October 10, 2022
I stumbled across the modern revolution in Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) around a couple years back, fuelled by the introduction of the new age note-taking and knowledge management tools like Notion, followed by Roam and Obsidian.
Soon, I started facing a challenge of efficiently retrieving the information from those notes at will. Essentially, the challenge of managing the growing database of notes – pretentiously called a knowledge database. One of the key principle of an efficient database is sensible organisation via folders. Another critical one is to create useful links between them through tags, keywords and a key feature of today’s knowledge management tools – backlinks.
MOC or Maps of Content comes into the picture as efficient and powerful ways to do both – organise and link.
A Map of Content (MOC) is a special note that connects a group of notes of similar themes. For instance, all notes related to one’s health can be linked with an MOC titled “001 Health” that may contain notes on diet, exercise, fitness tracking, weight tracking etc. The concept was first introduced by Nick Milo, who is a well known figure in the Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) community.
MOCs allows us the flexibility to organise all our notes in a manner that makes sense to us. The same note can fit into different perspectives and context. With an MOC, we can simply create a backlink to that note from anywhere. This allows that same note to appear in many different contexts.
Let’s take an example of a map of content I created. This MOC contains links to other notes related to the topics of writing and editing. This MOC can work as a folder – keeping related files together in one place. But it’s not as rigid as a folder would be.
If I were to create another note around the topic of building habits, I can reference the note “How to build a writing habit – Julian Shapiro” in this new context of building habits. None of the notes linked in “010 Writing and Editing MOC” are exclusive only to this note.
To create a similar workflow with a folder, I will need to copy the note “How to build a writing habit – Julian Shapiro”into that folder, say, “Habits” to maintain the structure of grouping related notes together.
What’s the point of taking meticulous notes if you can’t retrieve them when needed? A knowledge database is useful only if the notes are easily discoverable. We can do this with keyword searches. The drawback of search is that you have to know exactly what you are looking for.
Tools such as Obsidian and Roam allow serendipitous discovery of notes with the Graph View. You can see visually how different notes are connected together, notice clusters and connect different ideas together.
Regardless of which hot new trend is prevailing today, you should choose to organise your notes in the way which makes sense to you. If folders work for your knowledge bank, forget maps of content.
The ‘P’ in ‘PKM’ stands for personal after all.
I am on a quest to improve my writing skills. If you have any suggestions, resources or just want to yell at me, please share via Twitter or LinkedIn. 🙌