Zettelkasten Forum

Impressions so far

I'm now a week into using TheArchive. So far, I'm very impressed.

I'm new to this software, but I've tried many other apps that offer similar functions, including desktop wikis. regular wikis, and various notebook programs, some designed for programmers, some for writers. (I'm a writer.) My criteria are that the app must allow simple links, and save as separate plain text documents (not a database) which can be viewed in Finder and edited in other apps.

I've worked with text files for many years. What really sealed it for me was the experience of opening files from the 1980s. I could open old text files with ease, but not old word processor files, including files from Microsoft Word 2.0.

I used to use Windows, and there I used WikidPad, which was easy, very customizable, and could be set to use .txt files rather than the (default) database. On Mac, I've tried various options. The best were Ulysses and Notebooks. Ulysses was a bit slow and unstable with large documents, and I finally left it when it went to a subscription model. Notebooks is nice to use, but clutters up the folder with .plist files. In the last couple of years, I've used Mac's own folder system as my method to organize files, and BBEdit to create and edit them. But I have missed being able to create subdocuments and links.

I'm finding that TheArchive* is light and fast. The formatting of documents is pleasing to look at. (Customization would be nice, but the default choices show a nice aesthetic sense.)

  • they should make the stuck-together version the real name – it would be easier to Google!

My biggest gripes involve a certain rigidity in the workflow, which seems unnecessary in some cases.

The legacy of my previous methods means I have thousands of files, often grouped into folders and subfolders. Most of the files begin with a timestamp, and all end with .txt, so they work smoothly with TheArchive, which is great.

One problem is that TheArchive requires a single flat folder. I understand the choice from the perspective of the Zettelkasten philosophy, and it works OK if you're starting from scratch (is that common in a Zettelkasten user?), but it has created a big job for me, moving many groups of old text files out of their old folders and into the master folder where TheArchive can see it. If the carefully designed structure of the file folders is to be maintained, each file must be given a standardized timestamp (some of mine only have dates) and each folder must be assigned a new index document, containing the names of the associated files. I have some tools to automate this transition, but it's still a chore and I have a long way to go.

If TheArchive had the ability to index subfolders, I could import everything in one step, and add more organization later.

The other thing I'm struck by is how messy the master folder has quickly become. I had one subfolder containing nearly a thousand short files describing theatre exercises. When they lived in their own folder, it was easy to review these files in Finder. Now they are scattered among thousands of other files. Within TheArchive, I can access everything perfectly, but viewing it in Finder, the files are jumbled. It works fine as a Zettelkasten, but if I'm trying to look through the folder from another plain text app, it no longer works as a well organized plain text file system.

One of the nice things about plain text files is that they are software agnostic. In TheArchive, the format of the files remains agnostic, but the organization of my files is now zettelkasten-based, not agnostic.

Again, if TheArchive had the ability to search subfolders, users could have the best of both worlds, and it would have no effect on those who wanted a flat folder. Reading some of the posts, I think there's a Zettelkasten dogma that gets in the way of everyday usability. It's not a religion. (Or is it?)

Similarly, the favouring of UUIDs at the start of files works well if text files are Zettelkasten only, but minor changes in software, with no effect on purists, could make the system easier to adopt and more flexible for users who may also open their files with other apps.

At present, a search in the Omnibar for a UUID will automatically open if the UUID is at the start of the filename. This is a wonderful design, and makes it easy to rename the rest of the filename while preserving carefully built links between notes. But why can it not open a filename where the UUID is at the end? If the search term is unique (and of a certain length or structure), and present in exactly one filename it's probably a UUID, and it should probably be opened. This flexibility should at least be an option.

Moreover, although I favour a timestamp + name system myself, this naming scheme does have some disadvantages which may not suit all users – for example, it makes it harder to group files in Finder (you can no longer use "sort by name"), and in a narrow column, the UUID takes up a lot of space and makes it harder to see the description. Given a link to a UUID, TheArchive will automatically open a link to "202202071107 Master List of Butterflies.txt", but will not automatically open "Master List of Butterflies 202202071107.txt". It should. This ability would have no effect on users who want to put UUIDs up front, but would benefit those who (for their own good reasons) choose not to.

These are two features I find myself missing as I use TheArchive. Despite some frustrations, I'm still moving all my files to a flat folder structure – because the software is SO good, and such a pleasure to use, and so much better than the many alternatives I've tried, that it's worth the fuss – but I do wish that, on these features, there was bit more flexibility.


  • We've asked for the option for the Title UUID naming convention in the past. We'll see.

    As far as search, one area that seems neglected is Spotlight. Spotlight works great across the entire filesystem. The only problem is that the .md or .txt files will not open in The Archive or its editor window.

    Something about this whispers to me that if I knew just a little more about programming, I could use Applescript, Keyboard Maestro, python, or some other scripting widget to solve this.

    Below is a picture of the error one gets when using Spotlight to open a .md file in The Archive. You can open up files in Zettlr with no problem from Spotlight. I admit this isn't the emacs-centric way.

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • Moreover, although I favour a timestamp + name system myself, this naming scheme does have some disadvantages which may not suit all users – for example, it makes it harder to group files in Finder (you can no longer use "sort by name"), and in a narrow column, the UUID takes up a lot of space and makes it harder to see the description.

    I sometimes find the horizontal layout frustrating also and for that reason do not always use a timestamp ID. I would love to see a vertical layout option.

  • Thanks @DuncanMKZ for your thorough and well thought out review.

    As far as I remember, the UID-Konvention is already on the internal roadmap. You make a good point on folder structure. @ctietze will have a discussion of your points.

    And of course: Welcome to the forums!

    I am a Zettler

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