On the process of making MOCs

UPDATE 1: Keep discussing MOCs here.

UPDATE 2: This has been integrated into IMF v3 can be downloaded here: IMF v3 - Advanced Starter Kit


It’s no secret that some people (me) believe MOCs (Maps of Content) to be one of the ultimate thinking tools.

This quick kit is to get you immediately hands-on with a practical example of utilizing an MOC to think and create.

As always, experiment, learn by doing, and see how these methods might work for you. Included:

  • 32 Notes
  • A practical 3-stage example of utilizing an MOC

Download: On the process of making MOCs.zip (66.4 KB)

MOC Fluffing:

MOCs help us get past “Mental Squeeze Points”, encourage awesome thinking, create favorable conditions for flow, allow us to create meaningful spatial constellations of thought, have limitless interpretations, and are non-destructive, non-limiting because they act as fluid, augmented layers.

Enjoy!

PS: Please discuss respectfully below.

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Thanks for that. I was curious about stage 2, “Battle, Collide, Dismember, Combine, Craft, Discover”. Platforms like Obidisian seem to promote a promiscuous tagging to increase connections, but ideas are often forged in argument where opposing propositions are set against each other. I’m curious to know how you imagine this kind of dialectical process might found in stage 2.

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I think you hit on something important with “ideas are often forged in argument where opposing propositions are set against each other.” (That’s a great phrase by the way.)

In practice, making MOCs don’t distract from note creation/writing, they are note creation/writing. That’s where the magic happens.

What is the magic? It’s having a thinking tool that:

  • forces difficult conversations
  • highlights holes in arguments
  • shines a bright light on ideas that to be developed further

This is what happens when notes are placed in a room together and forced to figure things out:

Ideas bump and jostle. Some combine into something greater. Some split apart and stand on their own. Some are challenged and grow stronger, others are challenged and go away. Some are born into creation out of necessity.

MOCs create the conditions of a Hegelian dialectic, with you acting as arbiter.

  • Notes enter with some sort of unique idea (Thesis).
  • They encounter conflicts with each other (Antithesis).
  • After many arguments, a general spatial arrangement is reached (Synthesis).
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Yes, I see this depends on the workflow rather than the platform. I’ve found myself tagging some ideas as #antithesis because they negate a point I make. I can associate these “devils” with the “angels” through linking.
One possibility is to have an idea template which includes a prompt for antithesis.
Also, as well as an asynchronous MOC, it’s possible to have a Progress of Contents which reflects the thesis > antithesis > synthesis series.

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I have a sort of related technical question to making MOCs.

So let’s say I want to make an MOC about “sleep” and I have 30 zettels that are interlinked with [[sleep]].

My [[sleep]] MOC would then look like:

[[20200612… Sleep is good]]
[[20200612… Sleep makes me happy]]]
[[20200612… Sleep and health]]
[[20200612… Sleep and diet]]
etc.

It would be taking all the linked [[sleep] notes and making the index for it.

Is there a way to pull all the 30 zettels into the [[sleep]] MOC page without doing it manually? Or it must be done manually?

Thanks for your example MOC! It’s really useful. Appreciate it.

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First, Nick, your setup was useful in structuring Obsidian. Making visible your thinking and being in early enough on Obsidian to not be overwhelmed by brilliant work @Silver and @Licat are doing helped me see why years on Evernote, Onenote, Livescribe, and my nearly 40 years of journals and notecards did not have any usefulness beyond the short run, instrumental purpose they served. This promise of Obsidian, some of your structure, and the activity around knowledge has been just what I need.

Much thanks.

I was taken by the virtue, and the utility of MOC, but not necessarily by the idea it was a “map.” Nor, did I did see how what was happening in my MOCs as “ontology”, though the conversation was interesting.

I saw MOCs as a “space”, a place for ideas to gather, and thus a “salon” where they could interact. @mediapathic 's essay on the Republic of Letters also clarified something about how I have refined my use of MOCs, which ran the risk of being so overcrowded I’d need a Meta-MOC. So, like a republic, some ideas represent a host of others that are similar. I want ideas that are not only are “supporting” others but want ideas that are “extending” and “challenging” others. So, I began tagging ideas that “support” or “extend” or “challenge” other ideas and “inviting” or “gathering” supporters, extenders, and challengers to join the MOC. Now the interactions were lively!

Btw, those verbs emerged from work we did trying to understand active reading to figure out ways to help high school students become active readers about “stuff” teachers were teaching. It occurred to us that all new information or ideas must support, extend, or challenge existing ideas or information you already have and that has led to those verbs being cognitive tools for students but that is another story.

In recent use of MOC for a project, I had a robust group of ideas in my MOC to support, extend or challenge each other, and asked some to leave because they were redundant and cluttering my thinking, but still necessary for the heft of the case I was making.

The mapping then happened in the drafts I was writing about the interactions and relationships among the ideas – and the connectors were those verbs (support, extend, and challenge.

One last thing: All this has led me to two types of tags and links: Tags/links that are subjects (ie. what groups are they members) and tags/links that are “functional tags”, (ie. what role are they playing in relationships to other ideas supporting, extending, challenging and in a particular project).

Sorry for going on so long, but wanted to recognize the work you, @mediapathic, and others played in my mental salon thinking about MOC’s as salons : )

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@nickmilo I’ve run into your discussions on other websites (the zettelkasten.de forum, for example) and I’ll echo a question from another colleague: Are you writing about PKM on a website or blog that brings your thinking together? Or would we find it in one of your shared starter kit/vaults? Even if I don’t agree with all of them, I find it useful to understand the standard operating procedures of trailblazers who’ve spent time in the domain. Thanks for sharing your thinking and your work here and elsewhere!

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@vik I don’t know any way to automatically pull in selected links into a note. Maybe there is a way, but it would require a few steps of automation.

However, I don’t find this to be a problem in practice (and actually has been a benefit), because as I add each link, I’m usually placing it next to similar links as I go. So by the time I’ve added those 30 links, they are already in some basic groupings. Then I’m mentally one step ahead for when I have a deep thinking session with those notes to see what emerges.

Side Note: If you’re just trying to collect related notes, you could just use a tag #sleep and get an arbitrary list. But I’m assuming your purpose is to work deeply with all the notes in the same place. :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the interest @Deinos. And hopefully you don’t agree with all of it and we can test and improve our workflows together! As of now (since I’m still lucky enough to be employed during this pandemic), I don’t have the bandwidth to start a website or blog, but I’m starting to consider how I might go about that. Please share your ideas as well when you have time :slight_smile: For me in the meantime, I’ll just continue advancing ideas on here and the Obsidian discord

Thank you @bbain for these valuable insights. I hope you don’t mind my follow-up questions; please don’t feel obligated to spend too much time on your responses.

It occurred to us that all new information or ideas must support, extend, or challenge existing ideas or information you already have and that has led to those verbs being cognitive tools for students but that is another story.

When time allows, I would like to hear more about this.

In recent use of MOC for a project, I had a robust group of ideas in my MOC to support, extend or challenge each other, and asked some to leave because they were redundant and cluttering my thinking, but still necessary for the heft of the case I was making.

Are you saying they were necessary to begin with, but then after some interactions they were no longer useful?

The mapping then happened in the drafts I was writing about the interactions and relationships among the ideas – and the connectors were those verbs (support, extend, and challenge.

I think this step is crucial to understand. What does this process look like? Did you add tags after each link in the Salon/MOC? Elsewhere?

All this has led me to two types of tags and links: Tags/links that are subjects (ie. what groups are they members) and tags/links that are “functional tags”, (ie. what role are they playing in relationships to other ideas supporting, extending, challenging and in a particular project).

I kind of get this, but I think a picture or an example might help me understand your process better. Would you be able to provide an example? If not, no worries, I’m just hoping to fully grok it so I can experiment with it. For instance, I’m wondering: how do you tag who is supporting what? Is there a base statement in the MOC that the other note’s tags react to? (I can clarify if needed)

Any offsite links you can provide for more background @nickmilo? I Googled “MOCS (Maps of Content)” and come up with nothing related to your concept.

Concept is interesting – and seems in the case you describe as being a part of what what I would think of sessions of “speed note taking”. I.e., like sitting down and pounding out a long stream of notes (sort of stream of consciousness) and then stepping through them in a couple iterations to filter down, consolidate, and mine them. Am I wrong?

I’m not a speed note taker. I try to write a handful of focused clippings / clipping-musings each waking period. Then I step away and let the ideas percolate around before going back to those notes a day or week or month or more later. In the case of the mass of notes I keep in TheBrain, it might be years later. Nothing like letting thoughts compost for a while :slight_smile:

I think even with that, the MOC approach you describe with Obsidian would be useful to explore – long-winded way to getting to “thank you for this”.

I finally got around to checking your example of MOCs (thank you for the great work btw!) and I had this question. Presently, I’m trying to figure out how to keep my daily journal/logs separate from my other notes, so I created a folder called daily and they all go in there and from them I can link to other notes. Those other notes may not always link back but in their backlinks, I can then see the relevant date from the journal notes, so that’s helpful. However, once that process of creating a folder started, I almost felt like I could do this with everything. I created one for “People” so I can keep my people notes separate too. Then in your example, I was happy to find you were using a similar People MOC. May question is this then:

What difference does it make in the workflow using MOC notes vs folders, at least for certain things like People?

I do understand the important principle of using MOCs is to keep the system flexible and not rigid which folders might be. But if I keep my people notes in a folder, I can sort them which I can’t in an MOC. And whenever I create a new person, I still have to either move it to that folder or add it to the people MOC, which is almost similar kind of work. So what benefit can MOC provide over using folders? For other things, I think I can use MOCs like about the interests and things I’m learning since they can’t be grouped so easily in one folder like People. I guess the bigger question is how strictly this system needs to be followed for its benefits or is it possible to combine it with some traditional folder structures?

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@nickmilo Thank you @bbain for these valuable insights. I hope you don’t mind my follow-up questions; please don’t feel obligated to spend too much time on your responses.

It occurred to us that all new information or ideas must support, extend, or challenge existing ideas or information you already have and that has led to those verbs being cognitive tools for students but that is another story .

@nickmilo When time allows, I would like to hear more about this

Years ago, we were working on an R&D project in curriculum with high school students in Detroit. The students “read” texts just as I did when I was in high school – skimming it to find sentences to copy to “answer” teacher assigned or questions at back of text. I don’t think I ever read a complete chapter while a high school student, simply skimmed and copied enough to get me a check or a “C”. No active reader or thinker I, but active skimmer! I “studented” my way through high school, not learning much. And we were seeing “studenting” among students with whom we were working.

We puzzled over what made more thoughtful, active readers and started tracking briefly our “no-longer-studenting” reading practices. We concluded that before reading something we had some theory or conjecture about what we’d find there, no matter how vague or naïve. Then, what we were reading either “supported” or “extended” or "challenged’ our pre-reading ideas.

No great insight, really, as others like Piaget had asserted similar things in a far more nuanced language (assimilation/ assimilating and accommodation/accommodating ).

However, my colleagues and I wondered if we could turn those thinking verbs – support, extend, challenge – into cognitive tools students could use to do less studenting and more thinking when reading.

So, we trialed a new approach to assigned reading in our R&D work:

  1. Asked students first for a freewrite conjecture about the topic so students could see what they thought.
  2. Then assigned reading by asking students to identify or explain how the text “supported,” “extended” or “challenged” their thinking.

Turned out to have some power. Students began to look at texts in relation to their thinking and not some pre-packaged questions teachers asked.

Make sense?

We’ve used this in every curricular project since (about 18 years of it). I use in my own teaching, often employing those verbs when reading multiple texts (e.g., how does Dewey’s essay support, extend, or challenge piece by Thorndike? In what ways do they support, extend, or challenge your thinking about learning?)

On last thing: I use those verbs in my re-purposing my notes when working in earnest on a problem I need to write about or teach. The verbs become “functional” tags that define a relationship among notes or ideas – these support each other, or extend each other, or challenge each other.

I tag notes by subject or topic as everyone does, and then if it comes to mind, I also tag about the “function” it plays in relationship to other topics or notes: how it supports, extends, or challenges another note or topic. If not immediately evident then the “functional” level of tagging comes when I’m working with notes later – and now in MOC, I learned from you.

I could give an example on research report we just finished and sent out but I’ve gone on far too long as it is.

Does that make sense? And, sorry for going on so long – you did ask though :slight_smile:

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@bbain I feel richer after reading this.

I immediately used this process to read an article about a difficult topic to understand. It was some article about gravity and why it’s so hard to define. So before reading, I stopped for just a minute or two and made a freewrite conjecture on gravity. It helped.

I really dig this approach. It plays nicely with my personal philosophy with learning something; but one I haven’t been able to describe as well as I should like. It is basically that you have to do both the practical and theoretical together. Work both “in” and “on” a thing. Doing just one limits your growth. Hmm, let me dig into the library… ah, here it is from several years ago:

“And sense impressions are a deeper soil for growing memories than the best systems and analytical methods.” - Hermann Hesse

Which made me think: “Tilling the ground is the best way to make the soil deeper, softer, and more fertile for any type of growing”.

Fundamentally, it’s something about roughing up a smooth surface, so that things can stick to it (like velcro, in a sense).

Anyways, that’s why I like this idea of a freewriting conjecture combined with your heuristic of “supporting”, “extending”, and “challenging”.

I’m arming myself with this concept as I venture back into the Stream of Online Stuff.

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@Rishi Great questions.

“How strictly does this system need to be followed for its benefits and is it possible to combine it with some traditional folder structures?” (paraphrased)

Not strictly at all. As flexibly as possible. Yes, it is possible to also use folders. You probably should too. Folders are great for walling off its content from other content. A folder for People makes sense to me.

What difference does it make in the workflow using MOC notes vs folders, at least for certain things like People?

Let’s imagine using both. So there is a People folder. All people go in there. You can sort A-Z. Life is good. There comes a day where you want to organize those people into groups of some sort. That’s when you use the People MOC to your heart’s content.

On a broader note, there is a rebellion against folders recently. But there are still good uses for them. I would just say it’s about changing the order of magnitude of folder usage. So if you had 1000 folders, now you should have ≈10 folders. (This is just a general statement).

PS: I’m also using a People folder by the way :wink:

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Wonderful phrase. It is the tacking back and forth, the roughing and smoothing and then roughing again – and learning when to do which – that makes it all so damn interesting and so much fun, eh?

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Thanks for the validation! I think after having read the entire IMF and the other workflows zip posted here, I’m settling slowly in to a combination of traditional Zettelkasten (atomicity and linking), IMF and PARA method. Seems like they share more common features amongst them than are distinct. I’m not using the PARA method exactly either but since I have been following GTD to an extent, their Areas part is much like GTD’s 10,000-50,000 views and archives I think we all already have a system for, whether in folders or something like Evernote. So I’m really just using the power of linking and making atomic notes mostly to make my notes more useful in the future. And your concept of MOC adds a layer of fluid organisation to the entire system. I almost see it as the custom perspectives in Omnifocus- multiple ways to present the same info by filtering/re-organising to suit current needs.

For my People MOC, I think I’ll still create one despite the folder like you, perhaps begin with some automation to create a note from all files in that folder as sort of an alphabetical index and then copy paste from there to make other groupings as and when required. Do you use any kind of automation so far or just make everything manually?

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Thanks for sharing this. I found this really useful and it definitely will enhance the workflow of taking notes about new information. I often find myself stuck trying to summarise a concept in my own words and very likely end up using the same words as in the source but thinking of these prompt-type questions seem very helpful. I’ll probably put them on a sticky note for a while until it becomes habit.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts behind the hybrid system you’re putting together. It all makes sense to me. I don’t have any automations except for some basic Keyboard Maestro macros.

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Which made me think: “Tilling the ground is the best way to make the soil deeper, softer, and more fertile for any type of growing”.

Tilling is actually very bad for soil health because it disrupts and kills the symbiotic colonies of microbes, fungi, etc… that create healthy soil. Consequently, no-till agriculture has been a growing trend for a long time where they just leave the agri refuse to die off, and even plant new “cover crops” for the off-season. And now regenerative agriculture is becoming more of a thing - practices directed specifically at the microbial life.

So, your analogy doesn’t work. More importantly, I think its just wrong anyway - its not about roughing up the ground/ideas - you do that for poor, compacted soil and likewise for poorly understood ideas. Its about creating a good foundation in which you don’t need to rough up the ground/ideas - seeds/ideas will just readily germinate and flourish, assisted along by the microbes/building blocks/principles.

Leaving behind the agri analogies to just talk about ideas, if you have a framework of basic principles that direct your life goals and thinking about them, you then have a solid foundation on which to assess incoming ideas. A lens through which you can filter and categorize ideas, and use them to update/refine your overall conceptual understanding and, if you’re lucky, your fundamental principles.

The biggest problem I see in this whole PKM movement is a mass of smart, curious people who have no fundamental frame of reference. They just keep more or less aimlessly collecting and connecting ideas, with only a superficial recognition of how they truly relate to the broader goal - living a good life. This isn’t to say that your
Obsidian system has to center on this idea - maybe you’re just using it to organize your academic research in a specific field or whatever other uses people have. But whatever your pursuits are, that question has to be underlying all of it. If it is, you’ll find clarity and “fertile soil” in all pursuits - however, by, and large, the notion is left completely unconsidered.

I’ll stop there before going on a philosophical tangent. And will also say this isn’t necessarily about you - I’ve very much appreciated what you’ve shared about your MOCs etc… I will be using some of these ideas to build out my own framework. But mine will be very much hierarchical - concentric, yet networked, circles emanating from that central node of the Good Life. I’ll share it all here and more broadly when I get it sorted out in the coming months.

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