Sharing linked thinking on the web: methods for helping readers follow along

Publishing your thoughts on services like Obsidian Publish affords new kinds of opportunities for sharing linked thinking1 on the web. It seems to be easier (or at least more intuitive to do) than publishing conventional articles. This kind of writing also facilitates the accretion of knowledge in a way that breaking thoughts down into standalone articles seems to discourage.

Yet, there are some challenges. These ideas all work really well in terms of input, but I don’t think it’s so straightforward when it comes to output. Readers typically expect some method of easily keeping up with your contributions. Perhaps we need a paradigm shift from conventional publishing models to linked-thinking publishing, but until that happens, I think most readerships will be confused when they try to follow a writer along on a knowledge base.

That is, unless the writer provides some kind of help.

Far as I can tell,2 authors of linked thinking sites can do a couple of things to help readers follow progress. Here’s what I’ve come up with. (These options aren’t necessarily exclusive of one another—you can probably use multiple. They are also not ordered in any deliberate way.)

1. Updating an Index page.

One way to emulate “blogging” via linked thinking sites might be to keep an Index page. Every time you post a new item, link it there, perhaps with a date or some other kind of ordered identifier. That index becomes your homepage. Readers can check in to see when things are new.

2. Hybrid Blog–linked thinking site hybrid.

Publish a linked-thinking site. Maintain a blog within the site, perhaps by using a Blot-like service to watch a specific folder for new blog posts.

3. Posting a changelog.

Perhaps using a blog–linked thinking site hybrid or simply with “Changelog” pages in the knowledge base, track and annotate the changes you’re making in a specific report and share those reports as often as is appropriate.

4. Externalize the update mechanism.

Don’t provide readers with help tracking changes in-site. Push updates via other forms of social media—tweet out “Just added a new section to my page on abductive reasoning!” (or trumpet it on Mastodon or whatever) instead.

5. Embed RSS functionality.

I don’t think this is easy, but technically savvy folks may be able to set up an RSS service such that new (or modified) pages get pushed out via RSS. (Perhaps this is a good feature request for Obsidian Publish…?)

What are folks doing to help readers follow changes in this newish format? What have you seen? What do you think is the best model?


1: These sites used to be called “wikis,” but I think what we’re seeing people publish as “mind gardens” no longer fits the definition of wiki—which, to me, is a single dedicated repository of information about a given subject. A wiki should basically be all referential fact, while linked thinking sites seem like more than that! So, somewhat following Nick’s work, I like the idea of a “linked thinking site.”
2: I don’t actually have a linked thinking site—yet. I am still thinking about what such a thing should look like (obviously).

6 Likes

This has been on my mind lately. I like your thoughts on this topic.

I have had a traditional blog for years and have always struggled to write content for it. Maybe it always felt too formal. I’d get writer’s block all the time and would rarely finish a post. It just wasn’t fun.

I have started writing notes in Obsidian, and the process has become fun. For a while, I was using Blot, a great service for transforming markdown into blog posts. But then Obsidian Publish was introduced, and I immediately jumped on board.

Now that I’m using Obsidian Publish, I’m struggling with the challenges you mentioned.
Here are some things I’m trying.

  • Using the home page to link to the main category pages. (MOC pages).
  • First level pages are like MOCs. They contain a map of various subpages.
  • The actual content pages are still similar to a typical blog post page. In my experience, most people coming to my site would never even see the home page. They would land a specific page. I feel like this is where linked pages will shine. In a typical blog post, a visitor would read your article, and if they’re interested enough, they may click to your home page or browse some categories for other content. I feel like a well-linked page could potentially be more engaging. Especially with “Andy Mode” enabled where the pages stack. But will visitors find that type of layout confusing? I may ask some friends to check out my site and see if it is not very clear, to get their perspective.
  • Once I get things going, I want to try posting updates on Twitter, as you suggested in #4.

I don’t have much content yet. I’ve posted a few blog posts and have a few notes I hope to polish up and publish this weekend.

1 Like

Thanks for these thoughts Ryan! It’s definitely something I have been thinking through (and concerned about) while watching this sudden explosion in PKM stuff.

If I am reading and understanding your points here, it seems to me that you are essentially envisioning a linked data PKM schema and a linked data enabled (semantic) blog.

If you’re not as familiar with linked data, it is essentially web 3.0 as Tim Berners-Lee argued. I won’t go into all the nitty-gritty of linked data (it can get really complicated very quickly) but there are a good amount of teaching tools out there (including my presetation here slides 16-24 here).

But I think a good way of thinking about it is thinking about the Recipe schema, which is marked-up formatting that allows a user to plug in a URL to a cooking site and save their own copy (lots of sites allow this now).

Another example is the Google Knowledge graphs, or the way that google has been linking to specific hilighted passages of text, like this for example :

https://github.com/mbakeranalecta/sam#:~:text=Semantic Authoring Markdown brings the,text editor -- like markdown.

I point to that repository because it contains a draft specification for semantic markdown. I would love to see something like that happen. The ability to do something like [[Barack Obama]] in your own PKM and have a knowledge graph or certain facts about Obama rendered in edit view = killer feature.

A interoperable PKM schema that was accepted across the web (or by a majority of players) would allow posts on different sites to be collated together easily, and cleanly and without a need for formatting. There are some tools to render tweets to markdown and then pull them together, for example.

This would allow for a variety of different platforms, technologies, and so on to be put together.

2 Likes

Thanks to you both for the replies!

I think learning from feedback is gonna be key. If the writer is used to linked thinking, it will be hard to see how someone new to the format receives it.

@brimwats The semantic web is somewhat related, but I don’t think it has explicit solutions for this problem, does it? (I work in conceptual modelling and data crowdsourcing, so I play in fields adjacent to web 3.0 stuff.)

The root problem here is that readers’ mental model of interacting with a writer is books, blogs, and columns—periodical formats. You subscribe, and then you receive new content when it comes out. That doesn’t quite work with a linked thinking model without some of the mechanisms I described at the top of this thread.

It is a great thought, though. Whether linked thinking == the semantic web might be an interesting debate, but I think it’s outside of scope. Still, the shape of the model of both things are the same: a graph of information. If you update a web 3.0 “site” to add new semantic data to it, how do the site’s users learn about the update?

2 Likes

The root problem here is that readers’ mental model of interacting with a writer is books, blogs, and columns—periodical formats. You subscribe, and then you receive new content when it comes out. That doesn’t quite work with a linked thinking model without some of the mechanisms I described at the top of this thread.

Thanks for the clarification! Maybe a model that would be useful is the doke.li which does allow subscription to blocks/pages/etc (IIRC!)? Your comparison here to periodical literature is illustrative and I’ll take a look at some of the LIS literature on how libraries handle changes as well!

2 Likes

dokie.li is fascinating. And yes, share anything that comes to mind!

1 Like