Overview: Zettelkasten

Yep, a Zettelkasten Overview about... #zettelkasten.

Starting point

Zettelkasten is a highly sophisticated approach to note-taking using index cards, developed in the 16th century but made popular in modern times thanks to the extreme productivity of Niklas Luhmann, a German scholar, and How to take smart notes, a book about his techniques by Sönke Ahrens.

I first came across Zettelkasten in late 2019 as I was building MyHub.ai. It seemed to offer something to my personal productivity processes, so I bought the book and wrote the first of several posts on the subject a few months after launch as I tried to integrate both Zettelkasten and MyHub.ai into my personal content strategy.

It took me more than one attempt before concluding that:

  • Zettelkasten, as described by Ahrens and the various bloggers I first discovered, was overcomplicated,
  • I could use a simplified version on MyHub.ai, thus integrating my note-taking further into my writing and my public online profile, if I shared all notes publicly (Simplifying Zettelkasten by working out loud).

While I was personally OK with working out loud:

  • other potential MyHub.ai users may prefer to keep their notes in the private MyHub.ai space which has long been part of the development programme,
  • to pilot Zettelkasten on MyHub.ai I had to use MyHub.ai's 'Service Page' feature (see FAQ) - this needs further development and design to better support Zettelkasten.

This Zettelkasten overview

Before embarking on this development I need to do more research into optimising Zettelkasten for the MyHub.ai environment. As I launch this Overview in mid November 2020 I already know that MyHub.ai needs:

  • to present Zettelkasten Overviews separately from Service Pages: Overviews could be highlighted within any search result; and/or take the place of the Categories in the Navigation Phrase (see FAQ)
  • to support Zettelkasten Overview pages using more sophisticated search expressions:
    • Service Pages currently present, under the subtitle "Stuff I (Really) Like", all the Highlighted (i.e., "The Best") Resources with any of the tags within the Service Page's tag bundle - i.e., they use the "OR" search operator on their tag bundle
    • Overviews likely need the option of the "AND" search operator - i.e., to present Resources with all of the tags within the Overview's tag bundle, and so focusing on the intersection of two or more tags.
    • Overviews could alternatively present weighted search results - ie, the more tags any given Resource shares with the overview's tag bundle, the higher it appears in the search results.

But I sense there's a lot more to know. Fortunately, there's a lot to read and a community to engage with, so I:

  • curated my inboxes and adapted my daily routines to bring me more content on Zettelkasten to read and annotate,
  • created this MyHub.ai Service page to serve as a Zettelkasten overview on the topic of Zettelkasten.

It's all very meta.

Current Notes

This is where I'm putting my notes from mid-November onwards.

MyHub.ai as hybrid personal publishing/productivity tool

Most writing on zettelkasten is framed by the productivity paradigm, where one's notes are private: created and managed for an audience of one. That allows for complexity - cf A Tale of Complexity.

MyHub.ai comes to world of note-taking from perspective of integrating content curation (Zettelkasten's bibliographic notes) into the user's public online presence. While MyHub.ai Hosted Items support Zettelkasten's fleeting and permanent notes, the underlying tech doesn't support note-taking features like bi-directional links. Yet. Would these make user's public Hubs too complex? So many links! Difficult to follow someone else's logic.

Have public and private levels for each note? So user's public Hub is above-surface iceberg: easy to navigate, rather pretty to look at. The Editor can access everything: processing public and private content using bi-directional links, NLP-driven visualisations, etc.


The best resources tagged #zettelkasten follow below:

Relevant resources

How I Use Obsidian at Work | Nicole van der Hoeven
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NvdH's complete overview of her usage of Obsidian. My first step in transitioning from Roam is to Hub this with my thoughts (PS she has a video):Setupmultiple Obsidian vaults, each version-controlled Git repository on GitHub.plus main Obsidian vault in a Dropbox for extra version control and backup"Just for overkill" Obsidian Sync a…

Hypothes.is, a web annotation tool, as an off-label zettelkasten?! | Chris Aldrich
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Chris Aldrich asks: "is anyone actively using Hypothes.is as an off-label zettelkasten just by itself?... [it has] most of the basic functionalities:imple note taking,Notes are editable and update-able,There’s a tag functionality for indexing notes,One can add links to other notes to cross link them if they liked,There’s a reasonably good sea…

Evergreen notes, outlines and executable writing strategy | Andy Matuschak

Having fun using Andy Matuschak's wonderful site to explore his innovative ideas on note-taking, zettelkasten, writing, etc. This link opens a number of his interrelated notes, displayed horizontally using his innovative 'stacked notes' information architecture.Key ideas from this stack:the importance of 'task division' in…

About these notes | Andy Matuschak

Andy Matuschak's working notes "are mostly written for myself: they’re roughly my thinking environment... But I’m sharing them publicly as an experiment ... [see] Work with the garage door up... Write notes for yourself by default, disregarding audience)... there’s no index or navigational aids: you’ll need to follow a link to some start…

What's an Overview?

Overviews allow you to add value to a collection of Resources. They appear whenever relevant in the left column, and in the navigation phrase if you want them to.

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral | Hapgood

I suspect this will be a canonical text for me moving forward with myhub.ai.Mike Caulfield in 2015, when my first hub was only about 2 years old, had also "been experimenting with another form of social media called federated wiki... instead of blogging and tweeting your experience you wiki’d it. And over time the wiki became a representation…

Knowledge gardening is recursive - by Gordon Brander - Subconscious

Here's a good question: "If we carefully closed the right feedback loops, could we construct a creative flywheel that generates finished works?... knowledge gardening. You collect and plant idea seeds, returning periodically to water and weed... As a kind of self-organizing system, it can’t happen without some kind of feedback loop... …

Permanent Zettelkasten Notes in Roam
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"Learning takes time and effort. You can't just import highlights to evernote and expect your brain to understand everything. You have to think to understand. And writing is the best facilitator of thinking." <- actually a quote from the original video, but worth keeping and carrying forward.

From Beginner to Superuser: A Complete Roam Research Tutorial Course
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Watched the entirety over the last week of 2020. Highly recommended series for getting to grips with Roam, covering everything from the basic of how Roam works through to detailed HowTos on project & goal management, zettelkasten, etc. Having said that, I won't be migrating my tasks out of a dedicated task mgt tool, or pasting bibliograph…

A Tale of Complexity – Structural Layers in Note Taking • Zettelkasten Method
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In response to this tweet, a link from Sascha who "distinguishes [only] between content notes and ... notes on notes". But it appears a little more complex than that."A Zettelkasten is neither a neatly structured filing system ... nor a turmoil deep sea generating ideas out of the ununderstandable chaos. There are three layers in my…

Post-Alpha Feature: Simplifying Zettelkasten by working out loud
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What did I learn about learning as I explored using Zettelkasten idea and knowledge management to write five newsletters about disinformation in the 2020 US elections?

Don’t just Build a Second Brain: share (part of) it
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I’m exploring how MyHub.ai could become a unique hybrid of personal publishing and productivity tools by launching a newsletter powered by Zettelkasten knowledge and idea management, all hosted on my Hub.

How To Take Smart Notes: 10 Principles to Revolutionize Your Note-Taking and Writing - Forte Labs
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Books on note-taking... always too vague and boring, full of platitudes ... never an overarching system for turning notes into concrete results ... [but]How To Take Smart Notes ... is by far the most impactful and profound book I’ve ever read on the subject... most books are a few morsels of real insight wrapped in... fluff... I systematically unr…

Powerful analog method to increase productivity

Zettelkasten—German for “slip box.” Luhmann claimed that his Zettelkasten became a conversational partner, constantly challenging him and prodding him on to greater productivity... original system ... numbered index cards... contained a single and complete idea ... “atomicity”... as short as a simple sentence... had to fit into ... half-sheet of …

Designing social platforms fit for the future
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For the 6th episode of his Futurized podcast, Trond Undheim asked me why surveillance capitalism inevitably leads to polarised, undemocratic and dysfunctional societies, and what we must do about it...If we don’t change course, in the future we will be less will informed, more polarised, massively manipulated, living in more corrupt and less democ…

Integrating Zettelkasten Pages into MyHub.ai
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I needed to review everything I had ever Hubbed relevant to surveillance capitalism, polarisation, social media and society... As I cast around for something interesting to say, I realised a MyHub.ai Service Page could help organise and clarify my thoughts: I would use it to create a Zettelkasten Permanent Note...While not a blog post, it is defin…

Building Blocks of a Zettelkasten
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I am working hard on the “Building Blocks” chapter of the Zettelkasten book ... a birds-eye view of the overarching systems metaphor I’m using ... There’s a thing called “Zettelkasten”, and then there’s you using it. The former is the toolkit, the latter is your application of a method... I recognize... Inbox: the gateway into your knowledge syste…

How I apply Zettelkasten to Roam · Hrvoje Šimić
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How to take smart notes explains the Zettelkasten system... explain how I apply rules 1-4 of Zettelkasten when using Roam

What is the Zettelkasten Research Method?
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Zettelkasten allowed him to: build a huge web of knowledge, retrieve the right memory when needed, find meaningful connections among topics, and develop his ideas, arguments and discussions efficiently...The first step ... taking literature notes as you read something ... what you don't want to forget ... be brief ... in your own words ...sec…

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive
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Luhmann... published more than 70 books and over 400 scholarly articles... one of the most important sociologists of the twentieth century ... “I’m not thinking everything on my own. Much of it happens in my Zettelkasten”...adopt his method and ... learn better, think better, publish more, and be more creative... A Zettelkasten is ... a box of not…

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