Zettelkasten Forum

3 types of information: Ephemeral, working, and archived information

Found this paper (or rather, this is the draft I found as PDF) and think you might enjoy it, too.

It's a report from the mid-90s (probably 1995, part of the "Proceedings of the East-West HCI Conference" in Moscow) for Apple, interviewing 15 Macintosh users and classifying their behavior. The authors introduce:

  1. Ephemeral information: email, to-do lists, notes; with a short shelf-live/relevancy
  2. Working information: current projects, presentations, drafts; to be done in a couple of weeks/months
  3. Archived information: long-term storage of completed projects

The Zettelkasten contains both notes for current projects that you have good memory of, and notes from a long-term archival which you don't remember that well. The problem of locating archived information in the report is said to be memory loss: you don't remember where archived info is, or what exactly to expect, so retrieval is more error-prone. Interviewees could locate working information pretty well, though. (Remember, this is not a neutral observation but biased information about the users from the users.)

I liked the article for the 3 types it introduced, that's it :) To re-iterate what everybody says with regard to the Zettelkasten Method time and again: Long-term archival in the Zettelkasten should be optimized for retrieval. Info doesn't help if it isn't retrieved. Linking and structuring and tagging help to make the results appear in the future. That's when "surprise finds" happen, that is when related things appear without you having to remember them.

Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/


  • I see parallels here to the PARA system of Tiago Forte. If you don't know, it stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives, which seems a more granular version of the same idea. I've arranged my main org-mode file along these lines, and I'm finding it easier to find relevant things with it. The method doesn't really apply to the flat hierarchy of the zettelkasten (is a zk all Working Information or all Archive?), but I think it can be useful other places.

  • The issue I have with such concepts is that it is not founded on a clean method of classification. Information shouldn't be described by patterns of behavior.

    You can apply any behavior to any type of information. You can treat email as archived information or as working information. The whole probem of personal information management comes down to wether it information is dealed with appropiately.

    A zettelkasten can handle all of those types of information. But it is better to use other specialists (todo in org; Email in Mail-App etc.)

    I am a Zettler

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