A Hierarchical Tool for Thought
In the summer of 2020, I launched Dendron - a note-taking tool that helps you manage information using flexible hierarchies.
You can refer to my earlier pieces to read about why hierarchies matter.
A question I'm often asked is what makes Dendron different from all the other tools which also have hierarchies.
These are mainstay note-taking tools like Evernote, One Note, Google Docs, etc
My response: all these tools have hierarchy - none of them support hierarchy.
The hierarchies in these tools are cumbersome things that tend to get in the way of thought rather than enhance it. They exist, take up space, and sometimes cause a great deal of pain - they are like the human appendix.
The hierarchies in Dendron are fluid and powerful. They let you find and work with knowledge like the mind works with thoughts. Like the human brain, these hierarchies are can synthesize vast amounts of information and help transmute it into useful outcomes.
Dendron supports hierarchies. Specifically, this means that the hierarchies in Dendron are fast, flexible and functional.
Fast hierarchies allow users to work with information instantly.
Traditionally hierarchies are not fast. Clumsy, slow, manual maybe - but not fast. Traditional hierarchies require you to manually navigate all its levels before you can even see your notes. They require that you construct empty edifices in their name before you can even use them.
Dendron is fast. Even with thousands of notes, accessing anything by hierarchy can be done in under a second. This is because Dendron uses lookup - a way of referencing your notes by their hierarchical path. This works even if you enter a partial path.
This path-based lookup is not just for finding your notes but also for creating them. Lookup will dynamically create hierarchies that don't exist. This is true even if the path is a new hierarchy that is many levels deep. And if you decide that this is not to be, Dendron will clean up the hierarchy when you delete the note.
This means that you can focus on your thoughts without being slowed down by your note-taking tool.
Flexible hierarchies allow users to change the structure of their information.
Traditional hierarchies are the antithesis of flexibility - they start ossifying from the moment of creation and become harder to change the more you invest in them. They also require creating a hierarchy upfront.
- Too little of a hierarchy upfront and your notes succumb to entropy
- Too much of a hierarchy upfront and your notes are unable to adjust to change
And when it comes time to change, links break notes break and are lost for all time.
Dendron is flexible. We encourage you to iteratively build your hierarchy over time - starting with a single note, and only branching off when you have exceeded the bounds of a page.
Dendron comes with schemas - custom metadata to describe the shape of your information. You can use schemas to both document and enforce the structure of your existing hierarchies.
When it comes time for change, Dendron lets you transform both individual notes as well as entire hierarchies in one swoop. All links are updated in the process.
This means that you can build on your knowledge without having the perfect structure upfront and make adjustments to it as your understanding deepens.
Functional hierarchies allow users to fully utilize the hierarchical structure of their data.
Traditional hierarchies are an afterthought. They are there because something needs to be there. They have not changed for over half a century.
Dendron is functional. It is built from day one to be a hierarchical tool for thought. There is almost nothing that you can't do with hierarchies in Dendron.
- You can create, find, update, search, and remove information by looking up their hierarchies.
- You can remember your hierarchies with schemas, custom metadata to describe and enforce the shape of your hierarchies.
- You can transform your hierarchies, either a single note or an entire hierarchy at a time.
- You can combine hierarchies with other constructs like tags, backlinks, and note references.
- You can capture chronological as well as ad-hoc information using Dendron's builtin hierarchies
- You can visualize your hierarchies through hierarchical graph views
- You can share any subset of your hierarchy as a published site.
- You can move your notes and their hierarchy to any other tool.
This means that you can make use of information without dealing with the arbitrary restrictions and limitations of the tool holding your notes.
Dendron is a hierarchical tool for thought. It is built from the ground up to support hierarchies that are fast, flexible, and functional.
One day, Elon Musk might launch neural link and enable the mythical brain-to-computer interface of science fiction. Until that day, hierarchical tools of thought, and specifically Dendron, will strive to be the best possible means for humans to create, find, and collaborate on the information that matters to us.