“People come, they see everything and nothing more than that, just like in porn movies; consequently, they leave disappointed.”
This is a telling story about people’s perception of the simplicity of the idea of a slip box (zettelkasten, card catalog, commonplace book or whatever you want to call your note taking system).
Niklas Luhmann, Zettelkasten II, index card no. 9/8,3
It’s also a testament to the fact that the value of a zettelkasten is in the upfront work that is required in making valuable notes and linking them. Many people end up trying out the simple looking system and then wonder why it isn’t working for them. The answer is that they’re not working for it.
Just as sex can be fun, working with a system of notes can be fun. (“Just” can be a problematic word, n’cest pas?) In either framing, both partners need to do some work—neither necessarily the same work. The end result can be magic.
As Potter Stewart might have said, “I may not be able to define proper note taking, but I know it when I see it.”
And annotation helps you save those thoughts, share them with others, and further refine them.
Image made with the help of BibleMunger 2.0
This week I was able to catch up a bit on some podcasts I subscribe to. One of the casts I’ve been enjoying lately is 25 Years of Ed Tech, a serialized version of Martin Weller’s book by the same title. Now audio books are plenty good by themselves, but this particular podcast has an addition episode per chapter called “between the chapters” where a host interviews members of the ed tech community (those around Martin in some way) about the topic of the previous chapter. This week was all about blogs.
He mentions Stephen Downes‘ regular workflow as well. I think mine is fairly similar to Stephen’s. To some extent, I write much more on my own website now than I ever had before. This is because I post a lot more frequently to my own site, in part because it’s just so easy to do. I’ll bookmark things or post about what I’ve recently read or watched. My short commentary on some of these is just that—short commentary. But occasionally I discover, depending on the subject, that those short notes and bookmark posts will spring into something bigger or larger. Sometimes it’s a handful of small posts over a few days or weeks that ultimately inspires the longer thing. The key seems to be to write something.
Perhaps a snowball analogy will work? I take a tiny snowball of words and give it a proverbial roll. Sometimes it sits there and other times it rolls down the hill and turns into a much larger snowball. Other times I get a group of them and build a full snowman.
It’s just this sort of workflow that I was considering when I recently suggested that those using annotation as a classroom social annotation tool, might also consider using it to help students create commonplace books to help students spur their writing. The key is to create small/low initial stakes that have the potential to build up into something bigger. Something akin to the user interface of Twitter (and their tweetstorm functionality). Write a short sentence or two on which you can hit publish, but if the mood strikes, then write another, and another until you’ve eventually gotten to something that could be a blog post (or article). Of course if you do this, you should own it.
This is also the sort of perspective which Sönke Ahrens takes in his excellent book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers, though there he’s prescribing something for general note taking when I might suggest it’s a prescription for a pedagogy behind living and writing.
As I’m thinking about this, I can’t help but think that Hypothes.is, if only for fun, ought to add a manicule functionality to their annotation product.
I totally want to be able to highlight portions of my reading with an octopus manicule!
I can see their new tagline now:
Helping hands on the digital page.
I’m off to draw some octopi…
Instead of using the historic word “commonplacing”, Eminem uses the fantastic euphemism “stacking ammo”. Given his use of his words and lyrics collection in battle rap, this seems very apropos.
Cooper analogizes the collection as the scrawlings of a crazy person. In some sense, this may be because there is no traditional order, head words, or indexing system with what otherwise looks like a box of random pages and ideas. One might argue that the multitude of notebooks, papers, colors, sizes, etc. provides a sort of context which Eminem could use as a method of loci for remembering where to find particular ideas, thus making the need for an indexing system feel superfluous to him. This is even more likely if he’s regularly using, maintaining, and mining his material for daily work.
h-book is an experimental microformat at best.
I might recommend for minimizing the vocabulary that one might use the existing
h-product instead and allow parsers to find an ISBN, Library of Congress book number, ASIN, UPC, or other product code to determine “bookness”.
Annotated on August 01, 2021 at 09:13AM
Interleaving a copy of your favorite text can leave massive amounts of space for marginalia!
Copies of print and digital editions of Jonathan Edwards’ blank Bible are available.
Apparently one can buy modern copies of interleaved bibles as well: https://www.amazon.com/Interleaved-Journal-Hardcover-Letter-Comfort/dp/078524316X/
Video review of an interleaved bible:
What other books can be found in interleaved editions? Ayn Rand perhaps?
One thing expected from the note-taking tools, makes me particularly skeptical: their collaborative/ public use. I think the lifecycle of notes cannot be continuous from capturing to communication, unless I forgo the possibility of cryptic, sloppy, abbreviated shorthand meant just for the “me later” that Magdalena Böttger depicted so aptly in 2005. ❧
Some of the value of notes being done and readable in public means that one typically puts a bit more effort into them at the start. This can make them much more useful and valuable later on. It also means that they usually have more substance and context for use by others in collaboration or other reuses.
Short notes are often called fleeting notes which may or may not be processed into something more substantive. The ones that do become more substantive can more easily be reused in other future settings.
Sonke Ahrens’ book How to Take Smart Notes is one of the better arguments for the why and how of note taking.
Annotated on July 06, 2021 at 10:24AM
Note that such careful treatment applies only to a certain kind of my notes. While many project-related notes go straight to simple folders of the operating system, the notes that don’t fit in one of the folders, deserve special attention. I don’t know yet where I might deploy them — possibly in multiple places. ❧
I like that you’ve got such a fascinating system. It’s very similar in form and substance to one that I use, but which relies on a wholly different technology stack: https://boffosocko.com/2020/08/29/a-note-taking-problem-and-a-proposed-solution/
Annotated on July 06, 2021 at 10:25AM
Which makes them similar to “commonplace”: reusable in many places. But this connotation has led to a pejorative flavor of the German translation “Gemeinplatz” which means platitude. That’s why I prefer to call them ‘evergreen’ notes, although I am not sure if I am using this differentiation correctly. ❧
I’ve only run across the German “Gemeinplatz” a few times with this translation attached. Sad to think that this negative connotation has apparently taken hold. Even in English the word commonplace can have a somewhat negative connotation as well meaning “everyday, ordinary, unexceptional” when the point of commonplacing notes is specifically because they are surprising or extraordinary by definition.
Your phrasing of “evergreen notes” seems close enough. I’ve seen some who might call the shorter notes you’re making either “seedlings” or “budding” notes. Some may wait for bigger expansions of their ideas into 500-2000 word essays before they consider them “evergreen” notes. (Compare: https://maggieappleton.com/garden-history and https://notes.andymatuschak.org/Evergreen_notes). Of course this does vary quite a bit from person to person in my experience, so your phrasing certainly fits.
I’ve not seen it crop up in the digital gardens or zettelkasten circles specifically but the word “evergreen” is used in the journalism space to describe a fully formed article that can be re-used wholesale on a recurring basis. Usually they’re related to recurring festivals, holidays, or cyclical stories like “How to cook the perfect Turkey” which might get recycled a week before Thanksgiving every year.
Annotated on July 06, 2021 at 10:37AM
It wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be, so I’ve written this blog post for anyone who’s trying to do the same with their NextJS blog. ❧
I recall Monica Powell writing a bit about this with some video a while back.
Perhaps not as useful after-the-fact, but her post is hiding on in the see also section of https://indieweb.org/Webmention where I’ve archived a copy of your article as well. Maybe the IndieWeb wiki needs a NextJS page to make this a bit more findable? Where else might you have looked for guidance.
Perhaps the similarities and differences in your approaches will help others in the future.
Annotated on June 27, 2021 at 08:38PM
Tell me on Twitter @bionicjulia and have your tweet show up below! ❧
Or alternately write about it on your own site and send a webmention. 🙂
Annotated on June 27, 2021 at 08:41PM
In preparation for Peer Review Week, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the collaborative community review experiments that have happened recently on PubPub. Finding new ways to harness engagement in scholarly communications is a goal of the Knowledge Futures Group, and inline annotation is a technology that I rely upon every day to organize my thoughts and track my online reading. I reached out to the authors of three forthcoming MIT Press books that have undergone this type of review during the last year. I was excited to learn about their experiences and to share some of their observations here.
These could be added to the example and experience of Kathleen Fitzpatrick.
“Criticism is a marker of respect and an acknowledgement that others see in us the ability to learn.” they noted. ❧
quote from Catherine D’Ignazio, Assistant Professor, Emerson College, and Lauren Klein, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology, authors of Data Feminism.
Annotated on June 21, 2021 at 07:57AM
He notes that authors of such projects should consider the return on investment. It take time to go through community feedback, so one needs to determine whether the pay off will be worthwhile. Nevertheless, if his next work is suitable for community review, he’d like to do it again. ❧
This is an apropos question. It is also somewhat contingent on what sort of platform the author “owns” to be able to do outreach and drive readers and participation.
Annotated on June 21, 2021 at 05:12PM