Digital Commonplace Software is a new type of software designed to give people the ability to store ideas, notes and research around a wide array of topics.
Contrary to popular belief, digital commonplace software is not note taking software. Note taking software doesn’t have anywhere near the functionality that a correct digital commonplace requires. As such, I felt it appropriate to write this to describe the differences and, more importantly, what to look for in a good digital commonplace service.
To begin, I will describe the art of commonplacing and what it really means to keep a “commonplace”…
Commonplacing was developed in the late middle ages as a way to store a large number of ideas, notes and research material on the newly mass manufactured paper that was becoming ever cheaper. Remember, not so long ago, people wrote on starched animal hide. The introduction of cheap paper was a massive development.
Anyway, commonplacing started to gain prominence with the development of the commonplace book. This was a cross between a journal and notebook, allowing the author to keep a huge amount of knowledge & information inside a relatively small medium.
Whilst keeping a commonplace book became fashionable in many European universities near the end of the 15th century, it’s predominantly known for the large number of “luminary” minds who used the technique to perfect their work, ideas and ultimately helped create many new ideas for the modern age.
Indeed, without the likes of Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelanglo, we would not have anywhere near the interest in commonplacing we do today. You see, commonplacing – as demonstrated by these colossi – is a mindset which lends itself to the written form, not the other way around.
The only reason many people kept commonplace “books” was because other means of storing information were not available. Obviously, that has now changed and we have access to a truly remarkable medium in personal computing and the Internet. This is the starting point for Digital Commonplace software.
Digital Commonplace software is basically a cross between note taking applications and digital system builder software.
The big problem is that many people simply use the likes of Evernote or Onenote to attempt to create a digital commonplace. Whilst these tools are effective at taking notes, they’re not very good at the synthesis required to make commonplacing a bountiful ideal.
Ultimately, what you have to determine when looking for digital commonplace software are several core pieces of functionality…
Firstly, you need a tool which is as organic and natural enough to encourage people to input their best ideas. This goes beyond taking notes – it comes in the form of imagery and a number of other potential features.
Secondly, you need to be able to synthesise your inputs. The main problem with the many “note” taking applications is they are unable to determine which notes belong in which location – making it very difficult to identify the parts of the system you can access when needed.
Thirdly, you need the extra functionality that only a reliable commonplacing tool could provide. There has never been a digital commonplace, and hence you need to appreciate that in order to get one working, you need to have a lot of original thinking in order to get the right blend of functionality and stylization.