Chimera - a native experience for capturing networked thoughts, ideas, and knowledge
The first time I read about Roam Research, I got excited to see a tool that allowed capturing units of thinking as they showed up in our minds - interconnected with other units. Until then, most of note-capturing tools proposed organizing them following a hierarchy and using labels to categorize and make them searchable. I always perceived it as unnecessary friction that converted from our brains’ domain to the computers’.
When something pops in my mind, I just want to capture it right away without much hassle having to think about how to organize it to find it in the future.
I gave tools Roam Research and Obsidian a try and found something bothersome - they are designed for engineers. The UI is complex and ugly, and some concepts are hard to grasp if you haven’t worked with formats like Markdown before. Moreover, the user gets exposed to unnecessary intricacies that make the usage even more overwhelming. Can it be simpler and more enjoyable to use?
Additionally, I need a web browser and an internet connection to contribute to my knowledge graph, adding even more friction to the user experience. I’m currently on a flight, and because I don’t have an internet connection, I can’t add some ideas that I’ve had. I can jot them down in a note-taking app, but I have to remember to add them to Roam Research as soon as I have an internet connection. What if I could just open an app on my iPhone, add the ideas, and let the app do the rest?
That’s where the idea for building Chimera came from. I want to build a seamless and straightforward experience for building a knowledge graph. An experience that works anywhere and from any device. Because I have previous experience with Swift and Apple platforms, I’ll start with those. Still, the idea is to build it so that it can be easily extendable to other platforms.
Some apps like Obsidian work on the client-side and leverage other services to sync it across devices. However, suppose we went down the same path with Chimera. In that case, it’d complicate reaching new platforms because we’d need to duplicate business logic across clients. Instead, I’m storing the graph on the server-side like Roam Research does. This allows exposing a public REST API that third-party developers can leverage to build more clients. This also opens the door for features like graph sharing and insights. For example, we could identify areas of your graph you haven’t visited recently. We’d suggest you journey through them.
As mentioned earlier, my goal is for the process to be quick and seamless. If we tried to achieve that with a web browser, there’d be hard-to-remove friction. For example, it’d be hard to make the app work offline. Instead, if we build an app, the user can unlock the phone, open the app, and start writing. Moreover, platforms like iOS support widgets that we can leverage to make the process even shorter.
I’m also a fan of Apple’s products and their OS aesthetics. Therefore, I’ll ensure the app embraces the Human Interface Guidelines to be consistent with the app’s platforms. SwiftUI makes it extremely easy by providing many thoroughly designed building blocks.
Since the first day that I started playing with building Chimera, I wanted to make the visual graph an implementation detail. It’s unmanageable on small devices, and even in large ones when the graph is enormous. Is there a use-case behind it worth porting to the app? There is. As a user of this tool, I’d like to jump into a node in the graph, and navigate from there. Imagine in 3 years from now I’d like to read about the things I wrote about my experience living in Berlin.
I’ll call this feature journeying. The idea is simple - You are thrown into a node and given options to navigate adjacent and related nodes.
Open-source app powered by Tuist
Although the backend will remain closed-source to ensure financial sustainability for the project, the app will be open-source and powered by Tuist. The goal is two-fold - dog-food Tuist and provide its users with an example for building a modular app at scale. I’ll finally have a µFeatures-based app that developers can check out to take inspiration for their apps.
I’m excited this is also an opportunity to learn about SwiftUI and all the recent innovations that landed on the Apple ecosystem. Due to my role at Shopify I haven’t had the chance to build for Apple platforms in years. I miss it. I think I’ll get a lot of ideas for improving Tuist too.
I don’t know when the app will be available. The only thing I can tell is that I’ll follow the approach that I followed with Tuist - I’ll build it at my own pace letting ideas emerge and being open about the progress I’m making. Moreover, expect me to be obsessed with the simplicity and the user experience of the tool. If you know me, you probably know that this has been my obsession since I wrote the first line of code in Tuist.
Unlike previous projects I worked on, Chimera will have a subscriptions model to ensure its financial sustainability. Unlike many software tools these days, we won’t leave your knowledge in the hands of investors. You pay, and we store it and provide you with valuable tools to understand your thinking better. Simple. And if at some point you are not happy with the service, you’ll be able to export it in a standard format that you can then store yourself or migrate to other platforms.
If this interests you and you would like to follow the development, I recommend following @chimeratools on Twitter.