One of the tools I want to explore further here is the personal wiki. It has played a central role in my knowledge workflow in the previous years, and helps me getting my thoughts and learning in order.
Concretely, the tool I use is WikidPad, which has many interesting features, but I’ll get back to it in other posts, for sure! But if you want to get started quickly with nothing to install, just take a look at TiddlyWiki: it’s a single Web page you save on your computer and you got an instant personal Wiki.
Wikis and personal wikis
Wikipedia is probably the best known wiki system. A wiki is an hypertext, meaning, like the Web, that it’s a set of pages linked together by words that point to other pages, ie. hyperlinks. Another feature of a wiki is the simplicity of page creation: a simple syntax that looks pretty natural, making it easy to create lists, sections and links. You can learn the basics in under 10 minutes.
One last feature I’ll mention is the collaboration aspect: usually, a whole group (or everyone) can edit a wiki. Basically, you create a page, add some text with the wiki formatting, save it, and it becomes a Web page. Then, someone else comes on that page, clicks the Edit button, makes some changes, clicks Save, and the Web page is modified.
Editing a WikiPedia entry
That’s where a personal wiki differs: only you modify it. It’s up to you to decide whether to share it or not, but other viewers can’t modify pages.
Advantage as a note taking tool
The way I propose it here, you use that wiki as a note taking tool, but a pretty powerful one. You can link entries to one another. You can link to Web pages or documents. Over the months, it can become rather huge. It’s your own space: you organize it as you see fit. The links give structure to the whole, and you use them to navigate from a page to another.
You can use it for whatever note taking you have to do, and all your notes exist in the same “space”. This allows you to link an entry on (say) avocados to recipes, or notions of gardening or Mexican geography, if you feel like it. Now, whenever you learn something new about avocados and write it on that page, that notion is “near” those other pages, due to the links you can click on to quickly access that related information.
As a further and more concrete example of a personal wiki in action, take a look at this post by a medical professional who uses WikidPad to organize some of his professional knowledge.
As a project management tool
Some people will also use their personal wiki to organize their projects. Once again appears the benefit of linking to whatever you want: your projects involve specific topics (say, creating Web pages), and you can easily link to those topics from the pages concerning the project. Then, when working on the project, you’ve got all this related information nearby and quickly accessible.
As an example in action, there is a version of TiddlyWiki that is specifically made for the popular Getting Things Done (GTD) personal organization system: GTDTiddlyWiki.
Screenshot of GTDTiddlyWiki
A mirror of your own knowledge
A clear consequence of being the only one modifying your wiki is that, well, all modifications were done by you… If you use it consistently, that means your personal wiki becomes a mirror of what you know.
While learning, you may enrich it. As some do in school by note taking, you reorganize the notions you grab here and there on a given topic, make them your own by reorganizing them along the way you chose to divide the topics, and adding personal experience you had with knowledge you really used. You can also eliminate the parts that are less interesting or seem to overlap each other.
There are a wealth of benefits, in my own experience, but the sense of truly building something while learning is my personal favorite. You’re not plainly reading, you’re truly building your knowledge and have something to show for it.
In the following posts, I’ll be sharing some elements of my experience with a personal wiki. I know I’m definitely not alone in that practice, so if you have you own experience here (weird use cases etc.), you’re very welcome to comment!