PKM Isn’t About Apps

I characterized my most recent post (Putting Personal Knowledge Management in Context) as potentially a grumpy old man rant. The triggering event was a side-by-side software review, Obsidian vs. Roam: Which PKM App is Right For You? – The Sweet Setup. My instant reaction was “PKM isn’t about apps” and thinking that it was will get you in trouble. I thought it might be helpful to explore that reaction and see where it might lead.

The review itself is a very well done comparison between the two apps in question. But it is based on an implicit assumption that is also flawed. Because the assumption is implicit, people aren’t likely to catch it and wonder later why they become dissatisfied with whatever choice they make. There is a clue lurking in one of the opening paragraphs:

It’s impossible to say “just use this one” when it comes to picking the right connected note-taking app for you. On the surface they may seem similar, but there are several important differences that stem from fundamentally different approaches to how your notes are stored and managed.

The author is acknowledging that they cannot, in fact, answer the question they have set before us. They then proceed to explore the question anyway because it’s an easy question to ask and answer and because we are accustomed to expecting questions to have neat answers. Worse, we only ask questions that we expect have answers. 

I expect this bothers me, in part, because the underlying topic is knowledge management. The underlying motivation for knowledge management, whether in organizations or for individuals, is dealing with questions that don’t have obvious answers. Or questions that provoke deeper questions. 

Asking questions has always been a high-risk behavior. Where will we end up if we continue to explore the PKM space as a practice for asking questions that don’t yet have answers?