Zettelkasten Forum

Zettels, Roam, newsletter, individual and social

Hi everyone,
it's a great privilege to be surrounded by so many passionate and interesting people. I have thought about information and thinking for a long time, but only recently discovered Zettelkasten. I did a PhD in collaborative learning with technology, and our approach was very focused around technical interfaces to support argumentation, discussion and building meaning. I was deep into wikis, and open resources in general, and thought about how we could better support small "knowledge building communitities", as well as how we could benefit from the networks of people, whether it be on Twitter, or the early connectivist MOOCs.

At the same time, I was struggling as a PhD student to make sense of the literature, not only internalizing all the concepts and connections, but also the need to keep track of where I got the ideas, to be able to properly cite a few years later. I had nothing to build on (wish I had come across How to take smart notes many years earlier), and I invented my own system which was a Frankensteinian thing (Ruby, AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, Google Scholar, Dokuwiki, Skim, Bibdesk, executing Javascript snippets in Chrome through Applescript sent by a Ruby script triggered by a global Keyboard Maestro macro... yeah...). However, the end result was very compelling.

However, I realize in retrospect that I was far too concerned with capturing individual articles. I did have one conceptual leap where I tried to use tags and what I would now call automatic backlinks, to gather specific ideas from a number of articles. I came across Roam last December, and immediately saw the similarities to what I had been trying to do 7 years ago - here's a video comparing my PhD approach, with Roam today.

Through Roam, I not only found an incredible tool, but also an amazing community of people (going far beyond the Roam user base) passionate about note taking, knowledge management and learning. I discovered Zettelkasten and this community (I recently shared with Tiago Forte a 42 page Google Doc with my "backlinks" about Zettelkasten from Roam. (Unfortunately Roam doesn't have a nice way of sharing backlinks yet, so the formatting is not the best), so I've clearly been reading up on it.

One thing I realized, is that many of the people in this community are not aware of a lot of the interesting research that has happened over the years in for example the Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning environment, and those people have never heard about for example Zettelkasten - even though there's lots of potential overlap or at least cross-fertilization possible. (And those are just two possible communities of interest). Partially to help make some connections, and partially to give a stronger focus to my own reading and research, I started a weekly newsletter called "Networked Thought and Learning" (https://networkedthoughts.substack.com). It's partially a community newsletter for Roam (I'll feature some links and updates about Roam every week), but the most substantial part should be for everyone. In the first issue, I talk about political discussions, argument mapping, fact checking and literature reviews. In the next, I will continue talking about fact checking in newspapers, Wikidata and semantic graphs, and more. In a way, this is the closest I've gotten to writing real Zettels, because it's forcing me to not just collect a bunch of links and thoughts, but to be explicit about how they connect and what they mean.

I hope this newsletter could be relevant to this community, and I hope to write a lot about both Zettelkasten and specific things I get from this forum. If you have ideas of topics, links or want to contribute writing, let me know!

I'm currently an engineer/researcher at Minerva Project (an incredibly interesting approach to rethinking undergraduate education - see for example this podcast with Steven Kosslyn for a great intro, I think some ideas might resonate with people here https://roamresearch.com/#/app/stian-research/page/9gAsR_QSs). As part of my owrk, I am currently doing on a large literature review on "far transfer learning", and there of course I've been thinking about how best to do it.

One final thought. It seems that a lot of the discussions in this forum is focused on private Zettelkasten, and of course Luhmann's big ZK was completely private. I see a lot of value in private notes - the idea that you have to take the notes, everyone will structure them differently, the process of taking notes structures your thinking etc. However, I think there's also a lot of value in both small groups or communities taking notes, as well as sharing knowledge in a distributed format (like Wikipedia). I have a small framework which is kind of guiding my inquiry as I am learning more, which I call three (social) levels of note taking. I'll paste it from Roam below, the link to the live doc is here:

As you can see, very compressed right now, but I'm hoping to gradually add to this - both expanding my understanding of each individual of the three levels, but also thinking about ways of connecting between levels.

Anyway, that was all from me, looking forward to discussing with you!
(I can be found on @houshuang on Twitter, https://reganmian.net for older blog posts, shaklev@gmail.com for email, https://networkedthoughts.substack.com for newsletter).

  • My concept of three levels (from [[Roam meetup]])
    • curious about note taking and knowledge organizing in social contexts - how to move across/between #[[Note taking]]
      • individually - [[Building a Second Brain]] ([[Tiago Forte]]), [[Zettelkasten]] (Luhmann) etc
      • in small groups - [[Marlene Scardamalia]] and [[Knowledge Building]]/[[Knowledge Forum]], a lot of [[Computer Supported Collaborative Learning]] in general, focusing on use of [[wikis]] in classrooms etc. [[Group cognition]], [[shared epistemic responsability]]. "What does the group know?"
      • in networks - [[Michael Nielsen]]'s [[Reinventing Discovery]], [[George Siemens]] and [[Stephen Downes]]' [[Connectivism]] for learning networks etc.
    • But in addition, how does this interact with the design of artefacts
      • what does it mean for learning and teaching? A lot of texts about note taking etc focus on individual students in a traditional system, but how would you redesign the actual education experience around students "building second brains" etc?
        • example of the iversity MOOC on math (I think I have a blog post?)
      • what is the future of the [[non-fiction book]] etc?
        • re "Question about communication - compression and expansion/serialization (#narratives), like two amazing AIs who have to communicate through morse signals. Also link between note taking and cognitive structures - what does it mean to have learnt something?"
    • This tension between designing for certain interactions, and excluding other/narrowing the space
      • link to [[over-scripting]] and fading [[scaffolding]]?
      • also [[Distributed cognition]] - some things it's OK to always leave outside / [[digital prosthesis]]
      • [[Dan Suthers]] and [[salience]] ([[suthers2008empirical]])


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