How to Make Notes and Write, a handbook by Dan Allosso and S.F. Allosso

A new handbook on note making and writing

I wasn’t expecting it until next week or shortly thereafter, but just in time for the new academic year, Dan Allosso has finished a major rewrite on his and S.F. Allosso’s earlier edition of A Short Handbook for writing essays in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This expanded edition has several new chapters on note making (notice that this is dramatically different than note taking) using a zettelkasten-based (or card index or fichier boîte if you prefer) approach similar to that practiced by Beatrice Webb, Marcel Mauss, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Hans Blumenberg, Mortimer J. Adler, and Walter Benjamin among many others.

The focus of the book is on note making for actively producing tangible outputs (essays, papers, theses, monographs, books, etc.), something on which a few recent texts in a the related productivity space haven’t delivered. While ostensibly focused on the humanities and social sciences in terms of examples, the methods broadly apply to all fields. In fact, some of the methods draw historically on some of the practices fruitfully used by Bacon, Newton, Leibnitz, Linnaeus, and many others in the sciences since.

This isn’t your father’s note making system…

While many students (especially undergraduates and graduate students) may eschew this sort of handbook as something they think they “already know”, I can assure you that they do not and will benefit from the advice contained therein, particularly the first half. I’ve often heartily recommended Sönke Ahrens’ book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking to many in the past, but I think Allosso’s version, while similar in many respects, is clearer, shorter, and likely more easily realized by new practitioners.

There’s more detail in Dr. Allosso’s announcement video:

Availability

How to Make Notes and Write is available at Minnesota State’s Pressbooks site for reading online, or download as a .pdf or .epub. If you’d like a physical copy, they’re also available for purchase on Amazon.

For those in the educational spaces, Dr. Allosso has given the book a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), so that people can use it as an Open Educational Resource (OER) in their classes and work.

For teachers who are using social annotation with tools like Hypothes.is in their classrooms, Allosso’s book is an excellent resource for what students can actively do with all those annotations once they’ve made them. (Here’s a link to my annotated copy of a recent working draft if you care to “play along”.)

† Unless of course your father happens to be Salvatore Allosso, but even then…

Is anyone practicing sketchnotes like patterns in their notes?

I’ve noticed that u/khimtan has a more visual stye of note taking with respect to their cards, but is anyone else doing this sort of visualization-based type of note taking in the vein of sketchnotes or r/sketchnoting? I’ve read books by Mike Rohde and Emily Mills and tinkered around in the space, but haven’t actively added it to my practice tacitly. For those who do, do you have any suggestions/tips? I suspect that even simple drollery-esque images on cards would help with the memory/recall aspects. This may go even further for those with more visual-based modes of thinking and memory.

For those interested in more, as well as some intro videos, here are some of my digital notes: https://hypothes.is/users/chrisaldrich?q=sketchnotes

Hypothes.is, a web annotation tool, as an off-label zettelkasten?!

It wasn’t built specifically to be used as one, but is anyone actively using Hypothes.is as an off-label zettelkasten just by itself?

The platform has most of the basic functionalities one would want for a digital ZK:

  1. Simple note taking,
  2. Notes are editable and update-able,
  3. There’s a tag functionality for indexing notes,
  4. One can add links to other notes to cross link them if they liked,
  5. There’s a reasonably good search functionality,
  6. Data export is available if you want to move

The interesting piece is that if many are doing this in public, then folks can reply to others’ notes and even cross-link their public notes. (They’ve got the ability to have public and private notes, as well as groups for collaboration, which are functionalities most ZK don’t have as well.)

I was reminded of this potential off-label use case when someone replied to an older note with a quote/comment and it nudged me to add a note to link the two together. Who’s up for a public, social zettelkasten practice?

For those who need an example to look at, try my “digital ZK”: https://hypothes.is/users/chrisaldrich or their public timeline: https://hypothes.is/search.

I know some have mentioned Hypothes.is as an annotation tool for their note taking before. There are a few who use it as an online platform for notes and then they leverage the platform’s API or feeds to export their data to their tool of choice. (I’ve used Hypothes.idian for Obsidian to do just this.)

Call for Model Examples of Zettelkasten Output Processes

Perhaps too much of the resurgence of the zettelkasten idea and the online space about it is focused on what a zettelkasten is or how it should be done. After this, descriptions of the process of collecting material for one’s zettelkasten is followed by using it to generate new ideas and thought, though this last part is relatively sparce in comparison. Very little of the discussion or examples I’ve seen in online fora, social media, websites, and the blogosphere is focused on actively using them for creating actual long form output.

As Luhmann’s (all-too-frequently used) example is so powerful, I think it would be massively helpful if users had stronger examples of what these explicit creation workflows looked like, particularly at the longer end of creation of chapters or even book length spaces. Are there any detailed posts, videos, other media about how one approached this problem? What worked well? What didn’t? What would you do differently next time? Have you done this multiple times and now settled into something you feel is most efficient? Is your process manual/digital? What tools helped along the way for laying out and doing the actual stitching together and editing? Would you use them again or try something else? Have you experimented with different methods or practices?

Here, I’m looking for direct and actual experience; I’m explicitly not looking for “this is how I would do it” responses.

Because it’s much easier and far more successful for humans to imitate the practice of others than to innovate it for themselves, I’m ultimately looking not for outlines of what people recommend, but public examples of the practices in progress. Who can show their actual “receipts” and in a reasonably linear and practical way for others to follow? We suffer from a lack of these practices being visible online as most aren’t. Further even the digital ones aren’t public, or if they are, they aren’t well known.

As an example of the broader problem, I’ve yet to see a week go by that someone doesn’t read Ahrens’ generally excellent book, but in posting online they still seem lost in attempting to put the lowest level ideas into active practice.

Personally, I use Hypothes.is as a digital tool for the majority of my note taking. One could follow my feed and see it in real time if they choose. There are benefits for this public practice and I’m aware that many people follow this feed of notes out of curiosity. I’ve even gotten emails from folks indicating that they’ve learned some interesting things for use in their own practices. Sadly, the follow up of revision, cross linking, active indexing, and subsequent growth isn’t public (yet), though the platform I’m using is open to active public conversation and commentary, which is a useful side benefit. I have seen a few other public examples of others’ practices, some in video form, though this can be dull as the time and effort is work and doesn’t make for powerful entertainment because it isn’t. Still these public examples can be far more powerful than some of the explanations I’ve seen, especially for beginners who don’t comprehend the long term benefits (surprise, serendipity, insight, emergent creativity) and who generally focus on the minutiae for lack of direct experience.

On the creation portion, I’m currently experimenting with carrying out the original  instructions of Konrad Gessner, an early zettelmacher, as laid out in his book Pandectarum sive Partitionum Universalium. (1548. Zurich: Christoph Froschauer) and hope to report back shortly about the experience. 

Call for explicit examples

So where are the examples? Show us your receipts. Who’s doing this in public that people can follow? Who can be imitated until people have the experience(s) to do this more easily on their own? Let’s collect some of the best (or at least extant) examples for sharing with others. 

Once we’ve got some concrete examples then we can study them and iterate on them.

Too many people seem intent on potentially wasting their time by innovating on a practice they haven’t even tried because someone in the productivity space (who usually hasn’t tried it either) wrote a page long post saying it would be a good idea. I know we can do far better.

Economic Models in Social Media and a Better Way Forward

Matt Ridley indicates in The Rational Optimist that markets for goods and services “work so well that it is hard to design them so they fail to deliver efficiency and innovation” while assets markets are nearly doomed to failure and require close and careful regulation.

If we view the social media landscape from this perspective, an IndieWeb world in which people are purchasing services like the ability to move their domain name and URL permalinks from one web host to another; easy import/export of their data; and CMS (content management system) services/platforms/functionalities, represents the successful market mode for our personal data and online identities. Here competition for these sorts of services will not only improve the landscape, but generally increased competition will tend to drive the costs to consumers down. The internet landscape is developed and sophisticated enough and broadly based on shared standards that this mode of service market should easily be able to not only thrive, but innovate.

At the other end of the spectrum, if our data are viewed as assets in an asset market between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al., it is easy to see that the market has already failed so miserably that one cannot even easily move ones’ assets from one silo to another or really protect them in any meaningful way. Social media services don’t compete to export or import data because the goal is to trap you and your data and attention there, otherwise they lose. The market corporate social media is really operating in is one for eyeballs and attention to sell advertising, so one will notice a very health, thriving, and innovating market for advertisers. Social media users will easily notice that there is absolutely no regulation in the service portion of the space at all. This only allows the system to continue failing to provide improved or even innovative service to people on their “service”. The only real competition in the corporate silo social media space is for eyeballs and participation because the people and their attention are the real product.

As a result, new players whose goal is to improve the health of the social media space, like the recent entrant Cohost, are far better off creating a standards based service that allows users to register their own domain names and provide a content management service that has easy import and export of their data. This will play into the services market mode which improves outcomes for people. Aligning in any other competition mode that silos off these functions will force them into competition with the existing corporate social services and we already know where those roads lead.

Those looking for ethical and healthy models of this sort of social media service might look at Manton Reece‘s Micro.blog platform which provides a wide variety of these sorts of data services including data export and taking your domain name with you. If you’re unhappy with his service, then it’s relatively easy to export your data and move it to another host using WordPress or some other CMS. On the flip side, if you’re unhappy with your host and CMS, then it’s also easy to move over to Micro.blog and continue along just as you had before. Best of all, Micro.blog is offering lots of the newest and most innovative web standards including webmention notifications which enable website-to-website conversations, micropub, and even portions of microsub not to mention some great customer service.

I like to analogize the internet and social media to competition in the telecom/cellular phone space In America, you have a phone number (domain name) and can then have your choice of service provider (hosting), and a choice of telephone (CMS) for interacting with the network. Somehow instead of adopting a social media common carrier model, we have trapped ourselves inside of a model that doesn’t provide the users any sort of real service or options. It’s easy to imagine what it would be like to need your own AT&T account to talk to family on AT&T and a separate T-Mobile account to talk to your friends on T-Mobile because that’s exactly what you’re doing with social media despite the fact that you’re all still using the same internet. Part of the draw was that services like Facebook appeared to be “free”. It’s only years later that we’re seeing the all too real costs emerge.

This sort of competition and service provision also goes down to subsidiary layers of the ecosystem. New service providers don’t necessarily need to take the soup to nuts approach that Micro.Blog does. Take for example the idea of writing interface and text editing. There are (paid) services like iA Writer, Ulysses, and Typora which people use to compose their writing. Many people use these specifically for writing blog posts. Companies can charge for these products because of their beauty, simplicity, and excellent user interfaces. Some of them either already do or ostensibly could support the micropub and IndieAuth web standards which allow their users the ability to log into their websites and directly post their saved content from these editors directly to their website. Sure there are also a dozen or so other free micropub clients that also allow this, but why not have and allow competition for beauty and ease of use? Let’s say you like WordPress enough, but aren’t a fan of the Gutenberg editor. Should you need to change to Drupal or some unfamiliar static site generator to exchange a better composing experience for a dramatically different and unfamiliar back end experience? No, you could simply change your editor client and continue on without missing a beat. Of course the opposite also applies—WordPress could split out Gutenberg as a standalone (possibly paid) micropub client and users could then easily use it to post to Drupal, Micro.blog, or other CMSs that support the micropub spec, and many already do.

Social media should be a service to and for people all the way down to its core. The more companies there are that provide these sorts of services means more competition which will also tend to lure people away from silos where they’re trapped for lack of options. Further, if your friends are on services that interoperate and can cross communicate with standards like Webmention from site to site, you no longer need to be on Facebook because “that’s where your friends and family all are.” The more competition there is for cleaner, nicer user interfaces and simple solutions, the less lock in effects will be felt from existing and predatory social services.

I have no doubt that we can all get to a healthier place online, but it’s going to take companies and startups like Cohost to make better choices in how they frame their business models. Co-ops and non-profits can help here too. I can easily see a co-op adding webmention to their Mastodon site to allow users to see and moderate their own interactions instead of forcing local or global timelines on their constituencies. Perhaps Garon didn’t think Webmention was a fit for Mastodon, but this doesn’t mean that others couldn’t support it. I personally think that Darius Kazemi‘s Hometown fork of Mastodon which allows “local only” posting a fabulous little innovation while still allowing interaction with a wider readership, including me who reads his content from there in a microsub enabled social reader. Perhaps someone forks Mastodon to use as a social feed reader, but builds in micropub so that instead of posting the reply to a Mastodon account, it’s posted to one’s IndieWeb capable website which sends a webmention notification to the original post? Opening up competition this way makes lots of new avenues for every day social tools. One might posit that it was this lack of diverse solutions and common standards in the early 2000s  that allowed corporations like Facebook, Twitter, et al. to entirely consume the market and fragment our online identities this way.

Continuing the same old siloing of our data and online connections is not the way forward. We’ll see who stands by their ethics and morals by serving people’s interests and not the advertising industry.

Primarily composed on July 03, 2022 at 02:36PM in support of and partially in response to A Silo Can Never Provide Digital Autonomy to its Users by Ariadne Conill.

Thoughts about Robin Sloan’s Spring ’83 Experiment

I’ve been thinking about Robin Sloan‘s Spring ’83 Experiment on and off for a bit.

I too almost immediately thought of Fraidyc.at and its nudge at shifting the importance of content based on time and recency. I’d love to have a social reader with additional affordances for both this time shifting and Ton’s idea of reading based on social distance.

I’m struck by the seemingly related idea of Peter Hagen’s LindyLearn platform and annotations which focuses on taking some of the longer term interesting ideas as the basis for browsing and chewing on. Though even here, one needs some of the odd, the cutting edge, and the avant garde in their balanced internet diet. Would Spring ’83 provide some of this?

I’m also struck by some similarities this has with the idea of Derek Siver’s /now page movement. I see some updating regularly while others have let it slip by the wayside. Still the “board” of users exists, though one must click through a sea of mostly smiling and welcoming faces to get to it the individual pieces of content. (The smiling faces are more inviting and personal than the cacophony of yelling and chaos I see in models for Spring ’83.) This reminds me of Stanley Meyers’ frequent assertion that he attempted to design a certain “sense of quiet” into the early television show Dragnet to balance the seeming loudness of the everyday as well as the noise of other contemporaneous television programming.

The form reminds me a bit of the signature pages of one’s high school year book. But here, instead of the goal being timeless scribbles, one has the opportunity to change the message over time. Does the potential commercialization of the form (you know it will happen in a VC world crazed with surveillance capitalism) follow the same trajectory of the old college paper facebook? Next up, Yearbook.com!

Beyond the thing as a standard, I wondered what the actual form of Spring ’83 adds to a broader conversation? What does it add to the diversity of voices that we don’t already see in other spaces. How might it be abused? Would people come back to it regularly? What might be its emergent properties? This last is hard to know without experimenting at larger scales.

It definitely seems quirky and fun in and old school web sort of way, but it also stresses me out looking at the zany busyness of some of the examples of magazine stands. The general form reminds me of the bargain bins at book stores which have the promise of finding valuable hidden gems and at an excellent price, but often the ideas and quality of what I find usually isn’t worth the discounted price and the return on investment is rarely worth the effort. How might this get beyond these forms?

It also brings up the idea of what other online forms we may have had with this same sort of raw experimentation? How might the internet have looked if there had been a bigger rise of the wiki before that of the blog? What would the world be like if Webmention had existed before social media rose to prominence? Did we somehow miss some interesting digital animals because the web rose so quickly to prominence without more early experimentation before its “Cambrian explosion”?

I’ve been thinking about distilled note taking forms recently and what a network of atomic ideas on index cards look like and what emerges from them. What if the standard were digital index cards that linked and cross linked to each other, particularly in a world without adherence to time based orders and streams? What does a new story look like if I can pull out a card either at random or based on a single topic and only see it or perhaps some short linked chain of ideas (mine or others) which come along with it? Does the choice of a random “Markov monkey” change my thinking or perspective? What comes out of this jar of Pandora? Is it just a new form of cadavre exquis?

This standard has been out for a bit and presumably folks are experimenting with it. What do the early results look like? How are they using it? Do they like it? Does it need more scale? What do small changes make to the overall form?


For more on these related ideas and the experiment, see some of these threads of conversation I’m aware of:

Know of others? I’m happy to aggregate them here.

Featured image: Collection of 1990s 88×31 buttons by https://anlucas.neocities.org/88x31Buttons.html

I want a more medieval decorated web experience and aesthetic

Thinking about rubrication and manuscripts. I feel like I ought to build a Tampermonkey or Greasemonkey script that takes initial capitals online and makes them large, red, even historiated /illuminated.

Or perhaps something that converts the CSS of @hypothes_is highlights and makes the letters red instead of having a yellow background? #EdTech
A bit reminiscent, but of a different historical period than the index card idea.

What if we had a collection of illuminated initials and some code that would allow for replacing capitals at the start of paragraphs we were reading?

Maybe a repository like @GIPHY or some of the meme and photo collections for reuse? Maybe this could be something done in the vein of the bookmarklet on the “Taft Test”?
tafttest.com

Maybe it could pull images from #MarginalMonday or #ManuscriptMonday to randomly decorate web pages and make them look more like #medieval manuscripts? (While also stripping/replacing advertising? 😁) #medievaltwitter
I wonder at changing fonts as well… So many choices…

I want a more #medieval decorated web experience and aesthetic. How about you?
(Implementations of these or related ideas highly encouraged. What can you make?)

Lois Weber’s film Where are My Children? (1916) and the history of Abortion in America

When we discuss the topic of the history of abortion and birth control in the United States, where are the mentions of Where are My Children? (Universal Studios, 1916)? 

The movie was Universal’s top grossing film of 1916. It’s estimated to have grossed over $3 million at a time when ticket prices were less than 50¢ each.

Where are My Children? was written, produced, and directed by Lois Weber. The film was ultimately added to the National Film Registry in 1993.

Weber came from a devout middle class Christian family of Pennsylvania German ancestry. She left home & lived in poverty while working as a street-corner evangelist for two years with the evangelical Church Army Workers.

Her work with the Church Army Workers included preaching and singing hymns on street corners and singing and playing the organ in rescue missions in red-light districts in Pittsburgh and New York.

Meyer made the film at the height of her career when she was Universal’s top director. Her work and career was at (or perhaps above) the level of Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith, though it has largely been minimized subsequently because she was a woman.

Lois Weber was
– 1st woman accepted to Motion Picture Director’s Association, precursor of Director’s Guild
– on 1st directors committee of @TheAcademy
– Mayor of Universal City

Lois Weber was also one of highest paid and most influential directors of her time. She was also amongst the first directors to form her own production company.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lois_Weber

The Lost L.A. episode of Dream Factory (@KCET, 2017) covers portions of Weber’s career and provides clips from Where are My Children?
(@nathanmasters‘ entire series here is the real “California’s Gold”)
kcet.org/shows/lost-la/…

In addition to the site above, one can watch the @KCET episode of Lost LA: Dream Factory on YouTube:

I can’t wait to delve further in to the history and work of Weber by reading @StampShelley‘s book Lois Weber in Early Hollywood. University of California Press, May 2015. ISBN 9780520284463
amzn.to/3u7qzrO

Lifestyles of the Note Takers & Intellectuals: Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov famously wrote most of his works including Lolita using index cards in a slip box.

The slipbox and index cards on which Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novel Lolita.
The slipbox and index cards on which Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novel Lolita.

He ultimately died in 1977 leaving an unfinished manuscript in note card form for the novel The Original of Laura. Penguin later published the incomplete novel with in 2012 with the subtitle A Novel in Fragments. Unlike most manuscripts written or typewritten on larger paper, this one came in the form of 138 index cards. Penguin’s published version recreated these cards in full-color reproductions including the smudges, scribbles, scrawlings, strikeouts, and annotations in English, French, and Russian. Perforated, one could tear the cards out of the book and reorganize in any way they saw fit or even potentially add their own cards to finish the novel that Nabokov couldn’t.

Index card with hand drawn table of ages and measurements
Index card on which Nabokov collated notes on ages, heights, and measurements for school aged girls as research for his title character Lolita. (via Library of Congress

More details at: https://www.openculture.com/2014/02/the-notecards-on-which-vladimir-nabokov-wrote-lolita.html

[[wikilinks]] and #hashtags as a portal to cross site search

[[wikilinks]] and could act as snippets for custom searches on various platforms. I’d like to be able to either click on a link or possibly right click and be presented with the ability to search that term (or nearby terms) on a variety of different platforms or trusted websites. This could be a useful form of personal search that allows me to find things within a much smaller space of knowledge I’m aware of. Sometimes the serendipity from the wisdom of the crowd via major search engines like Google, DuckDuckGo, or Bing may suffice, but shouldn’t I be able to more easily search a trusted personal group of hand curated sources?

Platforms like Wikipedia and Twitter already have these patterns as links to resources within themselves, but why couldn’t/shouldn’t a browser or browser plugin allow me an option when clicking on them to go to other resources outside of the expected (narrow) search provided? Perhaps I’m in my own wiki and a redlink [[wikilink]] obviously doesn’t exist on my site. Why shouldn’t I be able to click on it to go to another source like Wikipedia to find it?

These search resources can still be larger platforms like Google, Wikipedia, and Twitter, but could be subspecialized to include Twitter users I follow, smaller wikis I use (including my own), websites of people I follow in my feed reader or social reader (by searching on categories/tags or even broad text search). I should be able to easily define a multitude of resources for each custom search using common standards. This affordability could give me a much more refined and trusted set of search results, particularly in a post-fact society.

One could go further still and highlight a word or words on one’s browser screen and use these as a custom search query.

If built properly, I ought to be able to create “playlists” of sites and resources to search for myself and be able to share these with other friends, family, and colleagues who may trust those sources as well.

I’m curious what others think of this idea. What should the UI look like to make it clear and easy to use? What other things might one want to search on beyond plain text, hashtags, and wikilinks? Am I missing anything? What downsides or social ills might this pattern potentially entail?

Reframing and simplifying the idea of how to keep a Zettelkasten

Given many of the misconceptions I see online of how to keep a zettelkasten, particularly given the focus on the arcane addressing system used by Niklas Luhmann, perhaps it may be helpful to dramatically reframe the question of how to keep a zettelkasten? One page blog posts from people who’ve only recently seen the idea and are synopsizing it without a year or more practice themselves are highly confusing at best. Can I write something we don’t see enough of in spaces relating to zettelkasten? Perhaps we should briefly consider the intellectual predecessor of the slip box?

(Editor’s note: I’m using content within my own “slip box” to write this.)

Start out by forgetting zettelkasten exist. Instead read about what a commonplace book is and how that (simpler) form of note taking works. This short article outlined as a class assignment is a fascinating way to start and has some illustrative examples: https://www.academia.edu/35101285/Creating_a_Commonplace_Book_CPB_. If you’re a writer, researcher, or journalist, perhaps Steven Johnson’s perspective may be interesting to you instead: https://stevenberlinjohnson.com/the-glass-box-and-the-commonplace-book-639b16c4f3bb

The general idea is to collect interesting passages, quotes, and ideas as you read. Keep them in a notebook and call it your commonplace book. If you like call these your “fleeting notes” as some do.

As you do this, start building an index of subject headings for your ideas, perhaps using John Locke’s method (see this for some history and a synopsis: https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/john-lockes-method-for-common-place-books-1685).

Once you’ve got this, you’ve really mastered the majority of what a zettelkasten is and have a powerful tool at your disposal. If you feel it’s useful to you, you can add a few more tools and variations to your set up.

Next instead of keeping the ideas in a notebook, put them on index cards so that they’re easier to sort through, move around, and re-arrange. This particularly useful if you want to use them to create an outline of your ideas for writing something with them. Once you’ve got index cards (slips) with ideas on them in a box, you now literally meet the minimum requirements of a zettelkasten (German for “slip box”, though in practice many will have their ideas in a metaphorical slip box using a digital note taking tool.

Next, maybe keep some index cards that have the references and bibliographies from which your excerpting and note taking comes from. Link these bibliographical cards to the cards with your content.

As you go through your notes, ideas, and excerpts, maybe you want to further refine them? Write them out in your own words. Improve their clarity, so that when you go to re-use them, you can simply “excerpt” material you’ve already written for yourself and you’re not plagiarizing others. You can call these improved notes, as some do either “permanent notes” or “evergreen notes”.

Perhaps you’re looking for more creativity, serendipity, and organic surprise in your system? Next you can link individual notes together. In a paper system you can do this by following one note with another or writing addresses on each card and using that addressing system to link them, but in a digital environment you can link one note to many multiple others that are related. If you’re not sure where to start here, look back to your subject headings and pull out cards related to broad categories. Some things will obviously fit more closely than others, so be more selective and only link ideas that are more intimately connected than just the subject heading you’ve used.

Now when you want to write or create something new on a particular topic, ask your slip box a question and attempt to answer it by consulting your index. Find cards related to the topic, pull out those and place them in a useful order to create an outline perhaps using the cross links that already exist. (You’ve done that linking work as you went, so why not use it to make things easier now?) Copy the contents into a document and begin editing.

Beyond the first few steps, you’re really just creating additional complexity to a system to increase the combinatorial complexity of juxtaposed ideas that you could potentially pull back out of your system for writing more interesting text and generating new ideas. Some people may neither want nor need this sort of complexity in their working lives. If you don’t need it, then just keep a simple commonplace book (or commonplace card file) to remind you of the interesting ideas and inspirations you’ve seen and could potentially reuse throughout your life.

The benefit of this method is that beyond creating your index, you’ll always have something useful even if you abandon things later on and quit refining it. If you do go all the way, concentrate on writing out just two short solid ideas every day (Luhmann averaged about 6 per day and Roland Barthes averaged 1 and change). Do it until you have between 500 and 1000 cards (based on some surveys and anecdotal evidence), and you should begin seeing some serendipitous and intriguing results as you use your system for your writing.

We should acknowledge that that (visual) artists and musicians might also keep commonplaces and zettelkasten. As an example, Eminem keeps a zettelkasten, though he calls his “stacking ammo”, but it is so minimal that it is literally just a box and slips of paper with no apparent organization beyond this. If this fits your style and you don’t get any value out of having cards with locators like 3a4b/65m1, then don’t do that (for you) useless make-work. Make sure your system is working for you and you’re not working for your system.

Sadly, it’s generally difficult to find a single blog post that can accurately define what a zettelkasten is, how it’s structured, how it works, and why one would want one much less what one should expect from it. Sönke Ahrens does a reasonably good job, but his explanation is an entire book. Hopefully this distillation will get you moving in a positive direction for having a useful daily practice, but without an excessive amount of work and perhaps a bit less cognitive dissonance. Once you’ve been at it a while, then start looking at Ahrens and others to refine things for your personal preferences and creative needs.

Creating a commonplace book or zettelkasten index from Hypothes.is tags

I thought it might be useful to have a relatively complete list of cross linked topical headings in my digital notebook (currently Obsidian) which is a mélange of wiki, zettelkasten, journal, project management tool, notebook, and productivity tool. First, let’s be honest that mélange is too poetic based on what I see of how others use Obsidian and similar tools. My version is structured to have very clear delineations between these forms even though I’m using the same tool for various functions.

I find that indexed subject headings can be useful for creating links between my wiki-like pages as well as links between atomic ideas in my digital zettelkasten. Gradually as one’s zettelkasten becomes larger and one works with it more, it becomes easier to recall individual ideas and cross link them. Until this happens or for smaller zettelkasten it can be useful to cross reference subject headings from one zettel to see what those link to and use those as a way to potential create links to other zettels. This method can also be used as a search/discovery aide for connecting edge ideas in new areas to pre-existing portions of one’s zettelkasten as well. Of course at massive scale with decades of work, I suspect this index will have increased value as well.

I don’t hear people talking about these types of indices for their zettelkasten in any of the influencer spaces or on social media. Are people simply skipping this valuable tool? For those enamored of Niklas Luhmann, we should mention that having and maintaining a subject index was a powerful portion of his system, even if the digitized version of his zettelkasten hasn’t yet been fully digitized. I haven’t seen the whole collection myself, but based on the condition of some of the cards in his index, Luhmann heavily used his subject index. (Note to self: I wonder what his whole system would look like in Obsidian?) Having a general key word/subject heading/topic heading index of all the material in one’s system can be very useful for general search and discovery as well. This is one of the reasons that John Locke wrote about a system for indexing one’s commonplace book in 1685. His work here is likely the distal reason Luhmann had one in his system.

Systems that have graphical knowledge graphs may make this process easier as one can look from one zettel out one or two levels to see where those link to.

Since such a large swath of my note taking practice starts by using Hypothes.is as my tool of choice, I’m able to leverage several years of using it to my benefit. Within it I’ve got 9,314 annotations, highlights, and bookmarks tagged with over 3,326 subject headings as of this writing.

To get all my subject heading tags, I used Jon Udell’s excellent facet tool to go to the tag editing interface. There I entered a “max” number larger than my total number of annotations and left the “tag” field empty to have it return the entire list of my tags. I was then able to edit a few of them to concatenate duplicates, fix misspellings, and remove some spurious tags.

An alternate way of doing this is to use a method described in this GitHub issue which shows how to get the tags out of local storage in your web browser. Your mileage may vary though if you use Hypothes.is in multiple browsers, which I do.

I moved this list from the tag editor into a spreadsheet software to massage the list a bit, clean up any character encodings, and then spit out a list of [[wikilinked]] index keywords. I then cut and pasted it into my notebook and threw in some alphabetical headings so that I could more easily jump around the list.

Now I’ve got an excellent tool and interface for more easily searching and browsing the various areas of my multi-purpose digital notebook.

I’m sure there are other methods within various tools of doing this, including searching all files and cutting and pasting those into a page, though in my case this doesn’t capture non-existing files. One might also try a search for a regex phrase like: /(?:(?:(?:<([^ ]+)(?:.*)>)\[\[(?:<\/\1>))|(?:\[\[))(?:(?:(?:<([^ ]+)(?:.*)>)(.+?)(?:<\/\2>))|(.+?))(?:(?:(?:<([^ ]+)(?:.*)>)\]\](?:<\/\5>))|(?:\]\]))/ (found here) or something as simple as /\[\[.*\]\]/ though in my case they don’t quite return what I really want or need.

I’ll likely keep using more local search and discovery, but perhaps having a centralized store of subject headings will offer some more interesting affordances for search and browsing?

Have you created an index for your system? How did you do it?

The Logos, Ethos, and Pathos of IndieWeb

Editor’s note: This is another in a continuing series of essays about the IndieWeb.


Where is the IndieWeb?

Logos

One might consider the IndieWeb’s indieweb.org wiki-based website and chat the “logos” of IndieWeb. There is a small group of about a hundred active to very active participants who hang out in these spaces on a regular basis, but there are also many who dip in and out over time as they tinker and build, ask advice, get some help, or just to show up and say hello. Because there are concrete places online as well as off (events) for them to congregate, meet, and interact, it’s the most obvious place to find these ideas and people.

Ethos

Beyond this there is an even larger group of people online who represent the “ethos” of IndieWeb. Some may have heard the word before, some have a passing knowledge of it, but an even larger number have not. They all act and operate in a way that either seemed natural to them because they grew up in the period of the open web, or because they never felt accepted by the thundering herds in the corporate social enclosures. Many are not necessarily easily found or discovered because they’re not surfaced or highlighted by the sinister algorithms of corporate social media, but through slow and steady work (much like the in person social space) they find each other and interact in various traditional web spaces. Many of them can be found in spaces like Micro.Blog, Tilde Club or NeoCities, or through movements like A Domain of One’s Own. Some can be found through a variety of webrings, via blogrolls, or just following someone’s website and slowly seeing the community of people who stop by and comment. Yes, these discovery methods may involve a little more work, but shouldn’t healthy human interactions require work and care?

Pathos

The final group of people, and likely the largest within the community, are those that represent the “pathos” of IndieWeb. The word IndieWeb has not registered with any of them and they suffer with grief in the long shadow of corporate social media wishing they had better user interfaces, better features, different interaction, more meaningful interaction, healthier and kinder interaction. Some may have even been so steeped in big social for so long that they don’t realize that there is another way of being or knowing.

These people may be found searching for the IndieWeb promised land on silo platforms like Tumblr, WordPress.com, Blogger, or Medium where they have the shadow on the wall of a home on the web where they can place their identities and thoughts. Here they’re a bit more safe from the acceleration of algorithmically fed content and ills of mainstream social. Others are trapped within massive content farms run by multi-billion dollar extractive companies who quietly but steadily exploit their interactions with friends and family.

The Conversation

All three of these parts of the IndieWeb, the logos, the ethos, and the pathos comprise the community of humanity. They are the sum of the real conversation online.

Venture capital backed corporate social media has cleverly inserted themselves between us and our interactions with each other. They privilege some voices not only over others, but often at the expense of others and only to their benefit. We have been developing a new vocabulary for these actions with phrases like “surveillance capitalism”, “data mining”, and analogizing human data as the new “oil” of the 21st century. The IndieWeb is attempting to remove these barriers, many of them complicated, but not insurmountable, technical ones, so that we can have a healthier set of direct interactions with one another that more closely mirrors our in person interactions. By having choice and the ability to move between a larger number of service providers there is an increasing pressure to provide service rather than the growing levels of continued abuse and monopoly we’ve become accustomed to.

None of these subdivisions—logos, ethos, or pathos—is better or worse than the others, they just are. There is no hierarchy between or among them just as there should be no hierarchy between fellow humans. But by existing, I think one could argue that through their humanity these people are all slowly, but surely making the web a healthier, happier, fun, and more humanized and humanizing place to be.

I’d appreciate others’ thoughts and perspectives on this regardless of where they choose to post them. 

How to Live the IndieWeb Dream

I’ve posted this in a threaded conversation hidden away on my own website, but it really needs to be highlighted as its own post, so I’m putting another copy of it here for discoverability. Thanks Chris (@fncll@social.coop)  for your kind compliment. I’d welcome you and anyone else to come join me. There are a bunch of us out here who are ready, willing, and able to help!

 

a comment by Chris LottChris Lott (from BoffoSocko.com (Comments))

I feel like I’ve been here before, looking at this site and feeling like that Chris is living the federated dream…all your posts, articles, annotations, quotes, etc. truly having a single home “here,” including hypothes.is annotations, whatever. I also feel like I’ve been here wondering where to start?
It’s overwhelming. I’m relatively tech-literate, I have decent WordPress chops, do some minor coding and hacking, but find myself in the rare position of needing a guide, not necessarily for Dummies, but close, to get started traveling through the Fediverse. Is there such a thing?


My reply:

“There’s only one way to eat a whale: ‘one bite at a time’.”
—Anonymous

I’ll tell you the secret: I’ve been working on this site and learning from it slowly but surely since around 2005. Things saw an uptick in 2008 when I moved it over to this domain and there was another uptick around 2015ish when I found and joined the IndieWeb community. That has made all the difference.

Since then I’ve been slowly playing and experimenting to build the home online that I’ve always wanted. Having a community around me like IndieWeb.org has helped me immeasurably. It’s great having others around who come up with interesting ideas, write code I can borrow, provide a sounding board for ideas, can tell me about the pitfalls and traps I’d have never expected.

I started off as many did in the old blogosphere days by looking at what others had on their websites and trying to puzzle together how I could have it for myself. Then I made an ordered list of what sorts of functionalities, design, and layout I wanted to have. I did some research on plugins and methods until I could get each part roughly the way I wanted it. Each step along the way I was able to get the help and support I needed from the IndieWeb, Domain of One’s Own, and other communities and friends. Slowly but surely over time, I’ve been able to slowly tweak and refine things so that they work the way I’d like them to.

I was also able to provide my thoughts and feedback both on what worked and didn’t for me personally which I think has helped refine some of the code and plugins I’ve borrowed. I’ve also tried to document how I did many things (both on the IndieWeb wiki and on my own website), so that folks who find intriguing pieces can more easily have it for themselves. In many years of doing this, nothing warms my cockles more than to see others use the same paths I’ve walked, borrow functionality or documentation, and even—in some cases—completely copy entire pages of text from my website.

I’m far from done, but it’s been an entertaining, engaging, and incredibly fun hobby. Over time it has slowly turned into something. Even better, along the way, I’ve been able to not only save my memories for myself, document how things work, but I’ve made lots of friends and had a great time doing it.

Another not-so-secret, I do a lot of tinkering, and only know enough code to break things, but haven’t really built or written large amounts of code for myself, so if I can do it, I’m sure that with some help others certainly can too. I’ve seen some of the most creative, highly paid, and busy web designers, developers, and engineers on the planet take newcomers aside and show them how to register a domain name and write HTML from scratch. Our collective goal is to allow anyone to be able to do what we’re doing.

Given what it looks like you’ve already got Chris, you’re most of the way there and have a more solid base than when I started out. If you’re game, I’m happy to help and provide other advice about particular pieces based on my experience. My first recommendation is that you, or anyone else for that matter, pop over to chat.indieweb.org and introduce yourself. Then take a look at their Wikifying page, and work your way through it. In particular start thinking about this part: Write down your “dreams”. Once you’ve got a list of things you’d like your site to do, start searching the wiki, looking at sites, and asking questions in chat.

(For others who aren’t as far along as Chris, maybe think about what domain name you’d like to use for your website and start asking questions in chat. We’ll try to help you get what you’d like to have—there are millions of options and routes you can take.)

You’ll find lots of friendly, welcoming help because you’re definitely not alone.

The Zettelkasten Method of Note Taking Mirrors Most of the Levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Between zettels (the space where new ideas often occur) this morning I realized that there is a high correlation to Bloom’s Taxonomy and the refined methods of keeping a zettelkasten, particularly as delineated by Dr. Sönke Ahrens in his book How to Take Smart Notes. As a result, even if one’s primary goal isn’t writing or creating as framed by Ahrens’, the use of the system as a pedagogical tool can be highly effective for a variety of learning environments.

Recall briefly that Bloom’s Taxonomy levels can be summarized as: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.

Outlining the similarities

One needs to be able to generally understand an idea(s) to be able to write it down clearly in one’s own words. This is parallel to creating literature notes as one reads. Gaps in one’s understanding will be readily apparent when one realizes that they’re not able to explain an idea simply and clearly.

Regular work within a zettelkasten helps to reinforce memory of ideas for understanding, long term retention, and the ability to easily remember them. Many forms of zettelkasten software have functionality for direct spaced repetition if not dovetails for spaced repetition software like Anki or Mnemosyne.

Applying the knowledge to other situations happens almost naturally with the combinatorial creativity that occurs within a zettelkasten. Raymundus Llullus would be highly jealous here I think.

Analysis is heavily encouraged as one takes new information and actively links it to prior knowledge and ideas; this is also concurrent with the application of knowledge.

Being able to compare and contrast two ideas on separate cards is also part of the analysis portions of Bloom’s taxonomy which also leads into the evaluation phase. Is one idea better than another? How do they dovetail? How might they create new knowledge? Juxtaposed ideas cry out for evaluation.

Finally, as argued by Ahrens, one of the most important reasons for keeping a zettelkasten is to use it to generate or create new ideas and thoughts and then use the zettelkasten as a tool to synthesize them in articles, books, or other media in a clear and justified manner. 

Other examples?

I’m curious to hear if any educators have used the zettelkasten framing specifically for scaffolding the learning process for their students? There are some seeds of this in the social annotation space with tools like Diigo and Hypothes.is, but has anyone specifically brought the framing into their classes?

I’ve seen a few examples of people thinking in this direction and even @CalHistorian specifically framing things this way, but I’m curious to hear about other actual experiences in the field. 

The history of the recommendation and use of commonplace books in education is long and rich (Erasmus, Melanchthon, Agricola, et al.), until it began disappearing in the early 20th century. I’ve seen a few modern teachers suggesting commonplaces, but have yet to run across others suggesting zettelkasten until Ahrens’ book, which isn’t yet widespread, at least in the English speaking world. And even in Ahrens’ case, his framing is geared specifically to writing more so than general learning and education.

Featured image courtesy of Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (CC BY 2.0