Other popular terms for such a system include Zettelkasten (meaning “slipbox” in German, coined by influential sociologist Niklas Luhmann), Memex (a word invented by American inventor Vannevar Bush), and digital garden (named by popular online creator Anne-Laure Le Cunff)
Please know that the zettelkasten and its traditions existed prior to Niklas Luhmann. He neither invented them nor coined their name. It’s a commonly repeated myth on the internet that he did and there’s ample evidence of their extensive use prior to his well known example. I’ve documented some brief history on Wikipedia to this effect should you need it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettelkasten
The earliest concept of a digital garden stems from Mark Bernstein’s essay Hypertext Gardens: Delightful Vistas in 1998. This torch was picked up by academic Mike Caulfield in a 2015 keynote/article The Garden and The Stream: A Technopastoral.
Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s first mention of “digital garden” was on April 21, 2020
Progress on my digital garden / evergreen notebook inspired by @andy_matuschak🌱
— Anne-Laure Le Cunff (@anthilemoon) April 22, 2020
Which occurred just after Maggie Appleton’s mention on 2020-04-15
Nerding hard on digital gardens, personal wikis, and experimental knowledge systems with @_jonesian today.
We have an epic collection going, check these out…
— Maggie Appleton 🧭 (@Mappletons) April 15, 2020
And several days after Justin Tadlock’s article on 2020-04-17
He was predated by Tom Critchlow on 2018-10-18 who credits Mike Caulfield’s article from 2015-10-17 as an influence.
Archive.org has versions of the phrase going back into the early 2000’s: https://web.archive.org/web/*/%22digital%20garden%22
Hopefully you’re able to make the edits prior to publication, or at least in an available errata.
I’m on the WordPress.com Special Projects Team at Automattic. When I’m not online, I prefer to be hiking, reading, or woodworking.
Around the web, you can generally find me with the username cagrimmett.
Most often we privilege the chronological time order because that’s how we ourselves live them, write them, and how much of our audience experiences them.
But consider looking at someone’s note collections or zettelkasten after they’re gone? One wouldn’t necessarily read them in physical order or even attempt to recreate them into time-based order. Instead they’d find an interesting topical heading, delve in and start following links around.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of “card index (or zettelkasten) as autobiography” for a bit now, though I’m yet to come to any final conclusions. (References and examples see also: https://hypothes.is/users/chrisaldrich?q=%22card+index+as+autobiography%22).
I’ve also been looking at Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project which is based on a chunk of his (unfinished) zettelkasten notes which editors have gone through and published as books. There were many paths an editor could have taken to write such a book, and many of them that Benjamin himself may not have taken, but there it is at the end of the day, a book ostensibly similar to what Benjamin would have written because there it is in his own writing in his card index.
After his death, editors excerpted 330 index cards of Roland Barthes’ collection of 12,000+ about his reactions to the passing of his mother and published them in book form as a perceived “diary”. What if someone were to do this with your Tweets or status updates after your death?
Does this perspective change your ideas on time ordering, taxonomies, etc. and how people will think about what we wrote?
I’ll come back perhaps after I’ve read Barthes’ The Death of the Author…
Also in reply to:
The basic zettelkasten note taking method is very simple and clear cut as originally described by Konrad Gessner in Pandectarum sive Partitionum Universalium (Zurich: Christoph Froschauer. Fol. 19-20, 1548) to Sönke Ahrens’s book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. Just a handful of bullet points can outline the elegance and simplicity of the system. This dramatic simplicity leads to some tremendous value and complexity.
However, in modern use as seen online since roughly 2018 on, the idea and the digital tools surrounding it, has seen some severe mission creep. Zettlekasten has moved to the fad stage and we’re “zettlecasting” everything under the sun. While it can be used as a productivity tool specifically for writing, some are adapting and using it (and tools built for it) for productivity use writ-large. This includes project management or GTD (Getting Things Done) functions. Some are using it as a wiki, digital garden, or personal knowledge management system for aggregating ideas and cross linking them over time. Others are using it as a journal or diary with scheduling and calendaring functions tacked on. Still others are using it to collect facts and force the system to do spaced repetition. These additional functionalities can be great and even incredibly useful, but they’re going far beyond the purpose-fit functionality of what a zettelkasten system was originally designed to do.
Ahrens highlights the zettelkasten method as being simply and specifically designed to do its particular workflow well—no more, no less. He cleverly analogizes slip boxes to their larger box cousins, the shipping container, and the way that that they revolutionized the shipping industry.
In hindsight, we know why they failed: The ship owners tried to integrate the container into their usual way of working without changing the infrastructure and their routines. They tried to benefit from the obvious simplicity of loading containers onto ships without letting go of what they were used to.
Following this analogy, many people are currently trying to not only revolutionize shipping, but sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing as well. While this may be interesting and the digital tools might accommodate some of these functions, are they really custom built from start to finish to really excel at these functionalities? Can they really do all of them at once? While some may come close and do well enough, the added complexity and overreach of all these functionalities may be diluting the base power of what the zettelkasten is capable.
People conflate the idea of note taking and the zettelkasten with tools like Obsidian, Logseq, and Roam Research. This is not necessarily a good thing. If they expect it to do everything and it’s not capable of that or well designed to do what they expect, they’re more likely to get confused, frustrated, and eventually give up. I’ve seen it happening more and more.
As an example, in a book club related to Ahrens’ text in which many highly educated and talented people have been using these tools and have even previously read the book, many are still far too confused about what these tools are and the value that can come from them.
For those who are just coming to the idea of a zettelkasten, I recommend you limit yourselves to just that basic functionality. Don’t muddy the waters with other productivity functions, to do lists, journals, diaries, kitchen sinks, or the latest wiz-bang plugin. Don’t throw in buzz words like GTD and MOC. Stick to the simplest script for a few months and focus on finely honing a small handful of questions and ideas each day from your reading to see what happens. Write, link, repeat. Don’t get caught up in the collector’s fallacy by keeping and saving every single fleeting note (thought) you’ve got (or if you must, put them into a folder off to the side). Focus on the core idea.
Once you’ve got that part down and it’s working for you, then consider adding on those other functionalities. Experiment with them; see what works. But don’t be surprised if those other portions aren’t the magic bullet that is going to revolutionize your life. We’re likely to need new tools, functionality, and a system built from start to finish, to make those other things a useful reality.
For ideas on implementing this (under various names) try: https://indieweb.org/commonplace_book. Micro.blog may be one of the online platforms that does a lot of this with IndieWeb building blocks, allows syndication to twitter, has a low barrier, and a reasonable subscription cost. It’s a social reader that also includes
I’m always curious about which methods and tools people use to take best advantage of these knowledge ideas, particularly for collecting, curating, reusing, and ultimately creating. Have you written about your overall experience with Knovigator and how you use it in this context?
To learn—A rather obvious one, but I wanted to challenge myself again. ❧
While I suspect that part of the idea here is to learn about the web and programming, it’s also important to have a place you can more easily look over and review as well as build out on as one learns. This dovetails in part with his third reason to have his own website: “to build”. It’s much harder to build out a learning space on platforms like Medium and Twitter. It’s not as easy to revisit those articles and notes as those platforms aren’t custom built for those sorts of learning affordances.
Building your own website for learning makes it by definition a learning management system. The difference between my idea of a learning management system here and the more corporate LMSes (Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) is that you can change and modify the playground as you go. While your own personal LMS may also be a container for holding knowledge, it is a container for building and expanding knowledge. Corporate LMSes aren’t good at these last two things, but are built for making it easier for a course facilitator to distribute and grade material.
We definitely need more small personal learning management systems. (pLMS, anyone? I like the idea of the small “p” to highlight the value of these being small.) Even better if they have social components like some of the IndieWeb building blocks that make it easier for one to build a personal learning network and interact with others’ LMSes on the web. I see some of this happening in the Digital Gardens space and with people learning and sharing in public.
[[Flancian]]’s Anagora.org is a good example of this type of public learning space that is taking the individual efforts of public learners and active thinkers and knitting their efforts together to facilitate a whole that is bigger than the sum of it’s pieces.
I've been meaning to do some kind of index card style template for the site for ages and never got round to it. Now I have. I’m quite pleased with it. CSS repeating gradient lines and all that. ❧
ᔥ // pimoore.ca ()in
Redesigned and rebuilt the digital garden over the last 2 months. Spruced up some styles and swapped to Next.js (@vercel) Everything has been replanted in the right order. Still working on nice-to-haves like search / filtering, but it's getting there. https://t.co/UunrMjlkuk https://t.co/KeOCxJjwAR— Maggie Appleton (@Mappletons) Dec 3, 2021
So glad I could make it to this IndieWeb popup! Interesting to hear other viewpoints and talk things through.
Links from today’s episode:
- Chris Aldrich web site
- Gardens & Streams II (Indieweb pop-up event) on September 25, 2021 https://events.indieweb.org/2021/09/gardens-and-streams-ii-pPUbyYME33V4
- Obsidian (https://obsidian.md/)
- Hypothesis (https://web.hypothes.is/)
- Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory, and the Transmission of Culture by Lynne Kelly (Cambridge, 2015)
- Memory Craft by Lynne Kelly (Pegasus, 2019)
- Anthropology: Why it Matters by Tim Ingold (Polity Press, 2018)
- How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers by Sönke Ahrens (Create Space, 2017)
And for the crazy rhetoric and note taking nerds:
Early Philosophical Texts
- Aristotle, Topica, written about 350 BCE Venice, 1495.
- Aristotle, Rhetorica, written about 350 BCE. Basel, 1529.
- Cicero, De Oratore, written about 46 BCE. Northern Italian manuscript about 1450.
- Cicero, Topica, written about 44 BCE. Florentine manuscript, about 1425-30.
- Seneca the Younger, Epistulae morales, written 62-65 CE. French manuscript, about 1175.
- Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, written about 100 CE. Paris, 1542.
- Macrobius, Saturnalia, written about 430 CE. Central Italian manuscript, about 1475.
- Boethius, De topicis differentiis, written about 480-526 CD. English manuscript, about 1275.
- Rodolphus Agricola, De formando studio. Antwerp, 1532; composed 1484.
- Desiderius Erasmus, De ratione studii et instituendi pueros comentarii totidem. [Paris, 1512].
- Philip Melanchthon, Institutiones rhetoricae. Wittenberg .
- Philip Melanchthon, Rhetorices elementa. Lyon, 1537.
- Desiderius Erasmus, De duplici copia verborum ac rerum. Cologne, 1540.
- Petrus Mosellanus, Tabulae de schematibus et tropis…. In Rhetroica Philippi Melanchthonis. In Erasmi Roterdami libellum De duplici copia. Paris, 1542.
- Joachim Camerarius, Elementa rhetoricae. Basel, .
- Henry Peacham, The garden of eloquence: conteyning the figures of grammar and rhetorick. London, 1577.
- One of the first handbooks in English
- Philip Melanchthon, De locis communibus ratio. Augsburg .
- John Brinsley, Ludus literarius: or, The grammar schoole; shewing how to proceede from the first entrance into learning, to the highest perfection. London, 1612.
- [Obadiah Walker], Of education: especially of young gentlemen. Oxford, 1673.
I provocatively (with only a modest amount of wickedness) put forward the idea that a rock is as good a tool for thought as Obsidian.md or Roam Research.
I use incunables in much the same way others in the personal knowledge management space might say fleeting notes. Ideas are born and written onto a page where they are kept in proverbial cribs. Some may grow and and develop into young adults others into old age. Some flourish and later senesce. Ideally one or two outlive me.
As is typical of many species, the care and feeding of the adolescents can be a trying time.
If you find a podcast with some discussion about the topic, feel free to use Huffduffer’s bookmarklet to add it to the public list. This should also work with YouTube videos and it will convert the video into audio and save it to the list.
It has an RSS feed for subscribing if you like.
Date: Saturday, September 25, 2021
Time: 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Pacific
Event page: https://events.indieweb.org/2021/09/gardens-and-streams-ii-pPUbyYME33V4
We’ll discuss and brainstorm ideas related to wikis, commonplace books, digital gardens, zettelkasten, and note taking on personal websites and how they might interoperate or communicate with each other. This can include IndieWeb building blocks, user interfaces, functionalities, and everyones’ ideas surrounding these. Bring your thoughts, ideas, and let’s discuss (and build).
This will be a continuation of the ideas from the Garden and Stream pop up session in 2020. Everyone is welcome and need not have attended prior sessions.
We’ll try to do something between a traditional all day IndieWebCamp and a single session pop-up over the span of several hours so that we can accommodate a brief introduction and three BarCamp topic related sessions. Feel free to brainstorm session ideas in advance of the mini-camp, but we’ll choose session topics the morning of the event.
All times Pacific.
Hack day? Yes, we’ll all gather the following day for 3 hours at roughly the same time with a short demo session to follow for folks to show off what they’ve been working on. Details for this will be forthcoming.
Everyone is welcome to attend.
And if none of the above methods means anything to you or you can’t log in to use them, don’t worry about it; just show up on the day!