I’m intrigued by Zettelkasten, that Roel Groeneveld describes in his blog. Zettelkasten means filing cards cabinet, so in and of itself isn’t anything novel. It’s all in the described process of course, which originates with systems thinker Niklas Luhmann. I recognise the utility of having lots of small notes, and the ability to link them like beads on a necklace, which is much like the ‘threading cards‘ I mentioned here recently. A personal knowledge management process is extremely important, and needs to be supported by the right tools. Specifically for more easily getting from loose notions, to emergent patterns, to new constructs. Balancing stock and flow. Zettelkasten coming from a paper age seems rather focused on stock though, and pays less attention to flow. Crucially it encourages links between notes, a flow-like aspect, but to me often the links carry more meaning and knowledge than the notes/nodes it connects. The reason for linking, the association that makes a link apparent is an extremely valuable piece of info. Not sure how that would find its place in the Zettelkasten process, as while links exist, they’re not treated as a thing of meaning in their own right. Also some of the principles of the process described, especially atomicity, seem prone to creating lots of overhead by having to rework notes taken during a day. That type of reworking is I think best done in the style of gardening: when you are searching for something, or passing through some notes anyway, you can add, change, link, split off etc.
Tossed out filing card cabinets of the Manchester City Library (NH/USA), image license CC BY SA
In terms of tools, I am on the look out for something other than Evernote that I currently use. What I like about it is that it ‘eats anything’ and a note can be an image, text, web page, book, pdf, or a drawing, which I can add tags to, and can access through scripts from e.g. my todo tool, etc. Zettelkasten is fully text based in contrast. As a strong point that means it can be completely created from plain text files, if you have a tool that allows you to create, edit, search and put them in an overview extremely fast. But very often ideas are contained in images as well, so dealing with media is key I think. The Zettelkasten tool The Archive is worth a try, but lacks precisely this type of media support. Devonthink on the other hand is way over the top, and let’s one loose oneself in its complexity. The Archive keeps things simple, which is much better, but maybe too simple.