Discover more from Dean's List
Back in December, I started a public interstitial journal. A few times a day, maybe every hour or so, I'd write down what I was thinking. I was surprised at the benefits of this practice.
“logloglog” is my public stream-of-consciousness (b)log. It’s evolved to become my sole-form of “note-taking,” and it’s one of the most valuable things I do as a writer. This experiment started after a talk with two pseudonyms friends, Duck and Syslog, about the shortcomings of online expression and community.
I started this on December 9th, 2021, and have averaged 15 posts a day (~1,000 words), separate from my published essays.
I’m inspired by the first online writers who built HTML-sites from 1993 to 1998, before Xanga, OpenDiary, and the wave of platforms that simplified online-writing. Writers like Justin Hall and Gus Mueller saw self-publishing as a revolution; an opportunity to pour their consciousness into the Internet in real-time. They were scrappy, prolific, unedited, and unfiltered; embodying Kerouac’s spirit of “On the Road,” but native to the Internet. Their websites feel like mazes; endless rabbit-holes through the neurons of some strangers psyche.
What I’m doing here is an extreme form of “ambient capture.” It’s a practice of capturing thoughts immediately as they occur. I used to privately jot down frantic, illegible notes to remember things, but since logloglog is on my public site, I’ve been capturing my ideas in semi-coherent prose. It’s a game-changer.
Over the last ten years I’ve cycled through dozens of idea-capture systems. Logloglog has been the most fun, the easiest to maintain, and it’s what I would recommend for anyone who is interested in creating. Many of the note-taking philosophies in the productivity space can resort in a tinker-fest (I’ve been there). They emphasize collecting external “bricks” (articles, links, and highlights), and then over-organizing them in private, with the hope that colliding the right inputs will usher in a higher quality or quantity of outputs.
In the last 50 days I’ve undergone a shift in how I collect ideas:
From private **to public;
From external to internal thoughts;
From chicken-scratch to prose;
From a systems architecture to a daily page;
First, I’ll unpack the value I’ve found from capturing ideas in this way. Then, I’ll address how the tools we have for expressing and sharing ideas (Twitter) fall short at authentic expression, and why we need new ones.
The value in logloglog
Catharsis - Putting thoughts down on paper is easy therapy. Any thought that bounces around your head, good or bad, takes up mental bandwidth. Writing is a release valve. In Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” routine, she explains how “dumping” has value in itself, even if you never return to re-read it.
Eruption - It is liberating to write in a format that encourages fragments. Since there are no length-constraints or title-requirements, an idea can express itself as a sentence, a paragraph, or an accidental essay draft. The collage-like nature of this format reduces the demand for structure and “linear coherence.” This gives the writer permission to follow their curiosity.
Mindfulness - A real-time capture log implies that your own life is the best source for inspiration; not feeds, articles, or encyclopedias. Having a public log changes how I see the world. Every moment, experience, and conversation is an opportunity. This practice cultivates self-awareness. As interesting thoughts arise through the day, I have to notice them happening, and then have the discipline to record them. I dip into logloglog frequently, and it acts as an interstitial journal.
Memory - It’s fascinating to jump back to a random day in the past and relive my full train of thought. This practice is a method of freezing consciousness and preserving it for the future. It’s more than a morning journal; it’s a change-log of my consciousness; a real-time autobiography. The prose I write controls how my future self will remember the current phase of my life.
Self-knowledge - You can learn a lot about yourself by retroactively looking through the things that were on your mind. When you capture everything crossing your mind, you get an honest reflection of the landscape within. It’s not a niche; it’s the true, multi-faceted self, rendered as a mosaic. You’ll find patterns about yourself that were impossible to see in the moment. Here’s a word cloud showing the range of concepts that emerged in the first 50 days. Each of these had over 15 mentions.
Simplicity - It’s easy to maintain a note-taking system when there is minimal overhead. There’s no process to categorize or link blocks. The priority is to capture thoughts that matter, and to write them well. It only takes me 10 minutes each morning to read through the past day’s log, pluck out the worthy ideas, and archive the rest. The whole system is basically a text-file per day. Sometimes lo-fi works.
Social - It feels good when others acknowledge things in your log, or even take action off a note that seemed unimportant. My log has sparked conversations, book purchases, and changes in the daily routine in others. This could theoretically happen on Twitter, but people share such filtered version of themselves in public forums.
Momentum - There are some people who check my site and read through my log every day. That fact alone motivates me to never miss a day. It keeps me accountable and wanting to continue the streak. The longer I go, the less likely I am to stop. It’s motivating to know that I’ll have a whole archive of notes that document my life. It’ll be something my kids and I can look back on in the future.
Practice - Every next note I create might be the first and only note that a new reader stumbles upon. It forces me to write in semi-coherent prose. There are two great side-effects of this. At a functional level, it means my future self will be able to make sense of what my past self was trying to say. At a craft level, it means I get to practice writing in prose, a lot. In 1 month, I write as much prose as I would’ve in 4 months of essay writing.
Seeds - It’s feels good that tweets and essays are accidentally created during the process of transcribing my life. Each morning, I read through my log, and find that 20-30% of what I’ve captured are seeds that can grow into Tweets or Essays. Additionally, I can search any phrase, and find all past references to it, as well as the context for when that idea occurred. I don’t have a shortage of writing material, I have an abundance.
[Note: This essay was assembled from ~30 notes I surfaced from the last 50 days. It made writing this pretty easy.]
Twitter vs. Notion
Michael, this all sounds great, but why don’t you just do this on Twitter? I tried it. I’m inspired by @visakahnv’s approach. I set up an alt-community with some friends and posted 50 tweets a day for a short while. Aside from the social benefits, it was way less enjoyable to actually generate ideas from within Twitter. There were a few that were deal-breakers.
Bloat: I was hit with advertisements and algorithmic suggestions.
Distraction: It was easy to get hooked back into feed-scrolling.
Constraints: Forcing to think in 280-character chunks was choppy.
Non-editable: Unable to refine and expand on thoughts.
Templates: No control over how I displayed my body of work.
Drafts-inbox: The UI to manage a queue of ideas it terrible.
It’s been great using Notion as a place to host logloglog, but it’s not without it’s flaws. My experience with Notion (and my discipline around systems in general) makes it feasible for me to capture within Notion, but others might struggle with it.
It’s a manual process to review posts & create Date blocks
Each post isn’t an intelligent database object with properties
There’s high friction to add images, video, and audio.
It’s not easy to clip text into the open blog format
After doing logloglog for 50 days, I think it could be valuable for anyone who does it. But there just isn’t a great tool that removes all the friction from the process. I’ve been meeting with Duck and Syslog every week to jam around some of these ideas. They’ve each been making some slick prototypes, and it seems this project is gaining a bit of momentum.
A new capture app
While this is mostly an experiment in capture for now, it’s origins lie in discussions around identity and social media. I’ll be adding more essays to the Streams tag over time. To summarize the issue:
The toxic nature of social media is a result of the “social graph,” which has gone unchanged from MySpace through TikTok. By connecting everyone 1:1 as atomic individuals, and broadcasting ideas in feeds, it turns Twitter into a game of American Idol. These networks don’t reflect human nature. People are multi-dimensional beings, and express different facets in different contexts, but social media doesn’t acknowledge this. It creates a culture of celebrities and consumers.
The driving questions here: how do you actually turn consumers into creators? Then, once people are expressing the full range of their psyche, how do you authentically connect people and strangers around these shared interests?
There are three general problems we’ve been orbiting around:
Create the best capture experience; one that is simple, feels good, has compounding benefits over time, and can be used as a primary form of information and data storage. A “Captain’s Log” style app could unify text, audio, pictures, and video within a daily block system.
A simple experience to assign ideas to a Stream; is there a way to gamify systems maintenance? Instead of having Inboxes to purge, what if there were a Tinder-like system to review your past original ideas? You could swipe-left to archive ideas, or swipe-right to push them to one of your Streams. It’s a type of spaced repetition.
Connect with others around Streams; instead of bulk subscribing to someone’s newsletter or social profile, what if you could connect with specific facets of them? Instead of being pinged with real-time Slack-like notification, what if every user had control over a Digest that featured the Streams they’re subscribed to?
If any of this interests you, shoot me an email.