What is a MOC?

Searched both the forums here and the online help.

What I’m trying to do

Understand /workout what MOC means. Seen it in many topics and comments.

Things I have tried

Searched the forums here and the online help for a definition of MOC but nothing found.

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Honestly, I’m just like you; I see everyone mention it and I don’t know what it means.

From context, I can guess an MOC is an outline of content, or a way to organize files? Like, the Waypoint plug-in generates an “MOC” note for each folder, and it creates a list of links to every file inside the folder.

Oh! Map of Content. It could stand for Map of Content, maybe.

But really, I think it’s just a file or multiple files for organization purposes. Like a replacement for folders, I’m guessing.

It’s does indeed stand for Map of Content, and it’s used for notes which serves a special meaning of organising your other notes. Like an index, or home page, or whatever you want to call it. It’s a starting point for a given topic, and many use them to give some structure to their vault, possibly without the need for folders, or in addition to folders.

Some thoroughly enjoy building MOCs, some make them more or less dynamic, and some just don’t seem to need them. In other words, it’s a personal choice related to how you organise and navigate your vault.


What’s the advantage of using MOCs? Or disadvantages. I understand what they are, but I’m still new to Obsidian and I’m trying to learn and use the app at the same time. So much to learn. I know, in a general sense, what I want to accomplish, I just don’t know yet how to get there and I suspect MOCs will have a role at some point.

I’m not the best advocate for MOCs since I don’t use them myself, but I think some of the main argument is that you could have a limited amount of MOCs hanging around giving you fewer starting points into your vault.

A MOC would also serve to group a topic into other subtopics within that given context. Say you’ve got 30-40 (or more) notes on a topic, but they touch on various aspect of that topic. A pure query would, in most cases, just list them randomly, whilst a manually curated MOC could group them into natural groups making a coherent way to enter this topic.

One could imagine that a MOC could have introductory notes at the head of the MOC, some intermediate more thorough notes in the middle, and special cases towards the end of the MOC. Another scenario using a MOC could be to present those notes being of a more permanent kind, with another section focusing more on work-in-process notes, or even a section where the topic is mentioned in your daily notes, and so on.

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Thank you. This helps. I’m spending time learning Obsidian, learning how I use it but also learning how I approach note taking, organization, and use. It’s been fascinating so far. I’m avoiding going too far down the rabbit hole of any topic (Tasks, Tamplater, Dataview) just yet but will eventually find myself there wondering how I get out.

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They’re very similar to indices in a zettelkasten - ie a starting point for exploration.
Many users treat them as complete indices - ie that they’re a list of all mentions of the topic.
They’re not needed to use Obsidian, but suit some workflows.

Thanks to all for the clarification of MOC; it confuses me as I spend time daily using MOOCs. But begs the questions of why a) it isn’t mentioned in the online help, b) people assume that everyone knows what it means, and c) assumptions are made that everyone will want to use it.

Now that I have a handle on what MOC stands for it might prove useful to future my Obsidianising.

It’s a workflow concept coined by Nick Milo, or maybe he was just the one to pioneer it the most? A case for MOCs and On the process of making MOCs It doesn’t have anything specifically to do with Obsidian.

There may be plugins that try to automate it. But I think ultimately the value in it is that you are mapping out your own meaningful structure - as opposed to a Table of Contents which just lists things. And linking things in a structure is not a new concept at all. (wikis, mind maps, WWW, site maps, org charts, etc. etc. etc.) It’s just a coined name for a workflow way of thinking about it in the context of a knowledge-base.

You don’t need to know anything about it or use it or even study it. It’s just been talked about a lot in this forum since the first few months it existed (as far as I remember). That’s why it’s a popular topic around here, and that’s why it isn’t in the help docs.

a) It’s not in the help because it’s not a feature of Obsidian.

b) People assume others know what it means because they don’t think enough about other people’s experience.

c) I don’t know how many people assume everyone will want to use them. But people often think that what they like is good for everyone.

Nick Milo’s introduction of the term “MOC” in place of simpler terms like “index note” (imprecise but understandable), “overview”, “guide”, “topic note”, or “hub note” is not one of his better contributions to the world.

Answer to a) It’s not a functionality of Obsidian. It’s just a “use case” of links that many people resort to and that meets certain needs.

Answer to b) I dare to say that in 2023, it’s a commonly used concept in the PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) domain. Thus, the term “MOC” has become kind of a common word, in the same way as “PKM” itself, “TOC”, etc. It’s quite normal, if you’re new to PKM and to Obsidian, that you encounter certain terms you have never heard elsewhere. It will be the same in every field of the human activity.

Answer to c) : I don’t think there’s an assumption that everyone will want to use either the term or the concept. But it’s a fact that as soon as you’ll have more than a few hundreds of notes and these notes are supposed to constitute a knowledge base, you’ll feel the urge or the need to make one ore more notes collecting links pointing to related notes. If, instead of simply listing your links like in an index you write some words describing your links, your “notes pointing to a series of related notes” will inevitably look like an MOC. Call it “MOC” or not, that’s up to you. It’s as simple as that.


Contradiction between those two points.

Right. The problem is that new or inexperienced users do not know it. Loads of stuff gets talked about here as if it were canonical Obsidian only for users to then be told that isn’t Obsidian itself. With close to 1,000 community plugins it is not obvious where the not-Obsidian feature actually comes from.

Well said.

There is absolutely no contradiction :

  • “motorbike” is a common word and a motorbike is a commonly used vehicle ;
  • there’s no assumption that everyone will or is using one.
  1. ADVANTAGES: Use an MOC for a complex project with many moving parts which may be interrelated to other complex projects. So using a folder for each project will only capture some of the info; other necessary data may be held in folders for other similar projects, so an MOC will be an index with links to various documents, no matter which folders they reside in. This gives a constructed at-a-glance view of the project or topic, and can have commentary on how the items are related, unlike a saved search, and beyond simply tagging related items.
  2. DISADVANTAGES: Upkeep will be needed from time to time as the project grows. If the MOC page is also used as a log or as a landing page while the project goes forward, this may not be too burdensome.
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A bit harsh, but I imagine the never-ending onsalught of people asking about MOCs and having to address those questions ad nauseam would lead to the beautiful blend of saltiness and sarcasm on display here and elsewhere.

Do I love the term? No. But it lives on because those other terms are not the same and do not serve the same purpose.

I don’t believe you were around these forums when terms in PKM were being argued for/against (which is fine)—when the collective intelligence strove to replace MOCs but mostly failed (although “workbench” + “hub note” would be the closest).

MOCs are both active thinking notes and navigational notes. It’s the “active thinking” part that most folks choose to the ignore, dismiss, or not include in their myopic understanding.

There is no convincing a mind set in their ways, but for others who might be reading this, and who haven’t seen the posts from 2-3 years ago, here’s a synthesis I’ve found helpful:

3a.4 - Defining higher-order notes and MOCs

What is a note again? A note is any container of thought.

We are all familiar with notes. But in the age of the linked note, there is a new type of note we can generally call a “higher-order” note.

  1. Regular notes are notes focused on words within the note
  2. Higher-order notes are notes focused on relationships between notes

Higher-order notes are still just basic notes, but all of their links inside help to give you structure.

Defining higher-order notes

Let’s explore the wonderful world of higher-order notes. You mean, there is more than one type?

Yep. Limiting our vocabulary—like Big Brother does in George Orwell’s 1984—is a sinister way to limit our thinking. Instead, having more words in our vocabulary opens up new ways of thinking and expressing.

With that in mind, instead of putting a limit on what we can call higher-order notes, we should explore the many flavors of them. Here are a few things we can call higher-order notes:

  • Link note - A note with a bunch of links.
  • Hub note - A navigational note, like an airport hub (a Luhmann term).
  • Index note - A note that references other notes (sometimes alphabetical, usually fairly static).
  • Workbench - A brainstorming note with links and ideas usually quickly assembled.
  • Outline note - A note for the early-stage outlining of content.
  • Structure note - A term that describes what it does: structures stuff.
  • Structure zettel - A term from [zettelkasten.de](https://zettelkasten.de/) - Usually shown as a linear table of contents, often with annotations.
  • TOC (Table of Contents) - A static, finalized structure that references material.

Out of all of those variations, I prefer to call higher-order notes MOCs (EM-OH-CEEs):

Defining MOCs

  • MOCs (Maps of Content) are flexible higher-order notes that serve countless purposes.
    • MOCs can be used to gather, outline, structure, and navigate thought.
    • MOCs can structure links to notes in countless ways.
    • MOCs can include a mixture of links, tags, queries, embeds, and anything you can think of.
    • MOCs can be used as active thinking tools that encourage the reshaping, connecting, and building of ideas.

That last bullet is perhaps the most valuable of them all: MOCs can concentrate and accelerate thought collisions.

In a nutshell: MOCs helps you manage ideas by gathering, developing, and navigating them.

As the map-maker—the cartographer—you get to decide what makes it on the map.

Then you get to develop those ideas.

And all the while, you can use the MOC to navigate your ideas—both now and into the future.

I call higher-order notes “MOCs” because they pass three important thresholds.

  • The definition is clear
    • It stands for a “Map of Content”. It is mapping the contents of some of your notes. The term “map” is a familiar term that we understand. The connotations and imagery associated with “maps” are also helpful.
  • The definition is not too clear
    • MOCs have linguistic wiggle room. This is a surprising power.
    • Because an MOC note can be used in countless ways, any word that describes it requires an equally flexible definition. Preexisting words with preexisting definitions are too narrow in scope to define the breadth of what an MOC can do.
  • The acronym serves practical purposes
    • It is easy to append to the filename. I.e., like Habits MOC.
    • It is a visually clear representation of the note at a glance.
    • It is a fairly unique search term.
    • It doesn’t use any non-standard characters that can get your filenames in trouble.
    • It is easy to reference in conversations so everyone is quickly on the same page.

You can call a higher-order note whatever you want, in the end, it’s just a bunch of links in a note. What you do with those links makes all the difference.


It’s no wonder people keep asking what they are when they are defined as anything they can think of. :grin:

Though I do use MOC myself because Index feels too fixed in past notes.
And MOC feels part of more active process.

Thanks for sharing @nickmilo – that mini taxonomy of higher-level notes is something I’ve been looking for.

Maybe one thing that is resulting in people talking past each other is the distinction between mechanism vs. policy.

For e.g., “Zettlekasten” is a set of specific note-taking/organization and workflow mechanisms to implement a specific policy (philosophy/ approach/ etc.) of note taking and thinking. Concepts from this framework can be generalized or used in other frameworks, either by abstracting the mechanism or policy or both. For e.g, the “atomic note” can be seen purely as a mechanism (allowing for fine-resolution linking) or policy (“your notes should capture single concepts in your own words etc. etc.”) or both.

In much the same way, there are general mechanisms for introducing higher-level order/structure or even “adjacent-level” order/structure for the notes. A note with links to other notes is one very general mechanism of doing it. So are tags, folders, dataview queries, etc. Given the different purposes and uses and needs for this higher-level order, we might identify specific policies and guidelines that describe how and why we use these mechanisms.

Maybe we can think of the “MOC” as a general mechanism (extending the “note of links” with specific structure and meaning), and all the other note types (hub, index, structure, etc.) as various “mechanism+policy” implementations with usages and purposes to help organize?

A related issues is, of course, terminology. There namespace is crowded, there is no real controlled vocabulary or even the possibility of coming with one. Terms are oversubscribed or redundant or otherwise have no real definition in some cases or distinction in others. But that’s the stuff of internet arguments :slight_smile:

(Incidentally, the Lua programming languages emphasizes providing “mechanisms not policy” as a fundamental aspect of its philosophy, which is where I learned this concept from, and have since found it very useful in teasing apart aspects of complex higher-order systems such as this. https://www.lua.org/doc/cacm2018.pdf )

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Whatever the merits of the term, I understand that naming is hard and you can’t control what people do with an idea once you release it. Humans gonna human.

Touché! :joy:

And I see I’ve been mispronouncing the term in my head, to boot.