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Hierarchies or Networks?

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Posted by BrainTool
Jul 19, 2021 at 08:37 PM


Hi CRIMPers,
I came across this little corner of the internet when @jimspoon pointed the group to BrainTool[1] (in this thread[2]). I’m glad I did!
I started following @davewiner on twitter recently and understand from his material[3] that an outliner can be understood to be a tool that provides a way to manage hierarchies of information. Standalone outliners died out as hierarchy editors got built into applications. I have been building BrainTool as an outliner that lives in your browser and allows you to create and manage a hierarchy of topics with associated notes and pointers to informational resources.

There’s a recent batch of knowledge management and productivity tools like Obsidian, Notion, Roam etc which espouse a less hierarchical, more networked, view of managed information. They seem to be gaining lots of traction.

BrainTool uses org-mode syntax to store the topic hierarchy and so can readily model a network of links between nodes in the hierarchy, but for now it only supports a ‘forest’ model of multiple top level topics each with a branching set of sub topics.

Does this group have any thoughts or wisdom on hierarchical vs networked models? How do you think about the information you store? Does it really matter if the tree editing and search are good enough?

Thanks for any thoughts.

[1] https://braintool.org
[2] https://www.outlinersoftware.com/topics/viewt/9390
[3] http://outliners.scripting.com/


Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Jul 19, 2021 at 09:05 PM


Looks like a powerful tool for power browser users. I also appreciate that you opened up outlinersoftware.com in your demo video, as I’m sure my fellow CRIMPers will too.



Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Jul 19, 2021 at 09:15 PM


I, for one, can make much more sense of things through hierarchies than ‘flat’ networks, but I understand that reality very often can’t be classified in hierarchical boxes. See D. Weinberger’s “Everything is miscellaneous”.

One approach that I have seen taken by several outliners is the concept of clones, whereby an item can belong to more than one ‘box’. This is often referred to as multiple parents. It is equivalent to symbolic links in the file system, which allow a file or folder to be accessed from several folders.

Another approach is to tag items, and to organise the tags in a hierarchy (rather than the items themselves). As an item can have more than one tag, this solves the issue of complementary categorisations.

BrainTool wrote:
>Does this group have any thoughts or wisdom on hierarchical vs networked
>models? How do you think about the information you store?


Posted by Luhmann
Jul 20, 2021 at 12:15 AM


There are ways of creating hierarchies within Roam, Logseq, Obsidian as well. I personally have settled on Logseq, which has its roots in Org Mode, and have found their implementation of “page tags” to be a useful way to organize certain highly used top-level categories (such as contacts and books). And since both Roam and Logseq are outliners, hierarchy is central to how you enter information in pages, and how that information shows up in your backlinks.


Posted by James Salla
Jul 20, 2021 at 04:42 AM


Cloning can be immensely useful.  I spend a lot of my working life gathering, organizing, and searching large sets of data, and I’ve found that creating a set of mutually exclusive topics or categories is usually difficult, if not impossible.  There are almost inevitably items of information that belong in more than one place in your hierarchy. 


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