In my previous post about ConnectedText, I compared it to Tinderbox in the way that it requires the user to bring his or her own vision to the process. What I mean by this is that neither application forces any kind of structure or process to your information management. In each program, you have to identify your needs and create your own application. This also requires you to understand how the programs work and to have at least some basic knowledge of the esoteric “coding” required to make it do what you want it to do.
This can be kind of intimidating for people like me who are not comfortable with scripting or coding. My message about Tinderbox has been that you can still do a lot with it just knowing a few basic concepts that are easy to understand. The same is true — actually more so, I think — with ConnectedText.
I was able to prove this to myself yesterday when a friend at the outliner site asked for some advice about creating a database for quotations using CT. I got the feeling he was over-thinking the process a little, so decided to create a simple CT project for quotations to test my theory.
My quotations project has two templates and just three pieces of “coding.” That’s it. And yet I have a very powerful database for collecting quotations. Here’s what is involved:
I started by creating a topic for my favorite writer, Edward Abbey. I clipped a brief bio from Wikipedia and included the URL to the Wikipedia article. That doesn’t really matter. You could put any type of content you want in your author topic. The key was that I assigned the Category of “Author” to this entry. The screen shot below is the entry for Edward Abbey in edit mode (remember that each entry — or topic to use CT jargon — has two viewing modes, edit and preview):
I then added a couple of quotations from Abbey in separate entries. Here’s what one of those looks like in edit mode:
Note that I’ve once again made use of the Category feature, designating this note as a “Quote.” I’ve also made use of another CT feature called Attribute. This note has two Attributes, one for the author of the quote and one for the theme of the quote. One thing important here is that I wrote out the author Attribute “Abbey, Edward” exactly as I had named Abbey’s author entry. You’ll see why this is important in a moment.
So let’s take a look at how the quote looks in preview mode:
You can see that CT has done some nice work rendering what I put in as plain text. The red, underlined text are wiki links. If I click on the Abbey link, I’m brought back to my entry about Abbey, which looks like this with a couple of associated quotations:
Adding those associated links to quotes is all ConnectedText. I didn’t have to tell it to do that. It automatically sees other notes with an Attribute with the same name as this topic and puts the links in. (Don’t be confused by the fact that CT adds the text “Properties with value Abbey, Edward” even though I set Author up in the quotations as an Attribute not a Property. I don’t know why it doesn’t say “Attributes with the value of Abbey, Edward.” Maybe it is just an oversight.)
Now this is all pretty cool, but here’s something even better. ConnectedText automatically sees that there are currently two types of Categories: Authors and Quotes. It creates a page for each of these, and if I open the Author page, for instance, I get this useful index:
Not only does CT automatically put in the links to each author page, it also includes links to the quotes associated with each author. (Note that I’ve added a few quotes since the earlier screen shot of the Abbey page to fill things out more.) Update: Just to clarify, the reason I get the top listing of authors with associated quotes along with the bottom index of authors is because I used the same exact phrase “Author” as the Category and as the Attribute. If I had called the Attribute “Source,” then I would only have the index in the Author topic. A new topic called “Source” would show the top list…. I hope that makes sense.
There are, of course, innumerable ways this simple database of quotations could be made more sophisticated, such as adding source information and altering some of the information rendered by ConnectedText. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to make ConnectedText useful with just a basic understanding of some of its concepts. I had to do very little in the way of “coding” (I’m not even sure that’s the right term for this). I just had to know the proper syntax for creating a Category ( [[$CATEGORY:value]] ), and an Attribute ( [[name of attribute:value of attribute]] ). That’s it. ConnectedText does most of the rest.