Thursday, December 10, 2015

Metaphors We Live By

The Microsoft Whitepaper on the Benefits of OneNote states that
The user interface is specifically designed to look like a 3-ring binder, complete with tab dividers. Users can divide the notebook into multiple topics and subtopics for the various types of information they want to record and save. Workers have all the advantages of an old fashioned notebook binder with the additional advantages of being able to copy information from one section to another, to do full-text search, to find and share information easily, to annotate text, to grab information from other Office programs or from the Web, to flag key items, and even to record and play back audio notes.[1]
This describes the interface well. You do have "all the advantages" of a familiar look: a three-ring binder. Obviously, it goes beyond the physical notebook, allowing search, annotation, etc. But you also have some of the disadvantages of an old-fashioned technology. You have to put the information somewhere, i.e. into a specific "notebook," a specific "page" and somewhere on the specific page. But there is no "where" in the spatial sense in an electronic application. So, it would be better to do away with the notebook metaphor altogether.

What would that look like? I could point toward a wiki, but I don't have to. See Notational Velocity or nvAlt on the Mac:

You just type a name of the note (or the first line of the note), and away you go. You can also link files and assign categories. The interface does not get into the way, asking you "where" to store the information.

I recently talked about info-base which has the same affordances. See here

As everyone knows, I prefer the wiki approach which is just as simple. You just type some expression enclosed by double brackets, and away you go. Apparently, you can do this in OneNote as well, but I am not sure. In any case, if you can and if you could get rid of the notebook interface, I could perhaps be persuaded to use it.

Now, I agree that OneNote does not look as garish as this,

but it still gets in the way--especially when navigating from one note to another by its means.[2] And, as I claimed before, (for me) this might work with relatively few notes, but it becomes increasingly less workable the more notes you have. I understand that others might get a different mileage. Microsoft obviously thinks so, in any case.

1. White Paper


Angry Thinker said...

If you are talking about the use of OneNote as a Zettelkasten, you can put all your notes in 1 notebook, or even in 1 section. If you do the latter you don't have to think about where to put it.
As for the "where on a page", that seems liek a no-brainer to me in that you start at the top of a page. If you have different nits of info you want to put on that page, you can just add it to below your last info on that page, or choose to put it somewhere else on the page. Remember: MS calls it a page to be in line with the notebook metaphor, but a page is nothing more than what you would call a note in any other note-taking app.
The decision-making process you talk about is optional but not necessary.
As for navigating the notes: question of organisation. I don't see why navigating nvAlt notes is any easier.

MK said...

There is no navigation in nvAlt. That's why it is easier.

In any case, if OneNote does the trick for you, good! I need less overhead, but those are probably just my limitations.

This will be the last I have to say about OneNote. Happy Holidays.

Nathan B said...

I hope this really isn't your last post on OneNote. I've been enjoying them. Though I followed that exchange that spilled over from MyZettelkasten and can understand that you wouldn't want to open that bizarre can of words again that was a complete waste of your time.

This is a good post and reminds me how much I admire those like you who can put a paper-note mindset behind and fully take advantage of systems that don't mimic old technology. I keep trying to take that leap but just get uncomfortable with losing the shape and scope of my notes that a single hierarchy like OneNote provides. It's been my daily driver since 2008. I keep going back to it after toying with systems that logic tells me are better but just not something I'm disciplined enough to do properly. Posts like these are helpful to me because they give new insights into why I find it so comfortable. That's what will help me either move past it for good or decide to embrace the trade-offs and mold it into a true wiki.

I politely disagree with those trying to mold it into a Zettel. If you can run OneNote as a Zettel, you can run ANYTHING as a Zettel....which I guess is the point of a Zettel anyway. I feel like to use OneNote is to embrace what it does really well. It's great when combining LOTS of spacial relationships to many pieces of data on a single page, not when treating each little entry as a separately tagged and cataloged entry. My OneNote is sort of a hybrid wiki, but to me a true wiki has true universal tagging (like Evernote) and also two-way links (what links to here). If I don't know what other articles link to what I'm looking at, how can I know what I'll break if I edit or move this note?

MK said...

Nathan B
Thank you very much for your comments. I do, of course, agree with you. If you can run OneNote as a Zettelkasten, then you can run (almost) any application as a Zettelkasten. I also agree that OneNote does not really seem to be intended to emulate index cards, but rather "pages" or longer entries. Of course, if you put your mind to it, you can get close. See OneNote Review. The whole approach is too cumbersome for me. But far be it from me to criticize it.

I really don't want to say anything more on an application I have chosen not to use. (And this comment was meant to be on your comment and is thus not really on OneNote.

Nathan B said...

Thanks! That link is to a fantastic guide. Theoretical descriptions of info systems are common. Applied examples connecting that theory with software trade-offs is rare. Even if one doesn't choose this particular implementation, walking through this example is extremely helpful!