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Senior Project

Semilattice: Problem Complex


There is an exponential increase of knowledge in our world. The existing personal knowledge management systems are insufficient to assist people in processing information.

Problems with existing tools for personal knowledge management

Hierarchy > Association

Most tools store information in unique paths in a tree structure, just as how we used to store information on paper and put them in folders, cabinets, and boxes, using the unique path as its classification.

The tree structure organization used by most tools encourages collection, not connection, of ideas.

  • Human brain organizes ideas in associations. One item is always related to multiple “topics,” and categorizing it in one place makes it impossible to be used in other places. It is difficult to reuse and cross-reference ideas, and it encourages hoarding information. And hoarding is not thinking.
  • Designers from Roam Research, a project that holds very similar values, have articulated the issue in their white paper:
Many files are divorced from context; cast into a drawer, rather than methodically fitted into a broader framework of knowledge. Knowledge trees can create pseudo-relationships between files nested within a given hierarchy, but these are not explicit, and can only describe a vertical ‘parent and child’ taxonomy. Some tools, such as web pages and wikis, also allow for orthogonal linking between related files, but this takes place in an ad hoc fashion, and again, there is no ability to explicitly define relationships.

Documentation > Experimentation

In most tools, thoughts are externalized through text and images organized in linear reading order is most suitable for documentation of knowledge.

However, the production of knowledge is an evolving process of discovery, experimentation, and iteration, in which multiple mentalities of thinking are used.

  • A relevant framework from American psychologist Jerome Bruner introduced three mentalities of thinking: visual (seeing, representations, shapes, analogy), interactive (doing, performing, physically active), symbolic (logic, reasoning, language, notation).
  • This explained why digital designers like using post-it notes to organize brainstorming materials so much, because the physicality of it allows us to declutter thoughts effectively.
  • Another example is how writing software doesn’t really support people to structure their writings better, especially if in large volume. → Related Twitter conversation

We constantly associate new information encountered with existing knowledge in our mind.

An organic PKM system shouldn't encourage people to simply document well-thought materials. A step beyond documentation, and even association between existing knowledge, is to support the externalization and experimentation of information.

  • One particular perspective: most tools separate themselves from casual exploratory activities and information sources. The tools are connected through basic copy & paste functions and clipper extensions.
  • The disconnection makes association of new information with existing knowledge difficult, discouraging evaluation and iteration.

Design Goals and Pivotal Inspirations

The main vision is to design a personal workspace for learning, organizing, and iterating knowledge.

1. Building associative connections at ease between items and new information to be discovered

2. Building a medium with intuitive inputs at various levels of abstraction of thought (text + sketching)


I've been thinking about the best way to conduct concept testing with potential audience, since it feels difficult to gain insight without making the tool/medium first. Making the prototype as a "highlight" of what occupies my head is the only thing I could do. → Thread of three short prototype videos on Twitter

Moving Forward


  • Open multiple windows with Split View
  • Access bookmarks list
  • Search across the database
  • Use lasso tool to move materials between cards

Possible use cases

I assume the tool will be most helpful at online research across different information sources.

  • Brainstorming design ideas
  • Writing outline for a paper