Thursday, December 20, 2018

It Needs Wiki-Like Superpower

Tim King in a post on note-taking makes the following observation:
If there is one feature that excels above all others in information software of the past two decades that deserves its place in the note taking pantheon, its the humble double bracketed internal link.

We all recognise power to store and retrieve information at will, but when you combine this power with the ability to successfully create new knowledge trees from existing documents, to follow thoughts in a ‘stream of consciousness’ non-linear fashion then individual notes transform from multiple static word-silos into a living information system system.

Sadly, this is the one major feature that is always neglected, or is piecemeal at best… and one time note taking king Evernote is to blame.

Evernote had long been the gold standard of note taking, flexible, functional and best of all affordable. While its user interface was a little odd at times, the features were excellent, but they made the simple mistake of not enabling wiki style internal links. Instead, they required a user to copy a note link from one note and paste it into another.

This is a trend that other note taking software developers have seemingly taken to heart as quite a number of top-tier apps now emulate this somewhat novel but far from useful feature.

While this seems to give the same end result, it doesn’t achieve the effect that Ward Cunningham intended when he began to develop some of the first Wiki Software.

Cunningham first developed the ability to automatically create internal links (read: new notes) when typing text in CamelCase. This meant you could easily be typing a sentence while describing a piece of information and simply type a word (or series of words) in CamelCase which would create a link to another piece of information (even if its page hadn’t already been created).

This was quickly superseded by the double square bracket links most wiki’s use today to achieve the same results, and its the staple creation method in both wiki’s and other premier information systems today.

Quickly typing in double square brackets [[ This would be a link ]] lets you get on with the text you’re currently typing, while also recognising another important subject you also want to write about later. Clicking on the resultant link creates and visits a new document to which you can immediately add information.

The only piece of note taking software on the market that currently supports this feature (that I’m aware of) is Microsoft OneNote.

If I could have only one note taking wish fulfilled is that this wiki-like feature be first on the minds of developers, copying a note link and pasting it in just doesn’t cut it. (I’m staring at you Ulysses, Bear, and Apple Notes devs.)

I couldn't agree more with this observation. He seems to be on the Mac and is therefore excused for not knowing ConnectedText.


Harvey Levine said...

Actually Bear does behave exactly as the author wants it to. I just tested it on my iPad. You can create an internal link to another note without the note existing. When you click on the link you are taken to a new blank note with that title.

I haven't tried this on the Mac version of Bear, but it probably works fine.

Mark said...

Hi there. Yes, the author seems convinced otherwise in the responses to his post but Bear has such a feature for Mac/iOS, as do nvALT and the Archive on the Mac. They all have for quite some time. A recent update to 1Writer for iOS also adds this feature, making it a contender for this sort of work if you don’t want to be locked into one app.

guthrie said...

1Writer is very nice and doesn't have a subscription which they should be rewarded for.
I appreciate the difference in note taking and even thinking that internal links brings, but the death was driven by search and machine learning which is what most customers wanted. (I'd guess). That's paid a lot of dividends in the modern information storage world, but I still don't see why we can't have both in software like Evernote.

Unknown said...

InfoQube IM developer here.
The next version will support [[ shortcut to link to existing items. Support for non-existing items will be added afterwards.

Pierre Paul Landry
IQ Designer

Bernardo C. D. A. Vasconcelos said...

Thank you for letting us know about OneNote. I have the software but had no ideia it could do it (it don't use it often).
I was thrilled to find out that Scrivener also has this function! You must only enable it in the settings and it will work for any file name that already exists and offer to create a new file if you type a non-existent file name. Also, you can change both file name and [[link]] latter on and it will keep working as it should.