Jerry Michalski helps organizations become more trustworthy by exploring their language, processes, and intentions. That’s fascinating in itself — but I wanted to talk with him primarily because he curates an online resource called Jerry’s Brain, a deep repository of interconnected thoughts. He’s worked on Jerry’s Brain for a quarter of a century, longer than any other such experiment I’m aware of. So, I wanted to find out why and how he does this.

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Jorge: Jerry, welcome to the show.

Jerry: It is a big pleasure to be here! Thank you.

Jorge: Oh, the pleasure is all mine. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. I’ve been aware of your work for a long, long time, and super intrigued by what you’re doing. You have a long-running project that I want to ask you about. Folks who are listening in might not have heard of you or your project. How do you go about introducing yourself?

About Jerry

Jerry: It is funny. So, in 2010 I started a mastermind group called Rex: The Relationship Economy Expedition. And I would introduce myself as a guide to the relationship economy and people would twist their heads like the little dog that’s trying to hear the master’s voice better? Because they knew I’d used words, but they had no idea what that was because I was busy inventing terminology.

Then I realized that that kind of boiled down to trust. So if you’d asked me five years ago what I was doing, I would say, you know what? I’m trying to figure out how to reboot trust in the world in different ways. And I’m still on that voyage, but I’m sort of back to the thing that you just described, which is now I’m trying to help us build a shared memory for humans so that we can make better decisions together. Because we seem to be in lockup a lot, which is partly political and you can’t avoid that conversation. But I’m trying to get through the lockup so that we can make great decisions to fix civilization and make things better for everybody. That’s kind of my goal.

Jorge: Okay. I want to unpack that statement, “build a shared memory for humans.” What form does that take?

A shared memory

Jerry: That is the $64,000 question, which now sounds like a quaint dollar amount, doesn’t it? It’s like 64k? Who competes for 64k? So it’s funny! If I tell you that we have some kind of shared memory in Google or in Wikipedia, our minds kind of know what that means. In particular Wikipedia. I can tell you exactly what software they’re running: it’s the Wikimedia engine. It’s a wiki; it uses wiki process. All their conversations are logged and visible because it’s an open source project. I can tell you how it’s funded. The whole thing is very easy to describe and it looks like an encyclopedia. But it doesn’t allow us to express opinions. One of the ground rules for Wikipedia is neutral point of view or NPOV. And that’s great if you want a resource to tell you about carbon capture. It’s not great, if you want to say ,”why? What kind of carbon capture? And, what do I believe? And where do my beliefs come from? What are they based on? And what do I think my beliefs turn into as, for example, policy or science or journalism, or whatever?”

And that layer is really hard to describe partly because each of us, I think, has different tool preferences. We don’t all think alike. And I happened to have been on the first press tour of this little company back then called Naturaficial which had a product called TheBrain. And I just opened a time capsule box that I had stored away. And I found the original letter they sent me to set up the briefing. And I found the original documents and so forth. So it’s very interesting. I’ve just passed 25 years of using their software. So that briefing was 25 years ago.

My quirky version of this shared memory is TheBrain. Other people love Roam Research as a kind of backlink, outliner tool. There’s other tools like Graphviz and Kumu. Unfortunately, it’s like a whole zoo of different tools. And the piece I’m trying to figure out is how do we talk across and with each of these tools. What is, without falling always to a least common denominator like Markdown, which is sort of where we’re at right now. But how do we do better so that we can tell each other’s stories about why we believe certain things? And then other people can pick up our stories and go, “oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! That story I agree with entirely.” Or, “I agree with that story, but I would modify this and this, and I would build on it in this particular direction. I might fork the story.”

That’s kind of cool. And then how do we build that into something that is our shared memory? And so I at the beginning of lockdown, coincident with lockdown, I started a community called Open Global Mind. It has two ideas buried in it: one is open-mindedness, because we’re not going to get to sharing our ideas unless we are open-minded and can have some trust. But the other thing is the global mind part. So, Open Global Mind. What does a global Brain look like? And I know that sounds overly ambitious, but what might it look like? And sorry for the long answer, but I came up with a couple metaphors just to try to explain this thing.

I own And I use the big fungus metaphor because it’s sort of serious fun, and I think people love serious fun, and because leaf cutter ants can’t actually metabolize leaf matter, so why the hell are they busy trimming bits of leaves and carrying them into their hives? The answer is they hand them off to a subclass of that kind of ant, which mulches them up and feeds a fungus. And those ants are also known as farmer ants. They have a symbiotic relationship with this particular species of fungus, which they keep healthy. And so for 25 years, I have felt like a lone ant at the fungus face when I feed my Brain on my desktop.

I’ve been sharing out my Brain for more than half of those 25 years publicly for free. So, anybody can come browse everything I put into this one data file that has more than a half million things in it. So I feel like my Brain data is a quirky and personal inoculant for the global fungus — the big fungus! And I want to find other people who are eager to come in and add their version, flavor, opinions, narratives, to the same fuzzy fungus thing in the middle. And we’re not going to be able to say it looks as as clean as Wikipedia. It’s going to be messy! It’s going to be layered. It’s going to be complicated. It’s going to have many different kinds of information architecture. Because the moment we agree that this one taxonomy is the way to go, we’ve actually screwed up the global Brain.

Global brain as mind map

Jorge: I am going to include links to your Brain in the show notes. I think you call it Jerry’sBrain, with no space between them, right?

Jerry: Yeah, I own Which is the place to go for general info about TheBrain. I also own, which is a bunch of calls I was hosting for a while. And then I own and so on and so forth. So, it’s very funny.

Jorge: And because this is audio only I think it might be worth describing to folks what they might see when they go there, right? The way that… I’m going to use the word ‘mind map.’ It looks almost like a mind map.

Jerry: That’s the first thing I was going to say, so keep going!

Jorge: But what I was about to say… I think that calling it a mind map, does it no favors, because it’s so much more.

Jerry: Well, it’s a very good place to start. And sometimes the place I start is… have you ever drawn like a lily pad diagram on a sheet of paper where you have a word with a circle around it and then a link? You draw a line to another word with a circle around it, and then you make this sort of little context of ideas that are related to each other. Either as a brainstorming tool or to map out a thesis that you’re trying to prove or whatever else.

So that’s the start. And that’s kind of primitive sort of hand drawn mind map. And TheBrain is very much that. And also TheBrain doesn’t force the user to use it in a particular way. It’s very interesting because like you, I’ve been watching information architects and people who’ve got methodologies and all of that. And there’s some really serious thinkers with some super interesting programs in this space. But from my perspective, if I had been told I have to do first degree thinking, then second degree thinking, then third degree thinking before I categorize things and put them into a tool in this way, and then that… I would never have done it. I would never have 25 years of curating this one Brain file. Part of the magic was that TheBrain was very simple to use. I took to it like a duck to water. For other people, it’s a big ball of twine.

So what they’re going to see is a blue background, because I’ve never changed the default background of the interface of TheBrain. And you can easily make it any other image, but I find that all other images or colors make the text less readable. So I’ve stuck with the navy background. It’s a faded navy background with words on it that are linked by little slightly curvy lines. And it looks inoffensive when you first get to it. It has one magic trick that nobody else seems to emulate, which is when you link these nodes to each other and each node…

Because it’s called TheBrain, every node is called a thought, and it’s a word or phrase of text. That’s all. That’s all that’s in each thought. Although you can attach lots of things to a thought. And then when you look around each thought has things that are either above it, below it, or beside it. That’s the magic trick. Up, down, or left. That’s the only way you can connect thoughts. And there’s no right! And when you listen to that, you’re like, “what?” And when you see it in action, you’re like, “oh, I get it.” That’s why it works. And I had a really interesting conversation with a toolmaker recently where I had to sort of sell him on the idea that those lateral links are crucial because he was convinced that the hierarchy is enough. Up, down is enough. And up down is not enough. It actually is not enough. It’s not rich enough.

And then in TheBrain… in some mind map methods it’s like a rubber band display. It’s called a sort of force field where you are putting thoughts near each other, depending on some variable of proximity. In others, it’s very outline-y. This one is not. There’s always one thing in the middle called the active thought. And then when you click on anything else you can see, it rotates into the middle and becomes the active thought. And then you see what is above, below and beside that new thought. And that’s how you traverse through it. And then it has a very nice quick search so you can leap through TheBrain of any size to whatever thought you’re looking for, just by typing in some part of some string that’s in its name. And without that search function, TheBrain would be half as valuable because if you had to traverse always to get from A to B that would be a mess. So the idea is that you can just leap through to some new place. And I use it as note taking. I don’t use it for drafts for writing stuff. But I’ll stop there.

Jorge: In hearing you describe it, it sounds to me like the gist of it is that it’s a spatial hypertext, but one that enforces a certain type of spatial relationships that say something how thoughts stand in relation to other thoughts. Is that fair?

Relating thoughts

Jerry: Precisely. And so, anytime I add something to my Brain, which I do… if you do the math, I’m adding 50 or 60 things to my Brain every day. I have never had the blogger’s or Twitter-person’s urge of, “oh my God, I need fresh content.” That’s not what’s happening to me. What’s happening to me is: I have a really rich Information flow because I curate my email and mailing lists. I curate my Twitter feed and who I follow. So, I see way too much interesting stuff every day, and I’m plucking the gems from that. I call them nuggets. And I’m putting a link to them in my Brain, and then I have to weave them into context.

So, the moment I decide something is worth remembering, which means putting it in my Brain, it shifts me into system two thinking. Here I’m going Danny Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. And mostly we live in system one thinking, which is our responsive, reflexive reply to everything where we don’t really engage the gears. And one of the things I love about curating TheBrain is that daily I’m thrust into system two thinking of: is this worth remembering? If so… so yes. What is it? Where do I put it? Because I don’t have any orphan thoughts in my Brain — at least not intentionally. Everything is hooked like a Christmas ornament onto some branch, right? And then it’s like, okay, so what do I call it? What is it connected to? What can I learn from it?

And then I’ll google the thing some more and then I’ll weave a little bit. And so, I’m always doing this little bit of contextual weaving all over the place a little at a time with no particular order. It’s extremely random. It’s as life hits me, kind of, or as the task I set forth for the day or whatever. So, when you and I have this podcast, I had set up a node — a thought — for this podcast, and I went back to it where I had connected it to the document you sent me for prep, to you, I’ve got you in context, and I put you in a long time ago. So, that just refreshes my wet Brain immediately and I can step into the conversation like I’m stepping into a stream.

Jorge: To come back to your metaphor with the fungus. image that I get in my mind is that as you go through your day, you are exposed to what could be thought of as spores. And because you have this tool that you’ve been using for a long time, you’ve developed the awareness and practices that allow you to integrate the spores into the mycelial network of sorts, right?

Mycelial networks

Jerry: That’s exactly right. And I pick and choose the spores, which breaks the metaphor a little bit because mostly that’s an accidental process, and mine is extremely intentional. But the metaphor is lovely otherwise.

Jorge: Right, but even something like the fact that there’s now an entry in your Brain for this podcast… you didn’t plan on me reaching out to ask you to be on the show, right? So it is a little accidental. It allows for some accidental, you know…

Jerry: Exactly. And by the way, the spores… you’re partly playing off the big fungus idea because mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of mycelia and spores are the way that mushrooms travel to go live somewhere else. Where hyphae are the leading edge of the mycelial network’s underground. So hyphae are the little tendrils that connect to roots and minerals and rocks and whatever else, and do their work. So spores and hyphae are kind of like the leading edge of this big fungus. And so, they’re metaphorically very rich.

Jorge: What I’m excited about here… well, I’m excited about a lot of things about what you’re doing, but one of the things I’m most excited about is the fact that you have been doing this, I think you said, for twenty five years. One of the things that I’ve seen a lot of as I’ve been involved in the tools for thought space is that people discover a tool, they get really excited about it, they put a lot of effort into doing all the things. And I get the sense that a lot of people have unrealistic expectations about when the system is going to start yielding fruit. And my assertion has been all along that for these systems to really start becoming useful tools, they have to become something that you do regularly for a long time. And it’s almost like a way of life more than just a tool.

Jerry: Absolutely.

Jorge: And just let you react to that, because I’m speaking with someone who has been doing it for, you know, a significant part of their lifetime, right?

Finding the right tool

Jerry: Yeah, and I said earlier that people like different kinds of tools and I don’t know what the canonical reduced set of tools is. I don’t know if there’s six or ten-. I don’t really know. And that space — that path of inquiry — is very interesting. But I’m not on that path of inquiry. I’m not trying to catalog them and reduce them. Rather, I have this idea that people just need to figure out how to find their way to the tool that just resonates for them. And some feature will make it work for them. And then they’ll be off and running with a process or a set of rhythms and routines that work for them.

That’s why I think notetaking is the simplest starting point for these kinds of conversations. I ask people, “what do you take notes in?” and a whole bunch of people have no systematic way. A few people use Apple Notes on the Apple operating system and when they tell me that I grimace and I’m like, “so how’s that working out for you?” And it’s like, there’s just no power tools around that, you know? You get little post-its everywhere and you’re lost very quickly, right? And other people were fans of Evernote or DEVONthink, or there’s all these older tools, Tinderbox from Mark Bernstein.

And so, people have to find their way to the tool that works for them. And there’s a whole variety of tools out there. But then the question is how do you create a practice that really works for you? And I’m afraid not a lot of us have something like that. And I feel really fortunate because the moment I had the briefing with TheBrain’s founder Harlan Hugh and his then CEO Don Block, I was a tech industry trends analyst. That was my day job. And I needed to track who competes with whom, who invests in whom, what company has what products, what PR company represents which company, all of that kind of stuff. And guess what tool was absolutely perfect for that? It was TheBrain. And I can give you a tour through my Brain around the venture community and the startup community in a way that will make your head spin.

And that, I can’t emulate in any database I’ve ever tried, and I tried a bunch of other thinking tools and databases and whatever. Can’t do it in another tool. I don’t know; it just doesn’t represent as cleanly. So, then what happens is, I’ve internalized how to use TheBrain so that I’m really pretty quick with it. The way anybody using any amplification of human capacity, who gets good at it… Like the 10,000 hours to mastery thing. You just internalize it. So I’m no longer thinking about the tool when I’m busy note taking and weaving and curating. It just passes through me and becomes a thing. And when I put something new in my Brain and I know that it’s kind of in the right place, and I just added a little wisdom to a little shiny nugget corner of my Brain, I have a little hit of oxytocin or dopamine in my head. That’s like, “ahhhh!” And that’s the addictive formula right there. So off and running.

Jorge: Well, it sounds like there are two benefits to this. One is this notion that you’ve somehow internalized the mechanics of the tool so that you can be really quick and it becomes second nature. And the other you alluded to earlier, which is you said something like, “well, I’m never at a loss for what to share on Twitter or whatever,” right? Which is the Niklas Luhmann thing: you built up this incredible data store and all of a sudden you have this thing that that you can consult for unstructured paths through the collective content that you have aggregated over a long period of time. The long period of time is the important bit there, because it’s not going to happen by the virtue of using the tool per se. It’s using the tool consistently over a long span, right?

Jerry: Absolutely. And the first thought that I have when you say that is: but don’t worry, this thing is useful when you’ve put a hundred things in it. Like, one of my worries when I show people my Brain, which I’ve been working on for 25 years, seeing one file, is that everybody’s like, “well, I’m never doing that, so I would never try it. I’m not that obsessive,” whatever. And I’m like, “find your favorite tool. If it’s a good tool, it’ll be useful right away, but it gets better and better over time.” And that’s the other thing, which is: so few people have an experience of curating, nurturing, improving something for a long period of time, that the cumulative accrual that the time effects of working on something are hard to sell.

I mean, maybe they’re not hard to sell because when I do a demo, people are like, “wait, what?!” and the light bulb goes on pretty quickly. But the concept of doing that work slowly and building up something that layers in like that doesn’t register because so few of us do anything slow and patient like that. And it’s not hard! It’s just I happen to find my way into one. I have a couple friends like Gene Bellinger, who is an ace Kumu user. He has installed and uninstalled TheBrain probably six times in his career. And we laugh about it every time. And he is like, “Jerry, I just reinstalled TheBrain. Let’s talk.” It’s very funny. And he tried to teach me to use Kumu one time, which is a brilliant tool for systems programming. Like when the foxes eat the rabbits, then you know, this happens in the ecosystem? Go to Kumu! Don’t use TheBrain for that. I do not speak Kumu. And it was a little bit like the little learn to draw? You know? Circles, ovals = owl.

Jorge: Yeah.

Jerry: And I was not generating the owl or anything like the owl, you know, when Gene was putting little quizzes in front of me. So, we need to find our way somehow. And you can’t go to Best Buy and say, “hey! I’d like to shop for like a thinking tool.” There is no such thing. They’re kind of ought to be, which is on my list of to-dos. Could we create some exploration space or a quiz or something that helps people find their way to a tool and maybe a practice like building a second Brain or Linking Your Thinking — Nick Milo — or any of those things? Because there’s a few practitioners in the world making a living teaching people how to do this stuff. And more power to them because they have actually figured out a whole methodology.

Jorge: All these people who are teaching folks how to do this, what that that communicates to me is that there is a recognition both for the need to do this and the opportunity. Like you said, tools like Kumu and you mentioned earlier, Roam Research, there’s this whole slew of new tools that are aimed at helping people think better through the use of… I’m going to try to abstract out the category — and maybe you can correct me if I verge too far off the correct path here — but the way that I see it is what these tools have in common is they all seem to center on the idea of building up your knowledge or articulating your knowledge from the bottom up into something that ends up looking like a graph somehow, where you have nodes and you have links between the nodes and you do it one bit at a time, as opposed to this more top-down, architected, categorized approach. Is that a fair take on what the broad category is?

Jerry: I’m not sure there’s always a graph because a lot of these things are just pure textual and they may have a graph view. So if you’re using Obsidian, which is really just a Markdown editor with a community of people writing plugins, and some of the plugins let you do things like graph visualizations, which are cool, but sort of primitive, usually. But in Obsidian, you can just write a website. I mean, it’s just a Markdown editor. You can also do some outlining, so it’s a little bit Roam-like. But then you bounce over to something like Roam or Mem, and those are strictly outliners with back links. And there’s kind of a graph because behind the scenes, all those back links are actually links to each other, to everything you’ve ever linked in. But there’s not that much viewing of it as a graph. There is a graph under the hood.

So one of the interesting things is that for some people the visual is the most important thing. And for other people the visual is like confusing and doesn’t really work and so they, hide it or they don’t need it, which is totally fine. But the link-iness is, I think the common factor. Like partly this is a series of blocks of text linked by some means of linking. It may or may not be visualized as a graph, but acts as a graph that you can then traverse and enrich. I think that’s kind of the thing they have in common. And then you get into all these interesting questions about how to manifest that as software, right? Is it an endless zoomable whiteboard of a bunch of blocks of text on it that you can put a little arrows between? And there’s a bunch of tools like that. And I look at them and I’m like, good luck with that when it’s scaled beyond a thousand blocks of text. Like, you’ll never find your way around, et etc.

Jorge: To be clear, when I said graph, I didn’t mean it as a visualization, but as a structural construct; this notion of links and nodes between them. And I use Obsidian myself, and one of the effects of using Obsidian — even though it is basically at its core, a text editor, I think differently when I’m using Obsidian in that I’m not thinking necessarily of the document. Like, I don’t think that I’m working on a document; I think that I’m working on a snippet that hooks into other snippets.

Jerry: And I wish more people were thinking the way you are thinking, because one of the things I like about Obsidian, which I use next to TheBrain — and they don’t interweave all that elegantly yet, but I hope they will — is, it’s the first editor that lets me think like writing a wiki. Which means, when I hit two left brackets, it opens up a little browser into the name space of that vault, which is the unit of measure for space that Obsidian writes into, and it lets me pick any of the file names and not misspell it and just drop it into my text in the flow, which is brilliant. Because that’s exactly how wikis should work. Also, if I highlight three words and hit double brackets, it turns that into an empty link to a coming wiki page, so to speak.

So, my friend Pete Kaminski is busy using Obsidian plus GitHub to emulate a wiki in a way that doesn’t really have a wiki front end. You’re using Obsidian and the magic of Git to do the version control of a wiki, but you get to think wiki-ly while writing, which I agree with entirely, and I love. I think that that link-iness in text is important.

Shared knowledge repositories

Jorge: Yeah, I’m super excited about not just Obsidian, but all the tools in the space. I want to bring it back to where we started because I realized that we’re running low on time here and I want to make sure that we touch on this. When we started the conversation, you said that what you were after was building a shared memory for humans. And when I use something like Obsidian, Obsidian is not built for sharing, right? Like, by default, the files live in my computer and it really doesn’t make much space for other people to contribute to the system. And and I’m wondering about this shared aspect of things. Where does that come in and are there opportunities for shared sense-making using tools like these that aim to build up a knowledge repository from the bottom up?

Jerry: So, one of the reasons to head toward Markdown on GitHub is that GitHub is in fact a shared space for code usually, but it’s also a shared space for lots of other artifacts, including texts of different kinds. And since we’ve mapped by using the Git plugin on Obsidian and a few other little magic tricks… since we’ve mapped Obsidian files into a GitHub repo, we can actually sort of collaboratively build a website or whatever else using Obsidian individually. There’s a bunch of small technical problems that show up about contention management. What if we’re editing the same file? All that these problems go away in a Google Docs format because Google Docs allows for multiple concurrent editing with no problem. But Google is a proprietary format and it’s not really a wiki.

So, those of us playing with Obsidian are not using Google Docs just because of that. And long ago there was a product called “You Need a Wiki” — YNAW, or something like that. Which… you signed in, you gave it permission to sign in as your Google account and it turned your Google account into a wiki. And I didn’t want to take all of my Google things and turn them into that, but it was a very smart idea and I wish that Google had bought that company and basically folded that into the product. And we might be having a different conversation right now because Google Docs is very close to being a really powerful multiple person editable thinking space. Instead, it’s like Word: it’s a thing that we make personal files with that we happen to share on occasion, right?

And this shared thinking space… I’m interested in pushing that because I think that I did a YouTube short that basically says, “hey! The web and the internet are stuck in mainstream media metaphors. We have magazine articles, we have movies and TV series, we have phone conversations that happen to have video with them. That’s kind of cool. But really we’re not pushing the boundaries and we’re letting the mental limitations of mainstream media affect us in how we use media.” And I’m like, “why don’t we have shared documents where you write something about an insight you had?” And I use that in one of my presentations or narratives because I agree with you entirely and I’m basically proxying my opinion — my vote — over to you, and you’re the better maintainer of that idea.

And I will just fold that into my narrative when I keep telling stories, and then vice versa. And then, we’ll start folding other people’s ideas in. Then, I can see how that would bubble into a policy platform. I can see how that would turn into a series of presentations a corporation might nurture so that instead of hunting for that slide that everybody uses that we don’t know which deck it’s actually in. I’ve done this before — I imagine many people in business have done this before: hunting for the slide you love, trying to figure out which damn deck did we have the best version of it in. In the vision I’m saying, like each slide is just a page in this name space, this wiki space, and you can find which version of it you want to use and include it just by reference into your current presentation, for example.

That becomes a shared thinking space, just through the artifact of simple documents. And then, there’s plenty of people working on, okay, instead of Markdown, how about JSON or how about something else? You know, linked data types and all that kind of stuff. And it gets really rich, but also divergent and confusing really quickly. So, I think we need to start at the simple level and then work our way into more sophisticated forms of sharing with richer representational schemes for the data. And maybe twenty years from now, this’ll all make sense and we’ll all be using a slightly different medium.

But I also think that there’s reasons why Google hasn’t turned Google Docs into a wiki, which is like people bonk on complexity. And there’s this terrible tractor beam that Microsoft Office and Microsoft Word have on all software. And I watched it kill Prezi, which was a cool presentation tool that made itself look more like PowerPoint way back when, which was okay, and then more recently had another big makeover where they lost the magic that was Prezi. And I’m like, “ah, crap!” Because Prezi was an exciting tool that I used as my main presentation tool for a long time because it allowed me to tell stories in this loose, beautiful way.

Jorge: I’m hearing two things there. One is, there’s a technical aspect of this stuff, which has to do with the tools and having tools that support this. You know, hooking up Obsidian to GitHub and all that stuff. And the other has to do with a new way of working, perhaps a new set of practices, new ways of sense-making, that are shared. I suspect that the two go hand in hand and what comes to mind here is when I was hearing you talk about this, I was thinking, “well, I think I’m doing a little bit of this in my day-to-day work with tools like Miro and FigJam,” where you have what is essentially an endless whiteboard and rather than communicate with each other what is happening in the project through a series of slide decks that are versioned and sitting in some filesystem somewhere, what you have is this evolving two-dimensional canvas where the project slowly accretes over time.

Avoiding chaos

Jerry: Exactly. And those two-dimensional canvases are complicated and get messy quickly. So what is the tool and how do we keep it from getting messy? When Notion showed up, I was like, “oh my God! I would’ve given like an arm to have this back in the days of Lotus All In One, or whatever. This is so much better.” And yet, you get a few people collaborating in a Notion space and it turns into like a barn very quickly unless somebody’s in there saying, “Hey! We need to act as a community!” And this is where wikis and wiki culture really helps, is that people who know how to do wikis know that we all need to get on the same page about who’s doing what, where, and how we name things and where we put things. And once we’ve got that dance going, now the tool is our collective power tool. But without that little cultural norming piece, it turns into chaos really fast. So, we’re kind of at that place where we need to develop these community rhythms and norms that propagate because they turn out better work.

Jorge: This is where I suspect information architecture has something to contribute here. And again, the intent is not to say, “let’s come back and impose top-down order on these things.” It’s more like what you’re saying: let’s have a set of practices, principles, heuristics…

Jerry: … norms…

Jorge: … norms, that allow this thing to evolve, but to evolve while maintaining some kind of coherency.

Jerry: Exactly, and this social dance is complicated and sometimes breaks. But one of the important aspects of this big fungus or global Brain for me is it needs to preserve each of our abilities to keep what we know and what we put in. So, if I use TheBrain in a social way with other people, but every time I was putting in some new thought, I had to negotiate what it was going to be called.

Like, on Wikipedia there’s one page for carbon, the element. One page, right? And there’s a talk page behind it where everybody says what’s going to go on the page. If I had to engage in that, every time I put a new note in, I wouldn’t be doing it. But if we could do that and then occasionally step in and say, “you know, your version of carbon is the best one we’ve ever seen! Let’s all just improve that one!” And use fork and pull or some other methodology for improving it, now I can relax because I know that I love your version of it, and that speaks for me in this part of my thinking space. And then we’re off to the races because then each of us is sort of working on the part of it that we love, in a way that other people understand and can proxy their vote or their opinion over into. That gets really juicy.


Jorge: This is such an exciting conversation and I feel like we could keep going for a long time! But alas, we need to bring it to a close. I am very excited by what you’re doing and especially this direction of having it be shared. Where can folks follow up with you to keep up to date with what you’re working on?

Jerry: Thank you. So most of my conversations are happening under the umbrella of Open Global Mind. So is a website that will redirect you over to… We’re building simple sites in Markdown these days so it doesn’t look beautiful, but there’s a community. I run a Google group list. And then we run a series of calls every week. Every week, I record and upload three different calls. Myself and a bunch of other people are having other sub conversations within this community. And we run a Mattermost server, which is an open source Slack competitor. So there’s a bunch of channels on Mattermost. I would say go join there. Ping me, I’m We’ll add my email to to the podcast. But ping me and I’m happy to add you to these communities and join the conversations.

And then, depending on which angle in here you’re interested, like the big is a website, but doesn’t have a lot of these attachments to it. And there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve done on trust as well, which I’m very happy to talk about with people, because I think that unless we solve the trust problem, everything else we just talked about is nonsense. Doesn’t matter. Is irrelevant! Because it’ll just be like thinking to ourselves only and we must figure out how to share our minds in a way that people who disagree with us are willing to engage. And so, we can sort stuff out and make progress because right now we’re very, very stuck. And one of the reasons we’re stuck is that we don’t have a persistent memory of the things we believe and have said that we can sort of argue with and debate with and negotiate with. So, that’s probably the easiest way. Write me or join OGM for now, and I can then route people to other projects.

Jorge: It sounds like a critical and urgent calling. So, thank you for stewarding that and making it an open invitation. And thank you also for being on the show. It was such a pleasure.

Jerry: Talking with you is a great pleasure and thank you for the great questions. And also I just love your work in the field and your perspective on this, because when you ask questions I’m like, “yeah! Yeah! That thing!” So…

Jorge: Well, hopefully we get to do it again. This was fun.

Jerry: Same here. Cool!