- Popular iA Writer app now lets you interlink all your documents.
- Personal wiki apps have been loud for years, but now they’re getting hot, hot, hot.
- It can be hard to get your head around, but once it clicks, you’ll love it.
Links have been on the web forever, but now they're taking over your text-editing and notes apps.
The latest release of popular cross-platform text-editor app iA Writer now comes with inter-document links, kind of like the links on Wikipedia, only they connect your notes and documents. And iA Writer is far from the first app to do this. Today, there is a slew of personal knowledge manager (PKM) apps whose whole point is interlinking, but the idea of a personal wiki app is decades old already.
“For me, wiki links are so useful because they reduce friction during note-taking. I can fully concentrate on taking notes without needing to think about how to sort and organize these notes. As long as I use the wiki-links to connect my notes, they will organize themselves on their own,” PKM app developer Daniel Wirtz told Lifewire via email.
All Linked Up
When we talk about links, what we mean is we can click or tap a word (or a few words) in a text document, and it will open another document. For example, you may have a daily note that contains a to-do list plus links to any documents you need to work on that day.
Or perhaps you’re a lawyer, and your notes could contain links to snippets of legal texts, other related cases, and so on. The idea is that instead of closing the document you’re working on and digging for another one, you can get to it just by clicking a link.
iA Writer uses a now-standard way to link. All you do is type a couple of opening brackets ([[), then type the name of the file you want to link. When you see a match, you hit return, and it becomes a link. If the file doesn't exist yet, the app will create it. In the future, you can tap these links to navigate your own web.
Some apps, like Craft and Obsidian, let you link to individual paragraphs in the same way. For instance, while writing this article, I have interview replies on separate text files created from email replies. To include a quote from one of these sources, I can “transclude” it by linking. The original paragraph is used in my article, but if I tap or click on it, I can see that paragraph in its original context.
Long Time Coming
Right now, the notes app and PKM world is afire with these wiki-style links and a related feature, backlinks, which show you everything that links to your current page. But personal wikis have been around since the early 2000s, at least. VoodooPad was one such app, one that is still going today.
“Why did it take so long for wiki-style links to take off? Well, I think with most things that are new, it’s easy for the early adopters to look at it and see the value in it right away, but for most folks, they’ll have to be shown it,” Gus Mueller, developer of image-editing app Acorn and original developer of personal wiki app VoodooPad, told Lifewire via email. “And it really wasn’t until Wikipedia seeped into the public consciousness that I think folks started to get it. Or at least saw the usefulness in it.”
This interlinking also needs something to link to before it becomes useful. Getting started can be daunting, which is fine for early-adopting nerds but less appealing for most other people.
"There's also the need to amass enough info into whatever app you're building out your notes in. All the links aren't really worth it until you reach a critical mass, then, it becomes just about perfect. You've got your knowledge in there, and you've got the links built out. It's your mini-brain," says Mueller.
But it might be time for interlinked notes to go mainstream. We're already used to @-linking people on Instagram, Twitter, and in iMessage, and more. At the same time, the idea that each document should live alone, only to be accessed by opening it, seems absurd.
Interlinking advocates might say it adds value by creating relationships between your notes, but the basic fact is it just makes everything easier to find. The link is right there, where and when you need it. And that might be the killer feature that gets us all on board.