Zettelkasten Forum

What cases does the word Zettel cover?

edited April 2020 in Random

Let me start straight with explaining why I ask this, since it should be obvious after reading several topics on this forum and posts on the site. I want to use my collection to not only hold what one would write on a slip of paper, which I believe to be the most common translation for Zettel, but also include files and data entries (contacts, bookmarks, calendar, any structured data really). I have read a web page that went into great detail of what is a Zettel in German, but it still mostly seems to fit the nature of what you would put on a slip of paper. Would Zettel still be the right word for my collection when it also include these other things? Is there an appropriate other word for this? I don't really care whether it is in German, English, or maybe even a different language if it has a very nicely fitting word for it.

At the moment I have been using the word "node", to imply it is something within a network with others, but I feel like it likely is too general a word, not really capturing my intent well. I have trouble even putting into word what the thing even is, something along the lines of a networked piece of information.

Edit: If Zettel does not quite cover what I am looking for, I did find a word that might fit after searching through some dictionaries: ideatum: (in epistemology) the object of knowledge as known by the mind. As I aim my Zettelkasten to be an extension of / aid to my mind.

Edit 2: Another word that seems to fit is detail as the noun implies it be a particular part of the whole, and the verb implies it "tells fully and distinctly" or to "list" things, which matches nicely with Zettel and structure notes. Although other than that it feels a bit too general.


  • Would Zettel still be the right word for my collection when it also include these other things?

    These other things being files and data entries. I have thought about it some more and after realizing I want to include a Zettel for each of the files I reference in my Zettelkasten, as I proposed to do here. Later I found a Youtube video from the author of Zettlr proposing a similar solution, only confirming for me that this is probably a good way to go about handling files within a Zettelkasten. And data entries have to written on something, which I so happen to plan to incorporate within my Zettels too, so actually all my use cases that differ from the standard use of the word Zettel, still end up being combined with a Zettel in some way. And then of course there is the cultural aspect surrounding Zettel / Zettelkasten, making me choose to stick with Zettel after all.

  • @grayen, the original use of "zettel" by Luhmann referred to a physical object - a notecard - whose function was theoretically ambiguous (or polysemous) because he did not need to draw distinctions that people now are aiming to draw as they discuss the details of the method. If you want to make finer distinctions you need to add and define modifiers, as people do when discussing structure zettels, literature zettels/notes, etc. But I don't think there's any reason to get hung up on what zettel "should" mean - pick your terms and clarify them for your use.

  • What @cobblepot just said is good advise: in the end, it's important you know what you mean when you talk about "Zettel", and writing this down in your Zettelkasten as a meta-discussion of sorts can be very helpful.

    If you lived 60 years ago and all you had was scraps of paper and a lot of drawers where the paper fit in, of course you could've reserved one drawer for contacts, for example. I don't think it would make much practical sense to put the contact information between the notes about books you've read; while, true, it would unify both in a single system, access to contacts by name/alphabet would be much more useful.

    With digital tools and for knowledge workers who mostly type on their computers, I think the equivalent of using the same tool for multiple kinds of content is to digitalize everything; have your notes on the computer, and your calendar, and your contacts. (Instead of e.g. maintaining a Rolodex.) This is hardly a ground-breaking thought in 2020. I refrained from putting most diary/journal like entries in my Zettelkasten, though, because that got on my nerves after a couple of years. If your journal entries were less shitty than mine, I can see how poignant reflections upon what happens in life can help generate material for novels. That is, apparently, not me, though :)

    Could you explain the anticipated benefit of finding a general word that covers all special cases, like notes, contacts, calendar entries, bookmarks? I am afraid that when you e.g. say "Foobar" instead of any of these words, nobody knows what you're talking about: is "I wrote a great Foobar yesterday!" about a very well-written piece of prose, or is it about a calendar entry that you crafted with such attention to detail that your mind exploded? Clearly, that wouldn't be useful, so you must be onto something else :)

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

  • edited April 2020

    @cobblepot and @ctietze, you are completely right, even if I would find the perfect word for it, it is likely to be too general or unfamiliar to hold much meaning when conversing. The reason I started to think about this was that I wanted to use a custom protocol (e.g. zettel://202004211540) and since it would become part of permalinks (like UIDs are permanent), I would have to find a name for the protocol that I will not regret later on, since I won't be able to change it.

  • You can use something lame like myuniqueid:// :)

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

  • @ctietze said:
    You can use something lame like myuniqueid:// :)

    I would second that. As I detailed in my reply to the other thread I personally use the url-scheme zettel:// which sure is nice and appropriate, but given the current rise in interest in the Zettelkasten-Methode (or is this a filter bubble thing?), I'm only waiting for someone to take this url-scheme for some more public software, which might work differently and could potentially break my approach. So thinking about it, a more unique url-scheme would probably have been more future-proof.

  • edited April 2020

    @rhubarb That was indeed my reason to be doubtful about using zettel://, it might make sense now, but what if in a few years I move to a Foobar method and then it would be weird to still refer to things as Zettel.

    @ctietze Haha, although fitting, it feels too much like a programming tutorial name, myFunction, MyClass, MyNumber, etc.. :wink: I think an unique identifier protocol would not work, because there are sure to be collisions in IDs across applications, but it should be possible to manage the IDs you use such that they are unique for your person. So I am now leaning towards puid:// Personally Unique IDentifier. This also implies that the permalinks are for your own usage, not for sharing with others.

  • edited April 2020

    My reasoning was not so much one of changing methods, after all it is just a name, and more so that the name zettel gets adopted publicly. I do not know, whether puid is much better in this regard as it is very short, what about something like grayenid for you and rhubarbid for me, etc.?

  • edited April 2020

    @rhubarb Although that might indeed happen, for those cases I doubt it would be too problematic, you should still be able to change the default handler for the protocol to be a script of yours.

    Actually, I think puid is more likely to get taken, it is rather term used all over:
    https://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/PUID. So maybe myuid:// is not so bad after all...

    Although names as grayenid would indeed almost guarantee not having such a thing happening to them, I don't know how unique the nickname is, and whether I will be using it permanently (they are for permalinks after all).

  • After reading about Zettelkasten for a couple of weeks, I had the idea of a special protocol for linking to IDs. No surprise, I am not the first! But I was thinking these four forms ought to handle everything a multiple kasten-ator could need, and more than most would need:

    zkn:202005230231 - relative link within same Zettelkasten as this note
    zkn:somePath/202005230231 - relative link into some area (folder) within same Zettelkasten
    zkn:/myKasten/202005230231 - absolute link into a named Zettelkasten
    zkn:/myOtherKasten/202005230231 - absolute link into another named Zettelkasten
    (we could add a double slash for remote access to a zettel server... LATER)

    We just need some whipper-snapper to write a quick Python program that takes one of these URIs and returns a file name for it, and then we get it compiled to an executable for all the major platforms (or maybe it's a shell script). Then, you set it in your OS as the "zkn:" handler, and you don't need to script all your editors any more! You only need for your editor to know how to open an arbitrary link via the OS' built-in link/protocol handling. You could even be reading the HTML version of your notes in an off-the-shelf browser (no plugins), click a "zkn:" link, and the protocol handler handles it all!

    (BUT: the editor/browser has to know that this file name is to be opened on receipt, not displayed as text. If that is a problem, we can have the protocol handler return the file contents like other protocols, but then the editor has to know where it came from as a file so you can then edit it and save. I don't know enough detail about the link/protocol standard to see how this issue would be addressed. Maybe someone does.)

    This "zkn:" handler would find the right zettel by following a series of searches:
    1. Parse to separate the kasten/path name and zettel ID.
    2. Translate the kasten/path into a file path, following some simple user settings.
    3. See whether a file exists in that path whose name begins with (contains?) the ID.
    4. Recursively search any applicable subdirectories for same.
    5. If no such file, fall back to a content search (grep) for this ID, with applicable subdirectories.
    6. Return the file name (content?) of the file found.

    Multi-kasten users would configure this one time up front by selecting a folder naming scheme. The simplest scheme would be to use absolute paths corresponding to each zettelkasten's folder on the disk, with relative URIs searching within the same folder. More complicated mappings might allow short names corresponding to specific root folders regardless of paths, etc., something like an Apache config but MUCH simpler. With a light configuration GUI with just a few options and text boxes, the average user could be up and running quickly with useful flexibility. Out of the box, it ought to "just work" for the simplest configuration of a single zettelkasten, interpreting any paths as folders, relative or absolute.

    The ID template would also be a configuration option. It should let the user specify a little text template to wrap the ID in the target file, such as the ever-popular [[ID]]. We should not have to type that into every link, but the program's search should supply the template itself, to minimize false positives. Many non-zettelers use a timestamp naming scheme like this for their files, and if we start linking to those, their links will mistakenly look like zettel IDs.

    If one day you need to use your zettelkasten without this handy protocol handler, you can still follow links manually the old way or grep or use an editor feature that opens the file name under the cursor, etc., so your content is still 100% portable. Worst case, if you used some folder-based nickname scheme, you might need to search and replace back to the real disk folders, but that is not too bad. Or... there's symlinks!

    Any whipper-snappers want to try this out or solve the missing "BUT"?

  • @bgj99co If you're on a Mac, you can make a functional URL scheme witk zkn:// yourself. See my instructions here: https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/1121/open-files-in-any-app-from-the-archive-using-url-schemes

    I don't know anything about Windows and Linux in that regard. Instructions or research results in separate threads/discussions would be much appreciated by everyone around here!

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

Sign In or Register to comment.