As one who spent 25 years as a Knowledge Management advocate, marketer and implementer, I have long been interested in knowledge representation. By that I mean the tools and methods for capturing, codifying and sharing knowledge — generally in software. Knowledge is not the same thing as documents. Documents (or web pages) are great media to convey information. Knowledge has the additional dimension of context — information delivered to the individual who needs it, when and where it is needed in order to accomplish something. That comes much closer to a practical definition of Knowledge.
I spent almost a decade as the head of marketing for a software company that had a very original take on knowledge representation, based on a connectionist model inspired by artificial neural networks. While the system captured facts and advice in text-based media files, we explained the model by asserting that the knowledge was not in those files — it was in the connections between those files.
Knowledge is not in files — it’s in the connections between those files.
That was in the 1990s. Both Knowledge Management and I have moved on, but I’ve never quite shaken my fascination with knowledge representation and that connectionist idea. One of the most enjoyable web gadgets that I’ve found over the years is a playful little thing called TheBrain* — a beautiful and easily accessible embodiment of the connectionist concept.
I’ve been playing around with TheBrain on and off for many years. It’s an elegant instance of what’s called a hyperbolic tree. It’s designed to capture a domain of knowledge — ANY domain of knowledge — by inviting the user to name and document various concepts and then show, graphically, what’s associated with what. You don’t read content in TheBrain — you navigate through it, as in a labyrinth. One with walls that move.
I’ve used the gadget for a number of purposes, practical and whimsical. We used to raise Nigerian Dwarf goats when we had our farm in New Jersey; TheBrain turned out to be a very cool way to manage our breeding records. I’m currently using the tool to organize my thoughts and notes about the very complex topic of a magazine feature story I’m working on.
And I’ve used TheBrain in presentations before audiences. People who have glazed over in an after-lunch conference session come back to life when they see content in the form of a concept tree that MOVES as I navigate through it.
Lately, I have found a new use for TheBrain, in answering the inevitable question anyone hears once he’s introduced himself as a writer: What do you write about?
I’ve taken a stab at organizing a professional portfolio in hyperbolic tree form. You can get to it by clicking the astrolabe icon labeled “Explore My World” on the right-hand navigation bar on my web site — or just click here.
Have a look around. Click a concept in the tree to see where it takes you. These are the ideas and topics that have preoccupied me as a writer and content creator since I started Peter Dorfman Creative Services in 2013 — and stretching back through my career. Notice that some elements have little icons next to them; those are links to actual content that has found its way onto the web. (On some devices, you may have to scroll down and click a larger link.) Not all elements have these links. I ghost-write a lot; a little secret between me and the individual whose name appears on the material.
Let me know what you think. See a topic that interests you? Recognize something that’s an aspect of your content marketing program? Or just want to talk about hyperbolic trees? Let’s talk about it.
* Full disclosure: I have no business relationship of any kind with TheBrain Technologies.