Jordan Moore · Networked Notes

Jordan Moore · Networked Notes

19.00 GMT · Tuesday, 19 January

Our first talk of 2021 was by Jordan Moore, co-founder of Dawson Andrews. At Dawson-Andrews, Moore has worked with world-class companies including: Toys’R’Us, Danske Bank and Lagom.

He joined us, however, to talk about his work exploring the rapidly emerging ‘networked notes’ movement (also referred to as the ‘second brain’ movement), powered by tools like Roam Research, Obsidian and TiddlyWiki.

Jordan Moore’s personal site is a refreshing take on the horizontal scrolling paradigm. Heavily content- and ideas-focused, it’s home to a wealth of thought-provoking material.
Jordan Moore’s personal site is a refreshing take on the horizontal scrolling paradigm. Heavily content- and ideas-focused, it’s home to a wealth of thought-provoking material.

Think about how your brain works: it’s tangential, not hierarchical. Ideas bounce around your brain and, occasionally, collide to reveal new and unexpected ideas (that’s innovation at work).

Roam, and other tools like it, remove the friction that traditional note-taking tools add when creating the connections between thoughts. In 2017, Roam was a prototype with one user. In 2021, it's popularity has exploded and it now boasts a cult-like following.

Moore has been tracking the development of his tool for multi-dimensional notes in
Moore has been tracking the development of his tool for multi-dimensional notes in a detailed Twitter thread. The screencast, included in the first tweet, above, has been viewed 7,800+ times.

At the edges of this movement, designers like Moore and Andy Matuschak (Apple, Khan Academy…) are building their own tools to capture networked notes.

This screencast, showing Moore's tool in action, echoes the paper-based, index cards methodology that underpins Zettelkasten (German for 'card index').

Moore will share his ideas on: the Zettelkasten method; Roam vs. Everything; and why networked notes has caught the consciousness of everyone, and what 2021 holds for this movement.

Why attend this talk?

  • If you’re a strategist, a designer or a researcher, this talk will introduce you to the rapidly emerging world of networked notes, enabling you to adopt more efficient note-capturing processes for your design research.
  • As I noted above, the collision of ideas is where innovation happens. If your work involves idea generation, this talk will be invaluable.
  • If you’re a writer, this talk will help you develop new workflows to capture your thought processes, turning ideas into outcomes.

Summary

I’m torn on: Why attend this talk? It feels relevant for context, as in: Why should you read this summary? Still mulling it over.

Here are some of the themes we explored…

Outsourcing your brain.

Picking up on some of the themes of GTD, i.e. capture a thought and move it out of your brain as quickly as possible. De-stress. Stop ideas piling up.

Moore discussed the benefits of using tools like Roam Research, Obsidian and TiddlyWiki to move your thoughts out of your brain. This is something I think is worth exploring in another talk (unpacking GTD?).

Misunderstanding as a tool.

Reframe misunderstanding as a positive.

Magic as a strategy.

I was delighted to welcome Jordan Moore – co-founder of Dawson Andrews, whose clients include Toys’R’Us, Danske Bank and Lagom – for our first In conversation with… guest talk of 2021.

Moore joined us to discuss his work exploring ‘networked notes’ and the emergence of ‘second brain’ thinking, which has been nurtured by tools like Roam Research, Obsidian and TiddlyWiki.

He shared his ideas on: the Zettelkasten method; Roam vs. Everything; and why networked notes caught the consciousness of everyone in 2020. He also shared the thinking behind a note-taking tool he’s been designing and building, inspired by Zettelkasten and index cards.

A substantial part of our conversation centred around the difficulty of stepping outside of existing interface design paradigms, and the challenge of designing new note-taking interfaces (indeed, designing anything) when the cultural baggage of the past is weighing you down.

For example, we’ve been living with the desktop metaphor for decades, ever since Steve Jobs 'borrowed' it from the researchers at Xerox PARC in [1979][PARC]. As Making the Macintosh notes:

Jobs … was immediately converted to the religion of the graphical user interface, and ordered [it] copied by Apple. The Apple engineers – that band of brothers, that bunch of pirates – stole the fire of the gods, and gave it to the people. [^1]

Whilst there’s no doubt this religion fundamentally altered the trajectory of computing, driving it into the arms of the masses, it has also locked us into a vision of computing that it’s incredibly difficult to move beyond.

Designing now, decades later, it’s a challenge to distance yourself from the desktop metaphor and start with a blank slate.

Similarly, for browser-based tools, we’ve been living with another set of design assumptions since the birth of the web in 1989. Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the web established two dominant paradigms:

  • web pages scroll from top to bottom; and
  • links take you to another page, which – by and large – replaces the content of the page you’re currently looking at.

Taken together, these paradigms – desktop and browser – have taken us down an avenue that it’s hard to reverse out of. How do we move beyond these mental models and imagine new approaches? Enter ‘magic as a design strategy’.

One of the most interesting aspects of the conversation to me was Moore’s idea of magic as a design strategy. There are aspects of his approach that overlapped with one of my tools – Archaeology of the Future – but the idea of magic in design caught my attention. Moore:

In a way it's this idea of working backwards from magic. Ask yourself: If this worked by magic, what would it look like? If it worked by magic, the tool would continue its work after I stopped working, or it might continue researching, when I'm asleep. Then, when I wake up, the tool has gathered a wealth of new research for me to consider. At that point, I can either commit it to the system or get rid of it.

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