A Pleb’s guide to using mem.ai

If you have not used mem.ai yet, you should. It is a great note taking app.

This is how I am setting up mem.ai to work with my notes. Notes can be fleeting or permanent. Fleeting notes are thoughts like these that do not have a definite reference to fall back on. Permanent notes are more structured as these notes are tied to a specific reference.

All notes must have the following five elements around the content:

  • Tags (hashtags)
  • Linked_from
  • Linked_to:
  • Linked_from:
  • Linked_with:
  • Reference

All notes have a content and ID.
Luhmann thought of all notes as atomic. One topic per note and notes get connected to each other through their links.

So what happens in mem.ai

Mem.ai is an easy note taking system that you can use everywhere. You can have a dedicated Mac/Windows/ app or you can use mem.ai on browsers such as safari/chrome/firefox, and there are two parts of mem.ai that makes it useful: meta-data and contents. You add two types of meta-data:

  • Tags for topics done using hash signs
  • Internal links: using plus signs

Content is markdown, except you cannot create tables, etc. You can add timestamps, links, paragraphs, lists, etc.

Several features are worthwhile.

First, you can add a hashtag with a hash sign anywhere in the document
Second, you can add links to other mems using a plus sign, so this is helpful for backlinks and forward links
Third, you can add markdown text, practically every standard markdown stuff works.
Fourth, you can link to other pages on the internet
Fifth, you create pages on the fly
Sixth, only in Mac, you can use spotlight (Cmd+shift+space) to push and pull contents from other apps
Seventh, you can take out the mems using “Flows” feature — the entire database as CSV file with markdown notes, and tags with date stamps.

What does not work:
You cannot push pages as webpages or share them although you can share them with individuals or groups
You cannot embed a database

Within these limitations, mem.ai is a useful tool to get your stuff done. It is simple and intuitive. There are four views:

Stuff within mem.ai

Timeline is the main view (see below)

It allows you to show your upcoming events if you connect your calendar to it; then it shows an editor prompt (“Wrtie anything block”) where if you click, turns into a full-pane editor as follows:

The authoring pane of mem.ai

Use the standard markdown convention to write whatever you want to write. You cannot insert tables or footnotes, but almost most other things work. A few things to note here:

  • On the top you have a searching pane where you can search for mems and tasks
  • You can find a “link” for the current mem you are working on
  • You can star the current mem you are working on and if you do, it will appear on the left hand sidebar
  • You can start a new mem
  • You can invite friends
  • You can click on your profile image to view more options as to what you can do with these.

Next up, inbox. You do not have to put everything to the inbox but if you do, you will see a chronological order from latest on top to oldest on bottom inbox like array of posts. Looks like this:

Inbox

The items you have not read shows up with a blue dot next to it, otherwise they are greyed. It will show the tags you associate with each note and even provides a sidebar view (on the right hand side). You won’t be able to edit or any mem from here directly but if you click a mem, it will open in timeline view.

Then there are tasks. Minimalistic, just a list of all the tasks that are pending. Until they improve on this, there is not much to see here. Move on. Groups lets you add other members and create work groups. You can co-edit mems.

Flows is the next thing, it allows you to integrate other services (such as Google Calendar) so that you can use it with other services, take out your mems from mem.ai as CSV file, and so on.

Uber-useful: mem spotlight

If you use a mac, mem.ai can be really powerful in allowing you to read in stuff from your computer or push stuff to your other text editors. This is a cool feature where you can either search your mems or indeed if you are working on another app such as Preview (Mac’s PDF reader), you can select text and push it to Mem and then from Mem you can push it to the editor.

Here’s how it works:

See those highlighted texts? You can either paste them directly to the editor you are working, or you can save or open them in mem.

In summary:

Mem.ai is a useful tool for knowledge management. You can use it to set up your zettelkasten, or use it to use with Tiego Forte’s P.A.R.A system. Or use it as a simple note taking system.

Several things that could improve:

  • It does not have a web app where you can “push” stuff to mem.ai
  • It does not have mobile versions, we are basically reduced to use the web app
  • The native and the web app are not _that_ different
  • The editor does not support tables or advanced markdown note taking
  • Other than using CSV export, there is no way you can push contents from mem.ai to your text editors but spotlight is great, but works only on Mac

Other than that, as a basic minimalist usable note-taking system, it is a good tool.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in: https://refind.com/arinbasu

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