The Power of Organized Notes and the Value of Interest Graphs



Sep 16, 20233 min read


The Power of Organized Notes and the Value of Interest Graphs


Taking smart notes and organizing ideas efficiently is crucial for effective writing. Sonke Ahrens emphasizes the importance of writing down and translating information into your own words to truly understand and retain knowledge. However, simply collecting notes does not lead to meaningful connections between ideas. This article explores the concept of an external memory system, the significance of context in understanding information, and the potential of interest graphs in platforms like Instagram.

The External Memory System:

Luhmann, a renowned sociologist, realized that his note-taking system lacked an essential element: the ability for ideas to interact with one another. He transformed his slip-box into an external memory system that not only stored notes but also facilitated the development of thoughts, minimized biases, streamlined the writing process, and sparked new ideas. This system highlights the importance of connecting ideas and ensuring that notes are relevant to your specific interests and context.

The Significance of Context:

Understanding information within its context is crucial for going beyond surface-level comprehension. When we highlight or underline text without considering its context, we risk losing its importance or relevance. Ahrens suggests that instead of organizing notes based on topics, we should focus on the context in which we want to stumble upon them again. By making connections between notes and observing their differences, we allow order to emerge naturally, creating a network of ideas that adds value to our knowledge base.

The Value of Interest Graphs on Instagram:

While social graphs provide insights through users' interactions, the interest graph holds even greater value. However, building an interest graph is challenging due to the open web's susceptibility to gaming the system through various layers of abstraction. Instagram, with its walled-garden approach, offers a solution by generating higher-efficacy signals about user interests through first-party data and quality control. The platform's focus on on-platform engagement and first-party data collection ensures the integrity of user interests.

Overcoming Challenges of the Interest Graph:

Translating visual content into interests poses technical challenges for Instagram. The algorithmic curation in the "Explore" tab is an ongoing work-in-progress. Additionally, users have always had the ability to manipulate the system through comments and hashtags. To preserve the platform's entertainment niche, Instagram can inhibit the propagation of undesirable information by delving deeper into its entertainment focus, where clickable links serve no purpose. By maintaining its singular focus on entertaining users, Instagram can uphold its unique value proposition.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace the external memory system: Develop a system that allows your notes to interact with each other, facilitating the development of thoughts and sparking new ideas. Focus on connecting ideas rather than simply collecting them.
  • 2. Consider context in understanding information: When taking notes, ensure that you capture the context from which the information is derived. This will enable you to go beyond surface-level understanding and reframe information for different questions.
  • 3. Leverage the power of interest graphs: If you're using platforms like Instagram, recognize the value of interest graphs in providing insights into user preferences and interests. Focus on entertaining users and refining the platform's niche to maximize its potential.


Organizing ideas and notes intelligently is essential for effective writing and knowledge retention. By creating an external memory system that allows ideas to connect and interact, we can unlock the potential for new insights and ideas. Similarly, platforms like Instagram can harness the power of interest graphs to deliver personalized and engaging content to users. By understanding the significance of context and focusing on relevant connections, we can enhance our understanding, creativity, and overall experience.

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