On taking notes and syndicating them

I've been following Ton Zijlstra's blog for the past few months with great interest. There's noone else in my reader who blogs quite like he does - maybe I should find more.[1] He writes about many topics, only one of which is relevant for this post: taking notes.

I always like reading about how other people process information and handle their notes/knowledge bases. It's a topic I think about often.

Ton Zijlstra's ideas are especially interesting to me because it seems we are trying to achieve similar goals, but go about it in opposite ways. Now, to be clear: I don't think there is a right or wrong way of doing this. Ten people building a system that suits them best will inevitably come up with ten different systems.

There is this post about a system for syndicating book reviews, which inspired me to write this down.

But first a small digression. In case you don't know what IndieWeb is - it's an alternative model for how the web can function, focusing on the individual people in it. It serves as an alternative to the various corporate silos that make up most of the modern web. That is, it's built around the ide that maybe you're better off posting things into a system that you have control over, rather than just handing everything over to Google, Facebook and their ilk.

The IndieWeb folks[2] use two handy terms: PESOS and POSSE.

The IndieWeb wiki defines them thus (paraphrased):

PESOS is an acronym for Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate (to your) Own Site. It's a syndication model where publishing starts by posting to a 3rd party service, then using infrastructure (e.g. feeds, Micropub, webhooks) to create an archive copy on your site.

The opposite (and preferable) approach is POSSE (Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere), whereby a user publishes original content to their own site, and then syndicates copies to 3rd party services, preferably with links back to the originals on their own site.

That is: PESOS is if you first post to a place like Facebook (a 'silo'), and then copy or link ('syndicate') the same content to a site you control. POSSE is the oposite - post to your own site, copy or cross-post to FB, Twitter or anywhere else.

I have known about these terms for a long time, but they're not that relevant to me - I'm quite shy about the things I write here, so most of the time I don't post the links anywhere else, anyway. 😁 And I have never thought to apply them to my thinking about anything else than blogs. But after reading Ton's posts, I have realized that these terms in essence pretty much describe where our approaches to note-taking differ.

I like having specialized tools that maybe can't do everything, but do something really well. That's why I still use AirTable (or NocoDB) for tabular data (and then connect it to the rest of my stuff). I keep my notes in Joplin, because I think it's the best note-keeping tool out there. All my blogs run on Ghost, because it has a nice UI for writing; and since I blog for the joy of it, I don't want any unnecessary friction. (I do have issues with Ghost, but WordPress was worse.) Perhaps one exception is Goodreads, which is horrid, but it has all of my friends and many books, so I'm stuck with it.

But when I'm searching in my notes, I want to be able to find anything, regardless of what it is or where I wrote it. That's why I build tools that copy all the things into Joplin. Tools like Ghoplin, which syncs the contents of my Ghost blogs. I'm currently working on an overhaul of it; it can already syndicate Tables of Contents from a magazine I subscribe to, and will eventually also import Goodreads book data and a few other things. In principle, this corresponds to PESOS.

Ton's approach goes the opposite way: He uses Obsidian to write everything, from notes through actionable tasks to book reviews. (I am of course simplifying very much; if you're interested in the topic, I recommend reading his blog.) And since Obsidian keeps its notes as Markdown files in local folders, he can then write tools that either facilitate entering data by taking some input and creating a local MD file; or integrate to other systems by reading local files and pushing them somewhere. That 'somewhere' might be a new draft in WordPress, or a feed of book reviews that prompted this post.

(It also really amuses me how he always seems to choose the exact opposite of the tech I'd choose. 😄 I dislike php and wordpress, and I much prefer Joplin's way of doing things to Obsidian's.[3])

Reading details of how someone does it completely differently is always interesting, because it brings all the ideas into focus and maybe suggests possible improvements, even though my system suits me well as it is. I value being able to use specialized tools for specific tasks more than I would value having my note store be a single 'source of truth'; a master for all data.
But even so, I would appreciate the possibility of storing structured data in textual notes. Obsidian has the Dataview plugin that unfortunately has no alternative in the Joplin ecosystem; but maybe it could serve as an inspiration for one of my future integrations. After I figure out the data format, because I'd like to avoid unwieldy Yaml frontmatter.

  1. I think maybe Ton's blog subscriptions are public? And maybe there are other interesting places mentioned on the IndieWeb's wiki, where I think I found his. That could be a place to start. ↩︎

  2. I can't really count myself among them; I just lurk occasionally. ↩︎

  3. There have been plenty of good discussions about the merits and drawbacks of both of these tools on Joplin's forum. ↩︎