Information Storage and Archiving strategies

13 Jun 2020

P.A.R.A Methodology

“The four top-level categories of P.A.R.A. — Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives — are designed to facilitate this process of forwarding knowledge through time.


Keep a list of problems you’re interested in (I’m not really buying this one)


Raise the bar: does what you capture serve a purpose in one of your 12 (in our case N) problems? If so, keep. Else, discard.



The final piece of the puzzle. Once you have the information captured and organized, you need to actually do something with it. There are two parts to the creation stage: divergence and convergence. Divergence is where you take what you have captured and begin to explore the ideas, extracting useful tidbits, and discovering the best of what you have. Convergence is where you then compile those best ideas into something structured and concrete that you can send out into the world. And of course, there are several strategies for each.

So even though my main goal isn’t writing or making content, I do believe extracting insights from data, or finding creative ways to connect different areas will prove useful, or at least fun. I’m keeping the idea of separating things into resources (shareable) and areas (personal), and also the idea of going through notes for convergence and divergence.

‘Thoughts On’ Journal

“There are certain subjects in your life you think about a lot. People, places, hobbies, health, plans, finances.

For each subject that you might have ongoing thoughts about, start a separate “Thoughts On” journal. Whenever you have some thoughts on this subject, open up that file, write today’s date, then start writing.”

“I find it so useful to keep my thoughts on each subject together, because I can see my past thoughts and current thoughts in one place. I can see how my thoughts on this subject have evolved or keep repeating. Sometimes I think I have a new thought on a subject, so I open up the file and write it down, then afterwards I see I had that same thought a year ago and had forgotten about it. If you care about your thoughts, keep them.Daily Journal, Derek Sivers

To find a book if it’s on the public domain, easily look for it on with this google search: intitle:full/text/of intext:Lovecraft

Commonplace Books

Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from antiquity, and were kept particularly during the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s responses. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

“Commonplace” is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek tópos koinós, see literary topos) which means “a general or common topic”, such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of such sayings, such as John Milton’s example. Scholars now understand them to include manuscripts in which an individual collects material which have a common theme, such as ethics, or exploring several themes in one volume. Commonplace books are private collections of information, but they are not diaries or travelogues.

In 1685 the English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke wrote a treatise in French on commonplace books, translated into English in 1706 as A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books, “in which techniques for entering proverbs, quotations, ideas, speeches were formulated. Locke gave specific advice on how to arrange material by subject and category, using such key topics as love, politics, or religion. Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective. source: wikipedia

Memory systems can be used to build genuine conceptual understanding, not just learn facts: we can achieve this in part through the aspiration to virtuoso card writing, and in part through a narrative embedding of spaced repetition that gradually builds context and understanding.

Mnemonic techniques such as memory palaces are great, but not versatile enough to build genuine conceptual understanding: Such techniques are very specialized, and emphasize artificial connections, not the inherent connections present in much conceptual knowledge. The mnemonic techniques are, however, useful for bootstrapping knowledge with an ad hoc structure.

Memory is far more important than people tend to think: It plays a role in nearly every part of cognition, including problem-solving, creative work, and meta-cognition. The flip side is that memory systems themselves want to grow into other types of tools – tools for reading, tools for problem-solving, tools for creating, tools for attention management. That said, we don’t yet know what memory systems want to be. To reiterate: memory systems are in their infancy. Transformative Tools for Thought

Capture everything: Do not assume your brain will remember anything. Write it down ASAP. Use whatever will let you capture it quickest, whether that’s pen and paper or a digital solution.

Review and process: Make sure you actually look at the things you wrote down regularly and organize it. If it was an idea you need to act on (e.g. a topic for a blog post, or a reminder to look up a particular concept), add it to your task manager. If it was a thought for reference, add it to your ‘second brain’/note-taking/archive system, and add tags so you can find it easily later. Once processed, archive or delete the item from your capture system. rosiecam, LessWrong

Trying by Paul Graham

To understand what a real essay is, we have to reach back into history again, though this time not so far. To Michel de Montaigne, who in 1580 published a book of what he called “essais.” He was doing something quite different from what lawyers do, and the difference is embodied in the name. Essayer is the French verb meaning “to try” and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.

Figure out what? You don’t know yet. And so you can’t begin with a thesis, because you don’t have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn’t begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don’t take a position and defend it. You notice a door that’s ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what’s inside.

If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne’s great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That’s why I write them.

In the things you write in school you are, in theory, merely explaining yourself to the reader. In a real essay you’re writing for yourself. You’re thinking out loud.

Nikita Voloboev’s list of personal wikis

“I have been using plain text documents since 2001. I just make a new file with a YYYY-MM format and dump everything in there, and on the next month I start a new file. I keep them all in 1 folder.

It’s really simple to use and very searchable with grep. I like it because it’s all offline and doesn’t get in the way.

It becomes a brain dump of interesting links, notes about certain things I’m doing or whatever else I feel is worth jotting down at the time.”

nickjj on HackerNews (I just thought it was neat)


“Notes (both your notes and highlights) should be turned into explicit form as soon as possible. As of now, your notes are implicit at best, and would therefore lose meaning & context quickly.

Think of it like jotting down “pencil” to remind yourself to return a pencil to your classmate. After a couple of days, seeing that reminder “pencil” won’t make sense anymore. Otherwise, if you put it this way: “Return pencil to Sara” then you won’t have any problems no matter how much time has passed.

The point is, every bit of implicit-ness must be stated clearly in words. (You can say this actually future-proofs your notes)”

” To counteract [the bias of being overconfident about your memory], write as if you’re writing for others. If only the current you can understand what you’re saying in your notes, then the notes won’t be usable in the future. Technically speaking, you are going to become a different person in the future, so you might as well write as if you’re trying to talk to someone else. “ – LeanAnki

As a summary, the Zettelkasten method follows a workflow with three steps:

Zettelkasten relies more heavily on linking than tags/searching. This is because of the use of smaller, more granulated Zettels which interlink to represent a “thought trail” (a linked list of Zettels). In my case I prefer big chunky notes + search, but we’ll see.

Having a short-term and a long-term cache with nightly batch processing

“In Taking Smart Notes, Luhmann is described as transferring the important thoughts from the day into Zettel every evening. Sheffler, on the other hand, keeps a gap of at least 24 hours between taking down engagement notes and deciding what belongs in the long-term store. A gap of time allows the initial excitement over an idea to pass, so that only the things which still seem important the next day get into long-term notes. He also points out that this system enforces a small amount of spaced repetition, making it more likely that content is recalled later.”

The author himself remarks he doesn’t do this, and writes directly in the zettelkasten instead.

The Zettelkasten Method

Johnny Decimal

From Johnny Decimal, A system to organise projects

Nobody can find anything any more, it’s time to get organised.

We give each category a number. Before the decimal: category id. After the decimal: auto-increasing file ID (for each new one you create).

None of the areas or categories overlap. There’s only one place anything can ever be. An important restriction of the system is that you’re not allowed to create any folders inside a Johnny.Decimal folder.

This means that you’ll never get lost in layers upon layers of folders. It also makes you create quite specific folders for each thing, ensuring that you can always find what you want.

Easily tell people where things are.

That’s a summary of what they suggest. Though I don’t know if I’d go all in on the indexing by numbers wagon, I do like the idea of using a depth-2-at-most file tree for easy retrieval and to improve discoverability.

I think this is one of those things that sounds nice in theory but would be a nightmare to implement in practice, for any team bigger than 5 people. Just imagining trying to make the teams from different provinces adopt our same indexing system sounds like it would take 4 or 5 meetings, and somebody would still get it wrong on either end. It’s a huge coordination problem.

But maybe a small squad system could work.

Let me introduce the word “hypertext” to mean a body of written or pictorial mterial interconnected in such a complex way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper.

It may contain sunnnaries, or maps of its contents and their interrelations; it may contain annotations, additions and footnotes from scholars who have examined it. Let me suggest that such an object and system, properly designed and administered , could have great potential for education, increasing the student’s range of choices, his sense of freedom, his motivation, and his intellectual grasp-.

Such a system could grow indefinitely, gradually including more and more of the world’s written knowledge. However, its internal file structure would have to be built to accept growth, change and complex informational arrangements, The ELF is such a file structure.