Zettelkasten Forum

Focussing on the Kasten in Zettelkasten

Hello everyone!

I have been lurking on here a while and just decided to register because a certain question came to mind:

Many Zettelkasten software solutions are similar in that you have a pane with a list of all your Zettel, which you can search through, and a pane for writing your note text. Usually these two panes are within the same window. A list of Zettel by date is of course largely unhelpful, because the temporal relations between Zettel are the weakest ones, or at least that is how it appears to me.

This became apparent to me when I used a Zettelkasten software that completely does away with any such list: synapsen. At first it was a bit disquieting, given that a list of all your notes gives you a sense of security, knowing that all your notes are there and in place. Yet the more I started working with this software over the past week, the more it clicked. Having all your notes hidden away, at first, probably is the way the "original" Zettelkästen would have functioned. You would have only been able to take out the notes that were of interest to you, browsing through the connections these notes allow for. I have come to recognise that this restriction on my ability to simply view all my notes has made me more productive, because I only ever see what I want to see/which notes I deem to be meaningful.

Another principle synapsen emulates well is the laying out of individual index cards in a visual space. This is a function I feel is somewhat lacking in the other software I have tried. When I want to research something from my Zettelkasten, I can open/"pull out" a single note/"index card", which opens as its own small window. I can then follow the links via tags the note I have open shares with other notes, or via direct links in the note itself. The new note then opens as its own little index card window. In a final step, I can open and close notes until I have a collection that is sufficiently useful for a topic I want to think or write about, and save this view/arrangement of notes for later recollection. I realise I could emulate this function by simply creating a tag all notes of each view have in common or by creating another note which lists all the notes in this "view", but something seems to get lost when one transitions from the metaphor of cards to the metaphor of lists. I would argue that the Kasten part of Zettelkästen, the fact that Zettel were hidden away and could only be retrieved through a slow process of meaningful re-collection from the Kasten, was a feature and not a bug of this system.

Of course, this workflow has its price, namely that you are dependent on some software to simulate this index card behaviour, and there does not seem to be any open-source version which would allow you to simulate said behaviour with plain text files.

I would be curious to know what all of y'alls thoughts were on this!

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