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What is a hypertext notebook?

Last updated March 17, 2023

Authored By:: Rob Haisfield

A hypertext notebook can be thought of as a mini-Wikipedia. It is a deeply entangled web of ideas that are changing constantly. Readers will take a different journey every time they visit, and pages that they have already read may take on new meaning when placed into new contexts.

A key advantage of writing in hypertext is that it allows the writer to express their thinking and research in a way that is simultaneously more in depth and more concise. Hypertext enables communication with high information density. If you have already read a page and internalized its core idea, then all you need to do is see the title of that page to bring to mind the entire argument. At the same time, if something doesn’t make sense, you can explore its context by navigating to the ideas that it is built on.

As such, writing a hypertext notebook is an ideal way to perform a literature review.

Where the semantic publishing rubber meets the scholarly practice road

Another example of Explorers’ niche tools is a growing ecosystem of “networked notebooks”, which are a particularly interesting category with deep intellectual roots in hypertext [7, 20]. A prominent example is RoamResearch ; others include TiddlyWiki and Scholars who use these tools create and maintain relatively atomic notes on concepts or some kind of focused claim (Compression). These notes are densely linked to each other (Composability), typically bi directionally: every time a link is made from one source note to a target note, both the source and target notes record the link (see Fig. 5). In this way, links between notes are more accessible, since links can be followed from either source or target notes. This, together with other affordances like autocompletion of links during text editing, enables easier tending to connections between notes (Composability). The links also enable users to compress quite complex ideas into a single statement (e.g., “knowledge is contextual”) while retaining links to the less compressed ideas that “unpack different aspects and subtleties of the more complex idea. In this way, tending to the notes and links also enhances the Contextualizability of each entry. Finally, since notes that collect bi-directional links can be as small as a single concept, the act of deliberately linking notes partially accomplishes the work of developing folksonomies (Composability). A key affordance in these networked notebooks is that it is quite easy to renam note titles, with changes automatically propagating throughout the database. This enables more agile and evolving folksonomies.