🪴 Scaling Synthesis

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C- Hypertext enables communication with high information density

Last updated May 13, 2022

Authored By:: P- Rob Haisfield

C- Compression facilitates synthesis and hypertext facilitates compression.

Andy Matuschak’s working notes, like a wiki, use hypertext to communicate in an information dense way. This facilitates easy navigation where people are able to find what they are looking for even when they don’t quite know how to express it.

People need an interface for convergence as well. P- Joel Chan writes about this as incremental formalization. Incrementally processing notes is a key user behavior to promote synthesis. In doing so, they progressively compress large amounts of information into smaller amounts, which allows people to more easily compose ideas and define their relationships. Writing in hypertext allows people to have an incredible amount of information density. As Andy likes to say in “Evergreen Note Titles are like APIs”:

When Evergreen notes are factored and titled well, those titles become an abstraction for the note itself. The entire note’s ideas can then be referenced using that handle (see Concept handles, after Alexander). In fact, this property itself functions as a kind of litmus: as you develops ideas in notes over time and improve the “APIs,” you’ll be able to write individual notes which abstract over increasingly large subtrees (e.g. Enacted experiences have incredible potential as a mass medium, Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work).

When the title of the note is able to substitute for the whole idea, it compresses a large amount of knowledge into a sentence, allowing knowledge workers to create a shorthand supported by autocomplete wikilinks. Through bidirectional linking, those wikilinks also create a collection of relevant material.

Hypertext structured in this manner is excellent for exploratory search. When people read a page they do not fully understand, hyperlinks will take them to the pages that explain component concepts, recursively, until they have learned what they need to know to grasp the original page. This style of search is efficient, because if people already understand a concept, they do not need to pursue the links further.

When you have read much of a person’s work in a well structured hypertext notebook, you can build a rich mental model of their thinking. I’ve read so much by P- Tom Critchlow that, when I read a 6 tweet long twitter thread, I am able to connect it to his bigger worldview and even simulate conversations with him. This is because hypertext writing is information dense and refers to sets of ideas in consistent ways. Given that our goal is to combine knowledge at a large scale, information density is crucial.

If a key challenge of decentralized synthesis is bringing people up to speed, then hypertext is a promising direction.