Zettelkasten Forum


Flat Zettelkasten - misguided advice?

The conventional wisdom of Zettelkasten is that it should be non-hierarchical. I am starting to think that it's well-intentioned, but misguided. In particular, it conflates storage and presentation. That is, you can have hierarchical storage, and still allow for non-hierarchical presentation.

For example, you can have the following file structure:

But still have the following view of it:

(okay you can't actually have that view of it since it's from The Archive, which doesn't read from subfolders... but it's theoretically possible :) )

The command-line difference here is ls *.md vs find . -name "*.md".

So I'm wondering: is there any practical reason for insisting on flat file structure? I believe that non-hierarchical navigation is a useful option. But I don't think it should be imposed on the storage structure - and in fact there are very practical reasons to organize files hierarchically, while still navigating them non-hierarchically.

Comments

  • is there any practical reason for insisting on flat file structure?

    simplicity is one. You are separating a storage solution from the note archive. It is not misguided, you are still following ZKM on top of it. To me, only a few of those subfolder have proven to be useful in the long run. For many the line became blurry and eventually, meaningless. It started with notes which i created in one folder which later should belong to another. After a while i didn't care anymore. There is practically no cost in giving it a try, since you can revert it anytime later with a simple mv *.md ..

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • It’s not hard to try - it just doesn’t work with The Archive. Unless I’m missing a setting somewhere?

  • In the beta, we treated subdirectories as if they didn't exist and basically did what you propose (to some extent, at least), but then you need another app that can do the same in the future, so we decided to favor portability aka software-agnosticism over keeping this.

    You could argue that ls **/*.md | grep "where is my stuff" is simple enough for tech-savvy people, and thus there's maximum portability of treating directory hierarchies as flat, but that's not the kind of audience that was our concern there :)

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

  • Makes sense :)

  • I think tagging will sort of allow you to do this, if you think as a tag as a subfolder. You won't get nesting of tags, but you can have a single note in multiple "subfolders" by adding a tag to multiple notes.

  • edited April 16

    Maybe @r1tger is on to something.

    Tag Map
    
    #rootTag1
        #rootTag1 #level1
            #rootTag1 #level1 #sublevel1
            #rootTag1 #level1 #sublevel2
        #rootTag1 #level2
            #rootTag1 #level2 #sublevel1
            #rootTag1 #level2 #sublevel2
    #rootTag2
        #rootTag2 #level1
            #rootTag2 #level1 #sublevel1
            #rootTag2 #level1 #sublevel2
        #rootTag2 #level2
            #rootTag2 #level2 #sublevel1
            #rootTag2 #level2 #sublevel2
    
    (Substitute your structure into the root, levels, and sublevels.)
    
    

    Tagging is a dedicated query and grouping scheme. This characteristic might be twisted into service.

    This may even have some advantages over the folder paradigm. Like "a single note in multiple "subfolders" by adding a tag."

    There is the disadvantage of the difficulty of visualizing a tag map instead of a folder map. Maybe some schematic here would help?

    Post edited by Will on

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Yeah, and I definitely appreciate being able to organize my content in multiple ways.

    I suppose I wasn't upfront about my intentions with this question: I like The Archive as a browser and editor, and so I keep project notes in my archive folder. If it supported recursively finding notes, then I could start to move project notes into their own folders but still retain the flat view of them.

  • edited April 18

    I think the answer is -- it depends. Is the data defined by well demarcated categories or are the distinctions more nebulous. I also think tags and organizational notes/maps of contents provide more structure for a Zettelkasten collection. The reasoning behind a flat structure is to remove the friction of categorization and allowing structure to emerge when exploring a field.

    My work notes are technical and extremely categorized. They are kept in Devonthink and siloed with folders and tags. When I am referencing material, I want answers very quickly for my technical questions.The beauty of Devonthink though is that it will find "similar" documents even across databases, so there is some serendipity.

    Notes that I want to think about, develop and by their nature are a little more nebulous to categorize live in the Archive/Zettelkasten.

  • @NiranS beautiful dog. What's her name?

    I agree that serendipity is great. I feel that this is something to be cultivated and as you say, "The beauty of Devonthink though is that it will find "similar" documents even across databases, so there is some serendipity."

    I'd think that reciprocal serendipity could be set up when in The Archive using Devonthink's x-url-callback scheme by adding a search for x-devonthink-item://whatyouarelookingfor. The Archive supports inbound from Devonthink with an x-url-callback thearchive://search/whatyouarelookingfor.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • In my opinion it is very valuable to just create a new note and don't have to think where to put it.
    If you apply some sorting you have to sort everything otherwise it's harder to find a note which should be in a subfolder but isn't there.
    Of course you can add some kind of an inbox folder but this adds even more complexity.

  • You can put notes in the top-level and then move them later. Having a folder structure doesn’t force you to make a new decision. Sensible defaults allow the same fast workflow but allow for another level of organization.

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