Topic Database

Publish Date
Oct 8, 2020
Productivity In Notion
Last Edit
Mar 23, 2022 12:50 AM
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This is the eighth entry in a series on my Notion architecture for various life management systems. To see the full series, please visit the home page, 🏗️Productivity In Notion .
In normal table-like setups, the most common way to tag data is, well, by using tags. Notion has a built-in multiselect option for this that can work pretty well for a variety of purposes:
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One area you would think this would work is for denoting the general topic of specific things. In the above case, I'm tagging content I find online that I'd like to read or store. So it could make sense to tag that data with things like "politics", "economics", "travel", and more.
But one limitation of tags is that they have no context beyond the individual table you are using them in. So in the case above, I could easily filter my content to my "Strong Recommendations," but I would not be able to tie that in to other databases within my Notion system.
And for keeping track of broad topics, we want to link in more than just a bit of content we find online. Specifically, I want to link in projects I'm working on, other topics that connect, and anything I've written about the topic publicly, pseudonymously, or privately.
The goal in short is to create a "Knowledge Graph" that roughly approximates the links that our brain makes. We don't naturally think like databases, with one row per item. Rather it is more like a network of interconnected ideas. This would be a better representation:
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Other tools like Roam Research prioritize this approach to note-taking, which has generated substantial acclaim and buzz. Roam links notes that reference other notes, thus creating a network of writings. As an example:
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Notion does not (yet) have this kind of visual, but it has the building blocks to create the linkages we'd need. If I cared enough to create the above visual, well, that's a fairly trivial Python script. But said visuals frankly seem unnecessary.
It's with that long preamble that I want to share the setup of my "Topic Database". This is based off August Bradley's Master Tag Database video, which is a great starting point for understanding the power of using a database as a tag source. My Topic DB has, at current count, almost 100 broad topics. Here is a subset of them viewed as a gallery:
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As you can see, these are general topics that I may read about, write about, think about, do things about, etc. Needless to say, it is quite varied!
But the power comes in as Topic DB is linked to my other databases. As an example, here's part of the row on the "Home Improvement" topic:
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At current, Topic DB links back to itself, the Project DB, my Published Works DB, my Content DB (to be covered next time), and my Journal DB (not shown above). Thus, this serves as a central node for linking various content together. This is already helpful if I want to quickly find a cluster of content and work, as well as to make connections between various things that I'm working on.
One other thing I've done is add computed "count" columns to tally the number of projects, writings, content, etc. tied to each subject. Summing those columns up gives an essential rank ordering of the topics that have the most content next to them:
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This is yet another interesting view, in the vein of "you are what you read," it provides a snapshot of the topics that I'm most engaged in, and an opportunity to say "oh, I should probably try to focus a bit less on X and a bit more on Y."
One last experiment that I'm running with this is to actually connect my Contact Database to the Topic Database. What does this do? It acts as an easy way to make connections. Say I see a great article about Running. Obviously a few people come to mind immediately, but having a list of people connected to "Running" will make it easy to share with those people. Later in my integration process (and once an API comes out), I may even make a button that let's me share a piece of content with everyone tied to a topic with the click of a button.

Bringing it all together, having a Topic Database already enables a fair degree of linking and knowledge graphing. There may be some gaps to what Roam offers on this front, but I see those as minor gaps relative to the immense benefits Notion provides from databases, computation, and visual aesthetic.