On The Interdisciplinarity of Zettelkasten: Card Numbering, Topical Headings, and Indices

As humans we’re terrifically spectacular at separating things based on perceived categories. The Dewey Decimal System systematically separates mathematics and history into disparate and distinct locations, but your zettelkasten shouldn’t force this by overthinking categories. Perhaps the overlap of math and history is exactly the interdisciplinary topic you’re working toward? If this is the case, just put cards into the slip box closest to their nearest related intellectual neighbor—and by this I mean nearest related to your way of thinking, not to Melvil Dewey’s or anyone else. Over time, through growth and branching, ideas will fill in the interstitial spaces and neighboring ideas will slowly percolate and intermix. Your interests will slowly emerge into various bunches of cards in your box. Things you may have intially thought were important can separate away and end up on sparse branches while other areas flourish. If you make the (false) choice to separate math and history into different “sections” it will be much harder for them to grow and intertwine in an organic and truly interdisciplinary way. Universities have done this sort of separation for hundreds of years and as a result, their engineering faculty can be buildings or even entire campuses away from their medical faculty who now want to work together in new and exciting interdisciplinary ways. This creates a physical barrier to more efficient and productive innovation and creativity. It’s your zettelkasten, so put those ideas right next to each other from the start so they can do the work of serendipity and surprise for you. Do not artificially separate your favorite ideas. Let them mix and mingle and see what comes out of them.

If you feel the need to categorize and separate them in such a surgical fashion, then let your index be the place where this happens. This is what indices are for! Put the locations into the index to create the semantic separation. Math related material gets indexed under “M” and history under “H”. Now those ideas can be mixed up in your box, but they’re still findable. DO NOT USE OR CONSIDER YOUR NUMBERS AS TOPICAL HEADINGS!!! Don’t make the fatal mistake of thinking this. The numbers are just that, numbers. They are there solely for you to be able to easily find the geographic location of individual cards quickly or perhaps recreate an order if you remove and mix a bunch for fun or (heaven forfend) accidentally tip your box out onto the floor. Each part has of the system has its job: the numbers allow you to find things where you expect them to be and the index does the work of tracking and separating topics if you need that.

The broader zettelkasten, tools for thought, and creativity community does a terrible job of explaining the “why” portion of what is going on here with respect to Luhmann’s set up. Your zettelkasten is a crucible of ideas placed in juxtaposition with each other. Traversing through them and allowing them to collide in interesting and random ways is part of what will create a pre-programmed serendipity, surprise, and combinatorial creativity for your ideas. They help you to become more fruitful, inventive, and creative.

Broadly the same thing is happening with respect to the structure of commonplace books. There one needs to do more work of randomly reading through and revisiting portions to cause the work or serendipity and admixture, but the end results are roughly the same. With a Luhmann-esque zettelkasten, it’s a bit easier for your favorite ideas to accumulate into one place (or neighborhood) for easier growth because you can move them around and juxtapose them as you add them rather than traversing from page 57 in one notebook to page 532 in another.

If you use your numbers as topical or category headings you’ll artificially create dreadful neighborhoods for your ideas to live in. You want a diversity of ideas mixing together to create new ideas. To get a sense of this visually, play the game Parable of the Polygons in which one categorizes and separates (or doesn’t) triangles and squares. The game created by Vi Hart and Nicky Case based on the research of Thomas Schelling (Dynamic Models of Segregation, 1971) provides a solid and visual example of the sort of statistical mechanics going on with ideas in your zettelkasten when they’re categorized rigidly. If you rigidly categorize ideas and separate them, you’ll drastically minimize the chance of creating the sort of useful serendipity of intermixed and innovative ideas. A zettelkasten isn’t simply the aggregation repository many use it for—it’s a rumination device, a serendipity engine, a creativity accelerator. To get the best and most of this effect, one must carefully help to structure their card index to generate it.

It’s much harder to know what happens when you mix anthropology with complexity theory if they’re in separate parts of your mental library, but if those are the things that get you going, then definitely put them right next to each other in your slip box. See what happens. If they’re interesting and useful and they’ve got explicit numerical locators and are cross referenced in your index, they are unlikely to get lost. Be experimental occasionally. Don’t put that card on Henry David Thoreau in the section on writers, nature, or Concord, Massachusetts—especially if those aren’t interesting to you. Besides, everyone has already worn down those associative trails, paved them, and re-paved them. Instead put him next to your work on innovation and pencils because it’s much easier to become a writer, philosopher, and intellectual when your family’s successful pencil manufacturing business can pay for you to attend Harvard and your house was always full of writing instruments from a young age. Now you’ve got something interesting and creative. (And if you really must, you can always link the card numerically to the other transcendentalists across the way.)

In case they didn’t hear it in the back, I’ll shout it again:


Featured image by Michael Treu from Pixabay

Bookmarked Serendeputy: Newsfeed Engine for the open web by Jason Butler (serendeputy.com)

Serendeputy is a personal newsfeed engine. It reads the open web and then organizes and scores it for you. It learns what you like and helps you find something interesting to read.

But, here’s what’s different. Unlike your favorite search engines and social networks, Serendeputy is entirely transparent, putting you in control.

I've been working on the open web since 1997, and I'm trying to recreate (or reclaim, I suppose) its spirit. It was once fun for people to follow links and explore gardens outside the walls. I'm trying to design Serendeputy to encourage that exploration.

The basic application (the open index) is free to use and explore. I hope you find it useful, and that it contributes positively to the web.

It's also free to connect your Twitter account. When you do this, Serendeputy will index the links tweeted by people you follow and organize that index for you. You can go through any topic and see what your Twitter feed is thinking. If you want, you can connect your Twitter feed right now.

I should probably make money at some point, though. I'm a solopreneur, sadly lacking those millions of venture-capital or hedge-fund dollars.

Found via a Google alert

👓 Where’s my Net dashboard? | Jon Udell

Read Where’s my Net dashboard? by Jon UdellJon Udell (Jon Udell)
Yesterday Luann was reading a colleague’s blog and noticed a bug. When she clicked the Subscribe link, the browser loaded a page of what looked like computer code. She asked, quite reasonably: “What’s wrong? Who do I report this to?” That page of code is an RSS feed. It works the same way as...
RSS certainly has some significant user interface problems and Jon’s post certainly highlights a few of them. Lately I’ve far preferred how SubToMe helps ease some of these UI challenges. Their simple button is a great way for blogs to help pave the way to allow users to ore easily subscribe to a website via RSS.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

It’s not just that the silos can shut down their feeds. It’s that we allowed ourselves to get herded into them in the first place.  

December 02, 2018 at 09:16PM

“Who do I report this to?”


A brilliant ending!
December 02, 2018 at 09:17PM

Where’s my Net dashboard?  

Interestingly, I came to this post in my feed reader while randomly looking for something I could use as an example in something I was writing about feed readers!!!
December 02, 2018 at 09:18PM

Where’s my next dashboard? I imagine a next-gen reader that brings me the open web and my social circles in a way that helps me attend to and manage all the flow. There are apps for that, a nice example being FlowReader, which has been around since 2013. I try these things hopefully but so far none has stuck.  

I’m currently hoping that the next wave of social readers based on Microsub and which also support Micropub will be a major part of the answer.
December 02, 2018 at 09:20PM

👓 Just a Thought: Searching vs. Browsing | Powazek

Read Just a Thought: Searching vs. Browsing by Derek Powazek (powazek.com)

Think about these two words for a moment: "Search" and "Browse." They're words that are used frequently to describe things we do on computers. But consider their traditional associations:

Browsing is shopping, strolling, flipping through a magazine. Browsing is fun, casual, entertaining.

Searching is mechanical, trial and error, frustrating. Searching is work.

There's a powerful emotional difference between the two. Now let's talk about tags.

👓 Indieweb.xyz: Difficult or Silo? | Kicks Condor

Read Indieweb.xyz: Difficult or Silo? by Kicks CondorKicks Condor (kickscondor.com)
Ok, Indieweb.xyz has been open for a month! The point of the site is to give you a place to syndicate your essays and conversations where they’ll actually be seen. In a way, it’s a silo—a central info container. Silos make it easy. You go there and dump stuff in. But, here in the Indieweb, we want No Central. We want Decentral. Which is more difficult because all these little sites and blogs out there have to work together—that’s tough! Ok so, going to back to how this works: Brad Enslen and I have been posting our thoughts about how to innovate blog directories, search and webrings to the /en/linking sub on Indieweb.xyz. If you want to join the conversation, just send your posts there by including a link like this in your post:

This was also posted to /en/linking.

If your blog supports Webmentions, then Indieweb.xyz should be notified of the post when you publish it. But even if your blog doesn’t support Webmentions, you can just submit your link by hand. How Indie Do I Need to Be? One of my big projects lately has been to make it very easy for you all out there to participate. You no longer need a ton of what they call ‘microformats’ everywhere on your blog. You literally just need to: Include the link above in your blog post. (You don’t even need the class="u-syndication" part, but I would still recommend it. If you have multiple links to Indieweb.xyz in your post, the one marked u-syndication will be preferred.) Send the Webmention. It helps if you have the microformats—this makes it easy to figure out who the author of the post is and so on. But Indieweb.xyz will now fallback to using HTML title tags (and RSS feed even) to figure out who is posting and what they are posting. The Blog Directory A feature I’m incredibly excited about is the blog directory, which lists all the blogs that post to Indieweb.xyz—and which also gives you a few hundred characters to describe your blog! (It uses the description meta tag from your blog’s home page.) I think of Indieweb.xyz as an experiment in building a decentralized forum in which everyone contributes their bits. And Indieweb.xyz merges them together. It’s decentralized because you can easily switch all your Indieweb.xyz links to another site, send your Webmentions—and now THAT site will merge you into their community. In a way, I’m starting to see it as a wiki where each person’s changes happen on their own blog. This blog directory is like a wiki page where everyone gets their little section to control. I’m going to expand this idea bit-by-bit over the next few months. Just to clarify: the directory is updated whenever you send a Webmention, so if you change your blog description, resend one of your Webmentions to update it. Bad Behavior and the Robot Police We are a long way off from solving abuse on our websites. We desperately want technology to solve this. But it is a human problem. I am starting to believe that the more we solve a problem with technology, the more human problems we create. (This has been generally true of pollution, human rights, ecology, quality of life, almost every human problem. There are, of course, fortuitous exceptions to this.) Decentralization is somewhat fortuitous. Smaller, isolated communities are less of a target. The World Trade Tower is a large, appealing target. But Sandy Hook still happens. A smaller community can survive longer, but it will still degenerate—small communities often become hostile to outsiders (a.k.a newcomers). So while a given Mastodon instance’s code of conduct provides a human solution—sudden, effortless removal of a terrorist—there will be false positives. I have been kicked out, hellbanned, ignored in communities many times—this isn’t an appeal for self-pity, just a note that moderation powers are often misdirected. I moved on to other communities—but I earnestly wanted to participate in some of those communities that I couldn’t seem to penetrate. So, yeah: rules will be coming together. It’s all we have. I’m impressed that the Hacker News community has held together for so long, but maybe it’s too much of a monoculture. HN’s guidelines seem to work. Commenting Last thing. A recent addition is a comment count on each submission. These comment counts are scraped from the blog post. It seems very “indieweb” to let the comments stay on the blog. The problem is that the microformats for comments are not widely supported and, well, they suck. It’s all just too complicated. You slightly change an HTML template and everything breaks. Not to mention that I have no idea if the number is actually correct. Are these legit comments? Or is the number being spoofed? I will also add that—if you submit a link to someone else’s blog, even if it’s an “indieweb” blog—the comment count will come from your blog. This is because the original entry might have been submitted by the author to a different sub. So your link contains the comments about that blog post for that sub. Really tight microformat templates will need to become widespread for this to become really useful. In the meantime, it’s a curious little feature that I’m happy to spend a few characters on.
I really should be syndicating to Indieweb.xyz more. It’s the type of interesting experiment I’m really enjoying watching unfold.

Reply to Brad Enslen about The Future of Blog Snoop

Replied to Memo: Announcement: The Future of Blog Snoop Blog Directory by Brad EnslenBrad Enslen (Brad Enslen)
I’m hitting a fork in the road with this site and the experiment of using a blog as a directory of blogs.  The problem here is me: I’m running out of time.  I’m duplicating a lot … Source: Announcement: The Future of Blog Snoop – Blog Snoop Weblog Directory We’ll see what happens.  It...
Brad, much like Kicks Condor, I think you’re making a laudable effort, and one of the ways our work grows is to both keep up with it and experiment around.

If I recall, programming wasn’t necessarily your strong suit, but like many in the IndieWeb will say: “Manual until it hurts!” By doing things manually, you’ll more easily figure out what might work and what might not, and then when you’ve found the thing that does, then you spend some time programming it to automate the whole thing to make it easier. It’s quite similar to designing a college campus: let the students walk around naturally for a bit then pave the natural walkways that they’ve created. This means you won’t have both the nicely grided and unused sidewalks in addition to the ugly grass-less beaten paths. It’s also the broader generalization of paving the cow paths.

In addition to my Following page I’ve also been doing some experimenting with following posts using the Post Kinds Plugin. It is definitely a lot more manual than I’d like it to be. It does help to have made a bookmarklet to more quickly create follow posts, but until I’ve got it to a place that I really want it, it’s not (yet) worth automating taking the data from those follow posts to dump them into my Follow page for output there as well. Of course the fact that my follow posts have h-entry and h-feed mark up means that someone might also decide to build a parser that will extract my posts into a feed which could then be plugged into something else like a microsub-based reader so that I could make a follow post on my own site and the source is automatically added to my subscription list in my reader automatically.

In addition to Kicks Condor, I’me seeing others start to kick the tires of these things as well. David Shanske recently wrote Brainstorming on Implementing Vouch, Following, and Blogrolls, but I think he’s got a lot more going on in his thinking than he’s indicated in his post which barely scratches the surface.

I also still often think back to a post from Dave Winer in 2016: Are you ready to share your OPML? This too has some experimental discovery features that only scratch the surface of the adjacent possible.

And of course just yesterday, Kevin Marks (previously of Technorati) reminded us about rel=”directory” which could have some interesting implications for discovery and following. Think for a bit of how one might build a decentralized Technorati or something along the lines of Ryan Barrett’s indie map.

As things continue to grow, I’m seeing some of all of our decisions and experiments begin to effect others as these are all functionality and discovery mechanisms that we’ll all need in the very near future. I hope you’ll continue to experiment and make cow paths that can eventually be paved.

Featured Image: Cows on the path flickr photo by Reading Tom shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

👓 The Future of Blog Snoop | Kicks Condor

Read The Future of Blog Snoop by Kicks CondorKicks Condor (kickscondor.com)
I think the idea behind Blog Snoop is solid—I mean you’re just talking about trying to define the edges of a certain community. I’m sufficiently convinced now (between Reddit wikis and ‘awesome lists’) that directories still serve this purpose. Find The Others. I guess part of the problem ...
Response to Brad and Kicks forthcoming…

👓 HrefHunt! | Kicks Condor

Read HrefHunt! by Kicks Condor (kickscondor.com)
I asked you for links! And maybe five people said, Hey, sure. (Who doesn’t want a link to them??) I also hit up Hacker News. And that went better. I don’t really see any of these links as being outside of my filter bubble—might need to crawl Neocities next! But hey. It’s great! I wanted to p...
I see a lot of familiar names here, but love seeing some of the others I’m not already following.

Even more, I love the old-school web meets new-school on this particular website.

👓 Let Me Link to You | Kicks Condor

Read Let Me Link to You by Kicks Condor (kickscondor.com)
So wait. Where are you? I guess I’m caught in my filter bubble again. After , maybe you went back to your bicycle and your Polaroid camera. But maybe you’re out there still...
I love some of the growing ideas about links, discovery, and serendipity that I’m seeing bubble up in my feed reader lately. I bookmarked this one quickly while skimming on my birthday and finally got to revisit it. Can’t wait to see where Kicks Condor takes the exercise.