Napkin is an easy system to collect and reflect thoughts. Its network structure reveals connections you couldn't see in a classic list and folder structure. The interface is optimized for flow and inspiration and built around a directed graph instead of a classic file tree. Each thought becomes a node in a dynamic network and can convey more information than its mere content through either manually or automatically defined relationships to other thoughts. Our goal is to lower the entry hurdle for personal knowledge management, increase coherence for individuals and ultimately for communities and society. We want to help as many people as possible to utilize the current explosion of knowledge, gain more clarity, realize their potential and live a happier live.
Why do we need knowledge management systems?
We have more active scientists today than in human history combined. On top, two million blog posts and thousands of podcasts are published each day. Every time we grab our phone, thousands of years of human thought are right at our fingertips. Unfortunately, our brains and current technologies are ill-equipped to harness this tremendous potential. While the human brain is still unbeaten in its ability for creative thinking, memory retrieval is lossy and unreliable. Therefore we rely on a variety of tools.
What's wrong with current approaches to knowledge management?
These tools can become the bottleneck when accessing, connecting and applying information – leading to an illusion of knowledge. Pen & paper notes are hard to organize, search and communicate. Classic digital solutions are still designed around folders and pages like the analog predecessors: File cabinets.
The file cabinet approach is not interconnected. Files are divorced from context, often remaining unused in a static archive instead of being part of a dynamic framework of knowledge. Vertical "parent and child" taxonomies are not explicit and create pseudo-relationships between files without any possibility to explicitly define the relationship. Even if explicit relationships are defined in the form of tags and links, the user still has to remember how information has been tagged and linked in order to retrieve it. This requires explicit search and decreases the chance of serendipity. Furthermore, the architecture makes a modular approach with ideas and thoughts as smallest information unit hard to realize. Rather we see entire essays or concepts in this structure making it hard to remix or reuse the information or populate changes quickly throughout the entire data base.
The knowledge graph approach relies on a far more flexible data structure. Any given information unit can have multiple positions simultaneously allowing for structuring of complex non-linear relations and quick population of changes throughout the graph. While this is the superior information architecture it is currently only available for a niche of deeply passionate people, willing to take paid, multi-day courses and tutorials in order to get value from the systems.
What's different with Napkin?
Napkin lowers the bar to use a knowledge graph through intuitive user interface design and data visualization. The information architecture and interface make it inherently easier to store, recall and cross-reference ideas. Thereby excelling in the primary use cases of current knowledge management apps.
In product development we prioritize efficiency over effectiveness. We rather go with a valuable solution that allows adoption for many users than with a more valuable solution for just a few users. The focus on scale increases the chances of meaningful use of artificial intelligence (natural language processing) to steer curation.
Napkin allows to share (parts of) knowledge webs in an engaging way. Recipients can experience the shared knowledge web in direct relation to their existing knowledge web, strengthen associations, find overlaps or discover contradictions. Unlike a book, podcast or any other linear medium, Napkin allows entering new knowledge territory on the path with the smallest cognitive distance possible. Imagine a non-fiction book starting exactly where your existing knowledge ends and where your curiosity leads, instead of starting with the same line for every reader.
Napkin embraces serendipity. Brute force doesn't work well for thinking differently. It takes novel stimuli to break out of common patterns. Napkin's inspiration mode allows to add noise to the signal. Starting with randomness, ending with artificial intelligence based curation.