” code.

Gitclear report

Bookmarked A quick survey of academics, teachers, and researchers blogging about note taking practices and zettelkasten-based methods by Chris Aldrich

Chris Aldrich provides a nice who’s who around studying note taking practices. There are some names in here that I will add to my feeds. Also will need to go through the reading list, with an eye on practices that may fit with my way of working. Perhaps one or two names are relevant for the upcoming PKM summit in March too.

Chris actively collects historical examples of people using index card systems or other note taking practices for their personal learning and writing. Such as his recent find of Martin Luther King’s index of notes. If you’re interested in this, his Hypothes.is profile is a good place to follow for more examples and finds.

I thought I’d put together a quick list focusing on academic use-cases from my own notes

Chris Aldrich