Zettelkasten Forum

Real Men Use Flat Hierarchies

It all started with using Emacs. Because I am a historian at heart I needed to know about it's origins, once I was sure that I had found the true and only one. Reading countless old stories about the beginnings of this new age of advanced $string manipulation it began to dawn on me: file folders are the purest form of manifested evil!

But what should I do about my files, a plethora of them living in a categorized file folder hierarchy? Did I want to continue to live such a life of ongoing moral decay?

A resounding "No!" let hunt the vast HTML prairies of the wider web, always on the look-out for discussions on file management, library sciences, note taking and so on…

I can't remember when it was, but I stumbled upon Luhman when I was searching for McLuhan or was it McLuhman, Marshall whatever .... .. because of my sociological background as a child of German academics and a professional tenure in the advertising world, I had heard of both names… sometime…… somewhere.

I found all this very interesting and of course continued to keep an eye on all the webs that would handle the word Zettelkasten in some form…

What really brought it all together for me however was when I lost my faith and switched from Emacs Org-Mode to Notational Velocity and Markdown. Now with that Tool, file folders were completely out of the question, which put pressure on the quest for a perfect file naming scheme!

I settled on a Luhmanisch numbering scheme which allows for Folgezettel, it turned out, those are the feature that make me love and win the most out of my Zettelkasten.

Yes, you heard it right: I am pro Folgezettel! You wanna pick a fight?!

Anyway, to a good discussion "Cheers!"


  • If you are pro Folgezettel and at the same time pro flat hierarchies you are contradicting yourself. Folgezettel are a method of creating hierarchies and the process of using Folgezettel is the deepening of the hierarchies. So: You ditched the folders but still create hierarchies on the level of the naming.

    Still: Welcome on board. :smile:

  • Thanks for the welcome! As the leader of a naval superpower I appreciate it's maritime theme!

    As to my error regarding hierarchies, I guess that's why in the end Sparta has won! But seriously, I will come back to that later.

  • If you are pro Folgezettel and at the same time pro flat hierarchies you are contradicting yourself.

    Well, this depends a little bit on where you are setting the scope of my statement. What I tried to say is what the MIT hackers of old, who invented Emacs, where saying. No file folders, keep the "hierarchy" in the file names, have one big list of files.

    It is a question of (computer) usability: where do you want to express your sorting order (ie. hierarchy?) And to that a possible answer is: if possible, not via the means of file folders.

    As to the question of Folgezettel being hierarchical, there is of course the question what this hierarchy tries to express. For me it shows me the path my thoughts made: inheritance.

    A Folgezettel is not necessary a "subtopic" of it's predecessor, it can spawn a whole new "main" category.

    For example, a Zettel about an aspect of the holocaust, spawns a Folgezettel about a specific Monty Python sketch which in turns led to the "main" category of 'comedy.'

    Now, nobody would seriously say that 'comedy' is sub-genre of the holocaust, right? It's more a form of linking, than of hierarchy. I would say.

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