For a lot of people when they first log into Mem it can be really confusing because of the fact that there are no folders. What makes Mem distinct from other note-taking apps is that it actually allows you to build a digital system that organizes itself through the use of tags and bi-directional links.

The Disadvantage of Folders

I was talking to Dennis Xu, one of the founders of Mem, recently as . One of the things he said is that a world without folders will be our default Five years from now people just don't know it. 

A world without folders will be our default Five years from now people just don't know it- Dennis Xu, Co-Founder of Mem

The thing is that this is actually really hard to comprehend until you've been using Mem for a while.

If you've used other note-taking apps and you log into Mem one of the things you'll notice is that there doesn't seem to be any organizational structure. In most note-taking apps you have some sort of hierarchy or folder structure in which you organize things. 

The key to understanding how to organize information in Mem and why you can completely get rid of folders in Mem is to understand the distinction between a network and a hierarchy.

 These definitions actually come from Tiago Forte. He has this really great article on tagging for personal knowledge management and he talks about the difference between hierarchies and networks. 

hierarchy is a system of nested groups. A standard organizational chart is a hierarchy, with employees grouped into business units and departments reporting to a centralized authority. Other kinds of hierarchies include government bureaucracies, biological taxonomies, and a system of menus in a software program. Hierarchies are inherently “top-down,” in that they are designed to enable centralized control from a single, privileged position.

network, by contrast, has no “correct” orientation, and thus no bottom and no top. Each individual, or “node,” in a network functions autonomously, negotiating its own relationships and coalescing into groups. Examples of networks include a flock of birds, the World Wide Web, and the social ties in a neighborhood. Networks are inherently “bottom-up,” in that the structure emerges organically from small interactions without direction from a central authority.

Take folders, for example.  A folder for something like a project is the sort of single-privileged position.  Then you have to drill down into every single folder to find whatever information you need. This is actually a really inefficient way to do knowledge work or to do creative work. 

Benefits of Using Mem

With Mem, you can see every single note where I've ever mentioned Tiago forte. This means that if I want to retrieve any knowledge or information from things I've learned from Tiago, I don't have to go sifting through folders and visit a bunch of websites. It's all right in Mem because of the fact that inside the app, you're building a network. You're not building a system where you store information. 

Personal knowledge management vs personal knowledge generation

There's also a distinction that I've come to as I've used Mem more over the last couple of weeks. That's the distinction between personal knowledge management and personal knowledge generation. 

The truth is that we're not archivists. We're not building a library of congress so we can just have this archive of information.  Ideally, you want to be able to do something with your notes and in Mem, you have far more capability to do this with your notes.

Right now, I've been working on this article about the disadvantages of folders for personal knowledge management to be published on Medium. 

  • I actually didn't write this article all in one go. It's basically a combination of notes all of which live inside my database. 

  • I wrote each one of these notes separately after having a conversation with Dennis about the disadvantage of folders. 

  • I just suddenly came up with this idea and I started to just jot down ideas one by one. 

  • I pulled a lot of these ideas from notes that were already inside of Mem using bi-directional links and tags. 

  • If I just click on the tag "The Disadvantage of Folders," every single note related to that tag just shows up. This means if I want to remember anything related to this, then I don't have to go to a million different places just to figure out where the hell that came from. 

You end up having this system in which everything is accessible and interconnected. No matter where you capture something, it's always there and you don't actually have to remember where you put it anymore.

Let's say, I want to look at "The Unmistakable Creative Podcast," which is the podcast I host. 

  • If we just go into the Mem and do a search for it, pretty much everything related to it (podcast transcripts, notes from books, articles that I'm writing that reference it) will show up because of a simple tag. 

  • This is as opposed to taking the time to create a folder, store the right information in that folder, and get that information out of that folder when you need it.  

As you start to organize information using the traditional folder method, you start to see the disadvantage of folders for organizing information. It's a really inefficient way to organize information when you have to go to 50 different places just to find what you need. 

With Mem, you're able to just capture ideas as they come to you. You don't have to finish things that you start and not be able to use them. 

Again, take the example of something like writing a blog post. Most people say, "Okay, I need to write this first draft in one hour. I need to just dive deep into this." But what if you can't get it done or  you are not ready to take action on what you want to include in that article? 

The beauty of Mem is you can just literally create a mem and link it to the original article and pick up where you left off. No folders, no spreadsheets, nothing. It's all just right there inside the Mem. 

Final Thoughts

The thing that really has become apparent to me is that Mem is actually a very powerful way to organize information. Most of the problems of modern knowledge work are a problem of how we organize information. 

Most of the ways that we try to deal with those problems--e.g. digital distraction blockers like organizing information in folders--only alleviate the symptoms of the  problem i

Note though that you need a critical mass of knowledge before all this starts to make sense. So when you first start, there's nothing inside of Mem. What's happening inside of Mem is network effects applied to personal knowledge management.

Take something like Facebook, or the phone, or the fax machine. It's useless if nobody else has one. But when somebody else has one that's when the tool starts to become useful. As more people have it, then it becomes more useful. 

The same thing happens with Mem. It's just that you're applying it to information instead of people. So, the more notes that you have inside your Mem database, the more valuable the app becomes.