Don’t just Build a Second Brain: share (part of) it
I’m exploring how MyHub.ai could become a unique hybrid of personal publishing and productivity tools by launching a newsletter powered by Zettelkasten knowledge and idea management, all hosted on my Hub.
November 2020: here what I learnt:
I’ve been helping clients integrate their internal and external communication, knowledge management and innovation strategies for some time, so it’s probably normal for me to integrate my own personal publishing and productivity tools.
it makes no sense to put your Notes, Ideas & Bookmarks in one place (or 3), and what you Write, Do & Like in another
After all, both tools manage highly related content — it makes no sense to put your notes, ideas and bookmarks in one place (or three), and what you write, do, like and share with the outside world in another. Like most people, I don’t publish my raw notes, ideas and ToDos — Working Out Loud does have its limits — but I do want them in the same “second brain” knowledgebase, where I can find and mix together everything from notes jotted down as I read through to my polished blog posts.
I started this journey with a first Hub in 2013, and had my Personal Content Strategy workflow and toolkit worked out by 2017, left.
Building MyHub.ai in 2019 then led me to what Tiago Forte calls “Building a Second Brain”, and Zettelkasten idea management.
But my first try at Integrating Zettelkasten Pages into MyHub was flawed by a misreading of the content I’d curated. So I spent August reading How to Take Smart Notes, the canonical book on Zettelkasten self-published by Sönke Ahrens. I invite you to do the same if the diagram, below, intrigues.
It breaks Zettelkasten into three content types, linked by a process workflow:
- Fleeting Ideas jotted down in the shower, on the metro, etc.
- Literature Notes made while reading something; includes bibliographic info on the source
- Permanent Notes: the bedrock of the Main Zettelkasten, each covers one idea. Each is linked to many others, in the same way ideas are linked in your head.
- That creates a lot of paper in two separate boxes, with handwritten links between Notes added manually … if you can find them. So you add more links from Indexes and Overviews. These are also Permanent Notes, but serve as entry points for important clusters of ideas.
Many digital productivity tools have emerged to support this process, most of which simply make writing and learning more complicated:
“… then there are the one thousand and twelve apps to help with learning and writing. Few are particularly complicated, but are usually used without any regard to the actual workflow, which then quickly becomes a mess… There is no point having great tools if they do not fit together”
- How to Take Smart Notes, Sönke Ahrens
And that’s where MyHub.ai shines. It was always conceived to support my writing workflow, which stretches from inbox management through to writing original content. Moreover, unlike other personal knowledge management tool, it also connects to and supports the users’ online presence.
Building a Second Brain with MyHub.ai
So I’m tweaking my processes and the MyHub.ai toolkit.
My current personal content strategy is a workflow where content is driven through a pipeline by simple, discrete and so GTD-friendly processes:
- Curate your inboxes to create Priority Sources;
- Scan those Sources and add the best Resources to your Queue;
- Use MyHub.ai’s AI bookmarklet to Read & Annotate the best Queued Resources onto your Hub as Curated Resources;
- further embed that knowledge in your mind and develop your own ideas by Reflecting on related Resources. This is ideally done by writing about them in your own words — I write newsletter editions to summarise and juxtapose Curated Resources, even those published years apart - and develop my own thinking via blog posts.
Adding Ideation to MyHub.ai
The above process helps get the most from what you read. Two Zettelkasten content types and processes could improve it by reinforcing Ideation:
- ideate: jot down Fleeting Ideas;
- consolidate: elaborate Fleeting Ideas and Curated Resources into Permanent Notes to capture a new idea, or update an existing one;
- reflect: in addition to / instead of writing newsletters and blog posts, create and maintain Overviews: Permanent Notes serving as entry points to important clusters of ideas.
Both Fleeting and Permanent Notes appear alongside your Queued Resources, visible only to you¹. They’re also tagged, so everything — Fleeting Notes, Ideas, Overviews, Curated Resources, enewsletters and blog posts — can be found and interrogated in a single personalised knowledgebase, some of which you share with the outside world.
your Fleeting Notes, Ideas, Overviews, Curated Resources, enewsletters and blog posts in a single knowledgebase, some of which you share with the outside world… we can collectively build a much bigger shared second brain
So in addition to building a second brain just for yourself, you share part of it with others via the public edge of your Hub. If others do the same, together we can collectively build a much bigger shared second brain.
So what does a Permanent Note look like?
The key to Zettlekasten is the process of writing “Literature Notes” as you read, and then elaborating them into Permanent Notes:
to embed an idea … write out the reasons of its importance for your own lines of thought… What does this… mean for my own research and the questions I think about?… useful learning is to connect a piece of information to as many meaningful contexts as possible… building up a self-supporting network of interconnected ideas and facts that work reciprocally as cues for each other…Transferring these ideas into the network of our own thoughts, our latticework of theories, concepts and mental models brings out thinking to the next level
- How to Take Smart Notes, Sönke Ahrens
Both should be written in one’s own words, which is is something I don’t (yet) do, so my curating habits need to change.
Once the Permanent Note is written, the way MyHub.ai manages it is more powerful than in a traditional Zettelkasten:
- while “Literature Notes” are kept in a separate Bibliographic Zettlekasten, MyHub.ai’s Curated Resources are stored in the main database, tagged.
- Those tags mean we can have fun with content discovery. Whereas Zettlekasters must manually link Permanent Notes together, MyHub.ai can propose relevant Permanent Notes, Curated Resources, newsletter editions and Blog Posts through tag-driven natural language processing.
- And, of course, MyHub.ai supports both your private ideation and knowledge management processes, and your public online presence.
As the Zettelkasten approach is probably right to prioritise links between Permanent Notes, we’re exploring the following Permanent Note structure:
- Idea: the Title and Body captures the key idea and related questions in your words
- Tags ensure you can find it later (AI-proposed, user-edited)
- Relevant Notes: using tag matching, MyHub.ai proposes other relevant Permanent Notes, from which you choose the most important ones, creating reciprocal links between them
- See also: an automatic, dynamically updated search result of all content — Fleeting Ideas, Permanent Notes, Curated Resources, newsletter editions and Blog Posts — best matching the tags.
Pilot: the #US2020 Disinformation Newsletter
To test these ideas I’m creating Permanent Notes and a newsletter on “disinformation in the US 2020 elections”.
Launched in 2014, shortly after I first piloted MyHub on Tumblr, my newsletter went quiet in 2018 when I decided to focus on MyHub.ai.
I chose “disinformation in the US 2020 elections” for the relaunch as it will generate a lot of content on a fascinating subject. I already know that Hubbing that content helps me learn more than if I simply read it, and that writing regular newsletter summaries helps even more.
test whether writing a newsletter and maintaining Permanent Notes will deepen my understanding further as I read and Hub articles every day, summarise them in my newsletter, reflect that back into Permanent Notes and regularly update an Overview
My goal now is to test whether adding Permanent Notes and a newsletter will deepen my understanding further, as I:
- read and Hub relevant articles every day
- reflect what I learn into Fleeting Notes as I go
- elaborate those Fleeting Notes into Permanent Notes every day or two
- summarise both the articles and my thoughts on them in a newsletter edition every 1–2 weeks
- formally review and update an Overview at least once every 1–2 editions.
To write this first edition, I first scanned my notes on the resources I’ve Hubbed tagged #disinformation since 2015 (in Zettelkasten terms, I reviewed my Literature Notes). At the time there were 278.
I added the #US2020 tag to seven articles directly concerning this year’s US elections, and created a Service Page² focused on the #US2020 tag, which listed them all in one place.
Setup complete, I reread those seven articles properly and wrote edition #1:
Disinformation, US2020: a Zettelkasten-powered Newsletter
I’m (re)launching my newsletter to focus on disinformation during the 2020 US election. It’s also part of a wider…
As I read and wrote, I also jotted down a series of Fleeting Notes into my Roam Research account³. Then I reviewed both them and the Literature notes to write up Permanent Notes, again in Roam — but with one exception: I wrote my Overview in the body of the (public) Service Page¹.
While both based on those original seven articles, the Overview and first edition are not even slightly similar:
- the newsletter edition summarises seven Curated Resources
- the Overview provides my personal gateway to my (public) Curated Resources and (private) Permanent Notes created around those seven resources, and poses Questions and ideas to inform my future reading.
Multiple options for readers: RSS, email & web
This combination of tools gives readers a lot of options:
- daily updates: get an RSS feed of all the stuff tagged #US2020 AND #disinformation (or any other tag(s) you choose)
- weekly or fortnightly summaries of new stuff added to the page: subscribe to the enewsletter (or browse them: they’re all tagged #US2020 AND #newsletter)
- longterm overview: bookmark the Overview page, which I will update whenever necessary. As I set out, I’m imagining it as a brief summary of the key concepts covered by the content tagged #US2020 and #disinformation, perhaps by exploring the other tags this content has, but that’s bound to evolve as I explore the form. As a public page, however, its search result only lists public MyHub.ai content (Curated Resources, enewsletters and blog posts) — my Fleeting and Permanent Notes are visible only to me.
Footnotes: on using Service Pages & RoamResearch
(1) While it may be interesting to make Permanent Notes public, much of the content Permanent Notes link to will remain private, making for a frustrating read for most visitors. I decided to make my Overview public because this is me working out loud, keen to get feedback. back^
(2) Today, the nearest thing I can create to a Permanent Note on MyHub.ai is a Service Page (see FAQ: What are Service Pages?). As noted in my first attempt at Integrating Zettelkasten Pages into MyHub.ai, Service Pages list all Resources with any of the tags in the Page’s tag set. Future versions of MyHub.ai will give Hub Editors greater control — for example, only listing Resources with all tags, and/or prioritising Resources which have more tags in the Page’s bundle over those with fewer. back^
(3) Using Roam for my Fleeting and Permanent Notes brings the added bonus of forcing me to reengage with and properly learn to use this amazing tool, which is as powerful as it is difficult to exploit fully. back^