Sunday, January 15, 2012
In Praise of Free Links
No, I do not mean the "free link exchanges" or "free links to your webpage" or any of the other cheesy marketing tools. Rather I mean the ability to enclose any word in two double brackets "[[like so]]" in order to create an instant link to a page with that name. It fundamentally changed the way I write and think when I discovered it about nine years ago. The ability easily to start a new thread, to concentrate at the same time on the matter at hand, and to connect your thoughts with other ideas and notes I had previously written down was a real real revelation to me. Perhaps it did not just change my writing, but even my life. I have never looked back since adopting it first in Wikit and then in Notebook. I also liked very much Tkoutline for that basic ability. It is what made me fall in love with personal wikis. Indeed, it represents the essence of the wiki-way for me. Collaboration with others was never important in this. This ability to create free links is a basic affordance of most wikis, though some insist on keeping the ugly CamelCase convention of the earliest implementations (which I never liked). Even more annoying is that many wiki-like applications do not implement it. Voodoopad, for instance, makes you select a word and click on a special link button (or press ⌘ L) which defeats the very purpose of being able to link effortlessly by merely writing some markup (or markdown); and this is one of the main reasons why I could never warm up to it. Notational Velocity (I use the fork nvALT) is an application that has implemented free links recently. Needless to say, it has become my favorite application for taking temporary notes precisely for this reason. It's not the only one, Resophnotes on the Windows Platform did so as well. Emacs and Vim have plugins that allow you to do essentially the same, but, though tempted by them, I have always considered them more trouble than they are worth. Notetab and JotPlus have implemented about half of the capability. They allow you to create a link by typing a "[[free link]]", but it's up to you to make sure that the link exists. Links in Notetab's outline files point to different locations in the outline, but they can also refer to files on the disk. I am not aware of other editors that have adopted this feature and would be happy to hear about them.  1. This feature — to be perfectly clear — is the function that allows you to create a link by enclosing a word (or words) in double brackets and does not use some other more or less clunky way to do this. I know of the Textmate bundle for Textmate.