What is Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)?

Manage your knowledge, personally.

What is PKM?

Personal Knowledge Management, usually abbreviated with PKM, is collecting, organizing, developing, and optionally and selectively sharing all the information related to the personal sphere.

What’s the difference between PKM and KM?

While Knowledge Management refers to the collaborative activities performed by a group of people within an organization, Personal Knowledge Management is related to what a person does to manage the information they need to live their private and professional life.

Connecting individual PKM Systems could support a broader network to create a Knowledge Management System extending beyond the personal sphere.

Connected PKM Systems could be the foundation to facilitate and augment Collective Intelligence and effective collaboration between different people with different backgrounds and intents.

Digital or analog?

PKM is built of philosophies, approaches, attitudes, techniques, and procedures performed in real life with analog technologies like pen and paper. Being in the third millennium (did you get the memo?), we want to use digital technology to make our lives easier. While pen and paper could fully cover basic PKM needs (See the original Zettelkasten method implemented by Niklas Luhmann with a slip box and index cards), we could find many software tools to manage our information in the digital media.

We want to live in the present and search for the best tools and techniques to setup up and use a Digital Personal Knowledge Management System (do you want to invent another acronym? There you go: DPKMS!)

What is the smallest unit to manage in a PKM?

It’s common to refer to a digital document as a unit of information contained in a file. A computer file resides on your computer. It has a file name with an extension, and it encodes its content in one of the many file formats available like TXT for pure text, DOC or DOCX for Microsoft Word, RTF for Rich Text Format, PDF for Portable Digital Format, and so on.

We could create a PKM System by using a computer with no special nor additional tools. Folders and files are enough to create collections of documents. If you wrote in a  pure text format (TXT), you wouldn’t even need any additional software editors. All Operating systems have, at the very minimum, a Text Editor Tool. You could have Microsoft Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on Mac OS, or Vim Text Editor on Linux.

The Minimum Viable Personal Knowledge Management System (MVPKMS!)

Having the capability of writing text in separate documents, naming them, and organizing them into folders is the foundation of a Personal Knowledge Management System.

You would need to find a way to link to files and search them, and you would have something serving more than half of your needs in managing your knowledge digitally.

It might not be the most modern or the most feature-rich, but it would be enough to initiate your Note Archive.

What is a Note?

In a PKM, you can have different types of information. Usually, the smallest one is the “note.” With “note,” we intend a generic document containing a unit of information.

A note can include a full essay or a single concept. It’s an arbitrary container to separate your ideas and your information according to several criteria. When we think about the relationships between notes and the capability of connecting them, we should consider a note as the smallest information unit in our PKM system. Some principles allow an organic growth of a network of notes that would serve as a thinking tool in our creative process. But this is the final goal. And to get to the networked thought level, we need to establish some rules and techniques along with principles and tools.

A Note should contain only one idea. Two notes can be linked together through a reference, usually a link. Yes, precisely as a link on a web page would make you jump to another page. Here is my website, for example.

What is an atomic note?

An Atomic Note is a textual document containing an exhaustive coverage of a single concept in its briefest form. If a Note is atomic, it shouldn’t be possible to reduce it further, although it’s just a metaphor, and the boundaries are arbitrary and adjustable by your personal preference.

The concept of being “atomic” should support the idea of having “one idea in one note.” You could then build chains or networks of atomic concepts leading to a more elaborate treatment of an idea or a topic.

What’s an example of an Atomic Note Archive?

The Notes section on this website is different from the articles you can find in its blog.

In Notes, you find self-containing articles trying to cover a concept (sometimes very simple, sometimes very elaborated) in a way that can be referred to by other notes or blog posts. Notes have a longer life. They should be aimed at being persistent or permanent (or “Evergreen”) like reference material to link to when in need of definitions or more in-depth treatment of a topic supporting an article.

Instead, a blog post has a more transitory character and sometimes is dedicated to a specific event. That is why the publishing date is more relevant for a blog post than a Note. In a note, it would be useful to know the last update information. A Note can be updated several times. It is supposed to be a continuously updated document offering the best and most refined details on its dedicated topic. Instead, a blog post is supposed to remain in its original publishing form because it works more as a record of thoughts or reports published at that time of that day, and it needs to remain immutable.

A PKM is easy to set up, technically.

Without touching the content writing aspect and its use and just looking at the essential functionality, we could set up a Personal Knowledge Management System with the tools we have already available on our digital devices: folders and textual files.

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Manage your knowledge, personally.
Manage your knowledge, personally.

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