Over-linking, and the multi-faceted nature of a PKM system

With my first two Obsidian vaults, I made the mistake of over-linking. Wherever I could possibly link something, I did.

When I was making notes whilst learning a specific new subject, e.g. studying for CompTIA Sec+, then the dense linking made sense, as when I referred to ARP in a note I wanted to be able to hover over ‘ARP’ and remind myself that it referred to Address Resolution Protocol and what that actually meant – so I could understand how it worked in context with this new note.

This, in short, started to lead it towards becoming a personal wikipedia. It was a study tool for a specific subject, not a thinking tool. It was concrete vs abstract.

This is where I started to realise that PKM is an extremely broad subject, with countless permutations.

Some examples of different types of PKMSs:

  • A personal wikipedia or study tool, like the above
  • Project notes
  • Task management linked in with project notes
  • Archives of interesting links and thoughts, possibly tagged rather than linked
  • Databases of personal information such as health records, job applications, even info about the last time you contacted somebody (I’m particularly thinking of how I often see people using Notion)
  • A thinking tool based on typically abstract lines of thought – sometimes referred to as ‘traditional’ zettelkasten but there are a lot of reasons why that can be a misnomer (for a separate post)
  • Other types I haven’t yet categorised

Now, the question for me is: is it possible for these to all be the same thing?

My answer is no.

Certainly, you can try to integrate a couple of these into one system, and I see many people do so effectively. In my mind, however, when you try to do all of it in one system, it can end up working at cross-purposes. If you want to have multiple systems, you may need to physically separate them – potentially between applications, or at least significantly separate them in some visual way in your existing application.

In order to figure out what type of PKMS you have and whether you need separate ones, I believe that the starting question should be: what is the role of linking in my PKMS?

My approach to linking is currently:

  1. Does it develop a line of thought?
  2. Is the link best expressed as a parent/child/sibling note (therefore shown in the numbering), or is it a link across lines of thought, possibly converging?
  3. Is the link best described as a new idea, and therefore a note?

If the answer to (1) is ‘no’, then I don’t link. Simple as that.

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