The Semantic Advantage

August 10, 2009

The problem of situating ideas

Filed under: semantic technology,visualization of semantic information — Phil Murray @ 9:06 pm

I have papers scattered across my office. Some are printed documents filled with marginalia. Some started blank and are now filled with isolated observations. Some of those observations are in the form of sentences written in small blocks at different angles on the page or enclosed in circles or rectangles linked to to other blocks by curved and straight lines. Some are post-it notes inserted into books I’m reading.

I have a stack of spiral-bound notebooks I use for taking notes at meetings. My notes and comments are liberally interspersed among those notes. Some pages are filled with notes and comments by themselves.

My computer files contain notes in at least 10 different formats (right now — a system for building help files, five (maybe six) different PIMs, outlines made with TreePad, files in Open Office Writer, HTML files created with Sea Monkey, emails and HTML files exported from email, and text files created in Notepad++). Some of the products I’m reviewing contain notes and ideas locked in those particular tools.

Other ideas are scattered across the Web in wikis, blogs, and several web sites.

Let’s face it. I have a problem. Those ideas are not “situated.” They have little or no context. I don’t know — or at least I cannot demonstrate — how they are connected and where they overlap or duplicate each other. And that’s a problem, because I certainly don’t remember most of them.

I have no way around one of the roadblocks to improving this situation: Sometimes I can’t easily record those ideas on a computer. It’s just inconvenient.

At other times, using the computer just seems inappropriate. (Yesterday, I wrote six pages of notes on paper about using Ron C. de Weijze’s Personal Memory Manager (PMM) — a tool for capturing and integrating ideas on your computer! –while sitting at my computer … with PMM open.)

I do go back periodically and try to capture some of the stuff on paper, putting large X’s through notes that I have transcribed. That helps a bit, but it doesn’t connect them. It does little to make their meaning explicit or trace their impact on other ideas. It does nothing to aid in finding the other contexts in which this idea may have occurred.

I have long railed against trapping ideas in formats that makes them effectively not re-usable. That’s a problem with most concept-mapping tools and PIMs — even those that support export to Web formats. I really thought I could solve my problem with David Karger’s Haystack or the NEPOMUK semantic desktop, now being commercialized by (or as) Gnowsis, but I found them clumsy, incomplete, or lacking support.

But the problem of situating those ideas has become so great — and the value of connecting and superimposing stucture on those ideas has become so obvious — that I am giving up (for at least a while) my insistence on making everything (including relationships) convertible to RDF and XHTML. Or DITA.

So I’m going to try to live in the proprietary world of Personal Memory Manager for a while. “Try” is the operative word. And I will do so within a set of constraints, including continuing to create content in HTML — XHTML as much as possible — and referencing those files in PMM, rather than embedding them solely in PMM.

UPDATE: KMWorld [finally] published my article, ā€œPutting meaning to work.ā€ See


1 Comment »

  1. Thank you Phil. The idea of PMM was recently re-situated to, in the proper context of its philosophy and (field) applications.

    Comment by Ron de Weijze — August 25, 2011 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

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