Figuring Out Mem.ai and What Works For Me

After publishing The Great Note-Taking App Purge post this morning I was out walking Bennie and realized why I was struggling with how I use Mem.ai so much.

Actually, I wrote it out in that post and even then I didn’t realize how much that was limiting how I use Mem.ai.

I like a lot of what Mem is doing, but the base app doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of improvements, there are too many workarounds that I have to do to make it work as I do. Plus I prefer a block editor and block transclusion, which Mem does not have. You are expected to create “smart” notes, which to me flies in the face of having a Daily Mem, you can’t focus on having a Daily Mem and not have block transclusion in my opinion.

After all this time, I finally realized that most of my problems with how I use Mem.ai are all about the lack of blocks and not being able to transclude those blocks as paragraphs or sections. I don’t use the so-called smart note or Atomic notes methods of note-taking. Instead I prefer to link paragraphs or sections from my daily notes or long-form book/article notes to related pages, like I do in other apps, but can’t in Mem.ai.

When I started using Mem.ai back in February/March, it was the first app I used that focused on writing down thoughts, ideas and whatever as a primary input source. It showed me the value of a Daily Mem (note), and how it was more than a journal. The Daily Mem became a place for my thoughts on whatever I was thinking about, watching, or what I was reading. How I used Mem.ai’s Daily Mem was the driving force behind me understanding the need for a daily note feature in any note-taking app that I use. 

However, there were other things about Mem.ai that weren’t as mature and while the Daily Mem and many other features were great, it wasn’t enough to keep me there and I kept searching for that “perfect” for me note-taking app.

This change of perspective regarding the need for a daily note based app, led me to start looking at using apps like: Obsidian, Logseq, Roam, Remnote, and Reflect Notes (among others). Which use block-based editors or plugins that have the ability to transclude information from a daily note or other notes, to a particular page or tag. This feature became one of the primary things that I looked for in my note-taking apps.

Even so, I kept coming back to Mem, because it has many features that I like a lot and are missing in those other apps. However, I usually went away again, frustrated that I couldn’t do what I wanted with it for many reasons. Today, I finally realized that Mem.ai’s way of backlinking (transclusion) mems and tags are at the page level, which is something I knew – obviously, but didn’t realize that it was the primary cause of my frustration with the app.

It is often said that “you can’t see the forest for the trees” and this was my problem with Mem.ai. I was so focused on what other apps were missing and what Mem has and can do, that I overlooked the obvious problem I was having with it.

Page-level transclusion.

When I create a + link to another mem (page) in Mem.ai, if there isn’t a current link, Mem.ai creates a blank mem but does not backlink to the Daily Mem, other similar mems, or the paragraph/section that I created the link in. If I haven’t created a smart note, copied, or written something on the new linked Mem, the link is empty. And it stays empty, no matter how many times I link to that page. Unless I write something or cut/paste in the paragraph or section that I only wanted to link it from.

Which in many ways defeats the purpose of the Daily Mem in my opinion.

This might work great if you want to transfer your thoughts from your Daily Mem to a different mem, but that is not what I want to do. I prefer to keep my daily thoughts in the Daily Mem that gives me context to how I came up with the thought that day as a quasi journal and then have it appear appended in some manner to the page I linked to.

The blue line Note Taking App creates the blank mem Note Taking App

When I create a # for a tag title, it shows the page titles that share the tag. Then I have to open the page and if it is from a Daily Mem I have to scroll through the entire document to find the related tagged paragraph or section. Which in my opinion, defeats much of the purpose of the Daily Mem or related links.

Examples of different related tags in Mem.ai

What I am looking for is something similar to how Reflect Notes or others do their linked pages. Where the page itself can be empty, but the paragraph is visible or suggested backlinks can be seen as well. It culls out the rest of the daily note or other note and only shows the linked or tagged section of the page.

Reflect Notes example of linked paragraph notes from a Daily Note

The page level linking feature of Mem.ai is not the direction I want to go with my note-taking app. Especially, since I do not use the Zettelkasten, Smart note, Atomic Notes methods of note-taking.

This probably means that unless MemX does things significantly different from their base Mem.ai product, it won’t be what I am looking for in a note-taking app.

Which sucks.

Especially, since I do like so many other things about Mem’s free tier option. However, if how I use Daily Mems or note-taking method isn’t compatible with how Mem has designed their product lines, then I need to let it go. Despite the great customer service and glowing reviews from others.

I will wait to see how MemX presents its linking/tagging (if you even need to have tags) and then make my choices whether to keep or delete Mem at that point, based on how I take notes and use a note-taking app. 

If I have this all mixed up and incorrectly presented how Mem.ai’s transclusion works, please let me know in the comments regarding what I have missed. Because I would love nothing better than to be able to keep using Mem’s note-taking app going forward. But if it would mean I would have to change to using smart notes or Atomic notes, which I know are considered by many the best way to take notes, it isn’t how I take notes and I don’t see me changing anytime soon.

It would simply be a philosophical difference of where I am going versus the direction that Mem’s developers are taking their note-taking app, and I wish them all the best. They have been great while answering my questions, developing a wonderful product, and helping me figure out the best direction for me.

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