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The Memex

In July 1945, Vannevar Bush described the first hypothetical hypertext system, memex, in the article 'As We May Think'. This concept influenced the early hypertext systems, eventually leading to the creation of the World Wide Web we have today.

Bush envisioned "an enlarged intimate supplement to one's memory", a device in which you would store all of your books, records, and communications. Instead of traditional indexing, he envisioned a storage system analogous to the human brain using associations, where any item may be connected to another.

With more than 100 million distinct websites, one trillion unique URLs and an ever-increasing amount of e-mail, we are drowning in information. With such large amounts of information, traditional indexing like folder hierarchies, tags and mind maps won't scale.

Bush also inspired other pioneers like Douglas Engelbart, who in 1968 gave a demonstration featuring the computer mouse, email, hypertext, word processing, hypermedia and more in what was later called The Mother of All Demos.

Ted Nelson coined the terms 'hypertext' and 'hypermedia' in 1963, and credited Vannevar Bush as his greatest influence. He founded Project Xanadu in 1960, trying to create a computer network with a simple user interface. However, his goal was not similar to the World Wide Web fulfilled by Tim Berners-Lee, but instead he wanted a system that didn't depend on "one-way ever-breaking links and no management of version or contents".

PpcSoft iKnow solves both the index/scaling problem and the ever-breaking links problem.

The main ideas of the memex

"Associate trails - the way our brains work"

The most essential feature of the memex was the associative indexing where any item may be connected to another like an associative trail (a cross referencing system).

The World Wide Web is based partly on this idea using hyperlinks to connect to related information. Wikipedia is a great example of this idea as it allows any user to link any word to other related topics (and the browser itself keeps track of the users' trail).

The main problem with Wikipedia's (and the web's) approach is that all links are created manually. Creating a new article and inserting relevant links is a lot of work, but the hardest job is to analyze all the old articles to see if any of them should link back to the new article (which is very seldom done).

Connecting the articles is iKnow's greatest strength !

Every time you open a note in iKnow, it will check all the words and all your notes to find any connections.

New connections are created in real-time as you write your notes, and all your old notes will be updated automatically the next time you open them. If you created a note two months ago mentioning 'The memex', and you create a new note 'the memex' today, then the old note will link to the new note 'automagically'.

This means that as you create more notes in iKnow, there will be more connections between them automatically, and your 'external brain' actually becomes more powerful as you create more notes - this is very important !

In most software, the more information you put in, the slower and harder it is to use. It becomes more difficult to organize your information as the amount grows, and it becomes more difficult to find anything as well because you're 'drowning' in information. iKnow solves this problem using automatic associations (connections).

"Recall any knowledge with a few keystrokes"

Some applications focus on storing your information, others focus on organizing your information
- iKnow focus on finding your information instantly when you need it !

You can find notes instantly, find text in a note instantly, or search in all notes if you can't find what you're looking for.

In the example to the right, simply pressing 'q' is enough to find the note you're looking for (as you get more notes you'll probably need 2-3 keypresses).

"View several related items at once"

Once you got the capability to connect notes, you'll want to be able to view two notes at the same time (to see related information while you're working on something else).

In the example to the right there are lots of related notes, and moving your mouse over them will show a preview of the content in a separate window.

In the previous example you could also instantly preview the notes as you searched for them, making it easier to find related information.

The amazing power of Autolinks

Automatically connecting all your notes, old and new, is incredibly powerful.

However, the dynamic nature of the automatic links makes them even more powerful as they give you a few unique possibilities not seen in any other software.

Autolinks in Web Captures

Ted Nelson founded Project Xanadu in 1960, and they state on their homepage: "Today's popular software simulates paper. The World Wide Web (another imitation of paper)... " which is ironic considering the increased popularity of services such as Instapaper, Read it Later and Readability which let you save the actual text of articles without all the extra 'clutter' you often find in web pages. These services actually tries to make web pages even more like paper.

iKnow uses a similar technique to capture web articles, but then takes it one step further and uses automatic links to make the article more useful and valuable.

When capturing web pages, the captured article is saved as a single note (just like any other note).

The hyperlinks in the article are preserved (if possible), and the article is scanned for autolinks as well (just like any other note).

This means that you may get even more value out of web articles as they are automatically connected to your existing notes, giving you more relevant information. And when you create new notes in the future, your old web captures will automatically be updated to link to your new notes as well.

Autolinks in Shared notes

When sharing notes, the notes are stored in a simplified text format without any autolinks.

When your colleague gets the shared note (automatically), iKnow will scan the note for any matching notes, and create autolinks for him or her. These links may be different from yours !

If you have a shared note 'VIP' mentioning both Bill Gates from Microsoft and Steve Jobs from Apple, then one of your colleagues may only get 'Apple' as an autolink, while another colleague gets 'Bill Gates' and 'Microsoft' as autolinks.

The notes are linked to your personal notes, and will therefore give extra meaning to each individual.

Autolinks as synonyms (and non-breaking links)

As all autolinks are checked dynamically, you won't have any breaking links (as Ted Nelson complained about regarding the World Wide Web). If you remove a note, all autolinks to the note will be removed automatically.

Another problem on the web is renamed links. If you change the url for an article, then all links to the article will break.

iKnow has a built-in redirect/rename feature that will let you rename a note and still be able to have working links.

If you create a note 'William Gates' and enter 'See Bill Gates' or 'redirect Bill Gates' then all autolinks to 'William Gates' will actually link to 'Bill Gates' (even the automatic previews will work). If you rename a note, this is done automatically for you so that old links will redirect to the new note.


The power of autolinks is possible in iKnow because the context is personal. If you want to describe the word 'Apple', it may mean a fruit or a technology company, depending on who you ask. If you're using iKnow for receipes and agriculture, you may create a note 'apple' describing the fruit and various sorts of apples. If you work in the tech industry, you'll probably create a note 'apple' describing the technology company that makes Mac, iPhone and iPads.

At the time, Vannevar Bush saw the current ways of indexing information as limiting and instead proposed a way to store information that was analogous to the mental association of the human brain: storing information with the capability of easy access at a later time using certain cues.

The main feature of the memex is the ability to tie two things together at will. In other words, to be able to associate two arbitrary items when wanted.

Use PpcSoft iKnow as a word processor to create notes, let iKnow organize your notes alphabetically for you, let it automatically connect your notes, and it will help you find your information again the way your brain works - by association.

(Memex illustration from the September 1945 issue of Life magazine)


My name is Atle Iversen, and I'm the founder of PpcSoft (read more).

Contact me at atle.iversen@ppcsoft.com

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