Zettelkasten Forum

Making sense of someone else’s zettelkasten

edited April 2020 in The Zettelkasten Method

Seems to me that a zettelkasten is more a personally meaningful cache of information. A portion of one's mind swapped out to the secondary storage, as it were. Consequently it seems to me that understanding someone else's zettelkasten and/or extending it would probably be a frustrating affair - not having access to the primary brain! What is people’s experience on this? Have you read or made successful use of someone else’s zettelkasten?

Or do people try to make it more completely self contained? Two reasons for thinking along these lines: 1) your zettelkasten can be a very rich source of information for others if they can actually grok it and 2) it can lead to building a zettelkasten collaboratively. I suppose in this form it would stop being a slip-box become more like a wiki (but in general I find most wikis rather frustrating, not all that richly linked and more haphazard in nature).

Just thinking aloud! Thanks for any comments!


  • A good heuristic of a good Zettelkasten is that it is usable and understandable by another person (who knows the Zettelkasten Method).

    There is quite a simple reason: In 10 years all of us will be a different person. You are not creating Zettel for yourself as you are. They are for your future self who is (and should be) a very different person. If you fail at that task you will read Zettel and follow links with the sole result of scratching your head and hating your past self.

    The byproduct is that you write in a way that is understandable for other people. That unlocks of course a lot of collaboration possibilites. A wiki could be a choice because it has features that support collaboration.

    I am a Zettler

  • This summary of Sönke Ahrens book says it even better:

    Ultimately, learning should not be about hoarding stockpiles of knowledge like gold coins. It is about becoming a different kind of person with a different way of thinking. The beauty of this approach is that we co-evolve with our slip-boxes: We build the same connections in our heads as we deliberately develop them in our slip-box. Writing then is best seen not only as a tool for thinking but as a tool for personal growth.

  • Thanks for the responses. Very good point about revisiting notes after a long time.

    I am still curious if anyone has actually tried making sense of someone else's zettelkasten and may be even tried extending it....

  • ..which sort of raises the whole specter of collaborative zetteling. Anyone know of a group ZK?

    Started ZK 4.2018. "The path is at your feet, see? Now carry on."

  • Every Wiki could be seen as a Zettelkasten. So: Yes.

    I am a Zettler

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