# Switching from Notion to RoamResearch

edited February 2020

Thanks, @jburkhard (cc @henrikenggaard ), for your recommendation of https://roamresearch.com/ I've been working the past days with it an my impression is that's a very promising tool (or at least approach to dealing with notes).

I'm still finding my way around but already now the feeling is very positively different compared to working with Bear Writer or Notion. Less friction in many ways.

Not only the automatic explicit and (!) implicit backlinking is great. Also the writing process feels more focused on content and much less on form.

At first it felt strange to have the calendar imposed on me with daily notes being the default. But I have come to like it very much. A basic order is created - from which I can deviate at any moment.
With other tools I first though about structure for different types of notes. But with Roam I don't anymore. It's ok to dump anything into the daily note - and then maybe re-organize the content.

A zettelkasten in Roam to me does not seem that much of a separate and different thing than with other tools. And why should it be? Aren't ideas, concepts, what I read - in short: whatever goes on a zettel - naturally connected to other aspects of my life?

This interconnectedness finds a naturally expression in Roam, I'd say. And than I actually feel "in my fingertips" :-D

Sure, how I will organize my zettels will go through some evolution as it has done in The Archive, then switching to Notion, in Notion, and now moving on yet once more.

It might sounds like a contradiction to keep moving while "building a second brain". But to me it does not feel like that. After some 2000 zettels in Notion it's perfectly fine for me to move on. I can link back to Notion at any time. And I could even import my Notion zettels into Roam, if I wanted. But no need for that right now.

Build second brains using digital tools to me still seems in its infancy. A lot can be discovered and learnt, I guess. The journey continues... :-)

EDIT (by @sfast ): Changed title for less confusion with other (similar) title.

Post edited by sfast on
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• I'm experimenting with Roam also, but just so you know, I recently received a survey asking whether I would still use Roam at $30/month. That was the only price point suggested, which means that even if the actual price is lower, it's not going to be cheap. • The survey is probing the market. And even though I too was a bit surprised about this price point mentioned there where a couple of questions before asking what you are willing to pay. It‘s a startup with all its risks and oppprtunities. It might try to charge$30/month or just $5. Maybe you‘ll even be fine with its free plan? Or maybe it will tank. Who knows. As with any service: use it at your own risk😉 • What ways of data export / download does RoamResearch offer? @cobblepot: For a corporate account, 30$/m is less than peanuts. Presumably all our Zettelkastens are for professional use, right? ;-)

• @Perikles Roam currently supports export to Markdown and JSON. Only the text of pages is exported (with special Roam link syntax). Image links are kept as they are online, ie. images keep being referenced in the Roam online store.

For that reason I have resorted to store important images in my dropbox and link to them from Roam pages.

• I'm really, really liking what I see in Roam but I'm trying to put my finger on what I like about it that the Archive doesn't provide before I jump. I feel I might be 'chasing the software' rather than getting down to the job in hand of studying, and I'm nervous about investing time in something for which the future / pricing is unknown.

What is it that you particularly like about it that makes it worth it?

• @JKF said:
What is it that you particularly like about it that makes it worth it?

The ease of "weaving a web of notes".

To me it's a wiki done right. Finally ;-)

Notes can exist on two different levels, too: page and block (paragraph/bullet point). And both can be linked to. And backlinks are always generated automatically. That's a game changer to me.

It's powerful - but also I feel it needs exploration. How to use it to what end? It's an experiment.

• @ralfw said:

I agree that looks really appealing. I'm tempted to check it out in more detail. But I fear (for me) it would just be another rabbit hole to dive down.

• I recently switched from Notion to RoamResearch for verzetteln. It started as an experiment - but over the course of just a few days has led to a fundamental change in my note taking, no even in my daily habits.

The number of zettels I write each day has exploded, from maybe 1or2/day to around 10/day.

My explanation for that is not that Roam just is the new shiny tool. Not it's more fundamental. Roam is making note taking in general and verzetteln in particular so much easier for me. It has become my "dashboard" app for the day.

I'm not starting my work from my calendar or todo list (which are kept separate). I'm starting from Roam: first I make a note, then I do my work.

Roam's focus on the daily note has led to me dumping my stream of consciousness into it. No thought is too small to not be logged. Almost ;-)

That way the "price" for a new zettel has dropped to zero. In its simplest form a zettel is nothing more than a new paragraph in the daily page in Roam with "#zettel" attached to it.
No need to navigate to some zettelkasten. No need to come up with an ID or use a template. That's all possible, but no prerequisite for creating a zettel.

Sometimes a zettel thus is just one line with the hashtag. But if I like I can add more paragraphs (blocks in Roam), create a hierarchy of text in the zettel. Or to scale-up the zettel I can extract it to its own page. (But I find that rarely necessary.)

Most zettels nowadays are small. I don't have to become ready for writing a zettel. Anything goes from a fleeting thought, a small insight, to a full blown book summarization.

Sure, that also is possible with Notion or any other note taking tool. But the difference to me is in my fingertips, in the feeling. It feels so much easier. There's no mental hurdle anymore, no tool or mode switching effort or whatever.

And the beauty of these kinds of zettels without any specific structure is: they all can be linked and produce backlinks. Each and every paragraph can be referenced from anywhere. Nothing I ever write in the depth of any page is every buried. It's all right there when I enter a query and can be linked to.

Yes, that's really making a difference for me!

So much for a quick experience report ;-) I'll see how this continues... But I can say: I have come to the point where I find Notion clunky and am trying to avoid it :-D

• This sounds very much like the weird pull of the ecosystem around Emacs and org-mode: you start your day by looking at a calendar view in a frickin' text editor, then follow links to specific tasks where you can write below the task heading, hiding all the rest; or just open other writing project next to this overview and work and cross-link files whenever you want. It's amazing. I totally get why you love this. Only Emacs is as accessible as Fort Knox for the layperson, while a modern tool like Roam is pretty simple to get started with

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

• Just one misunderstanding: I'm not looking at a calendar in a text editor. Just a single page for the current day.

As I wrote: my nice visual calendar app and my trusty todo app are here to stay. They have value of their own.

I'm surprised myself that this "daily page" is making such a difference. It's helping me to focus by giving me a very natural and simple place to log everything that crosses my mind. The burden or organizing information is lessened.

Sure, this could be done with other tools, too: simple text files or a note in Evernote or a doc in Dropbox paper. But Roam adds this "everything can be linked to and backlinks are for free" power. This basic capability is there out of the box. What I add on top of that with tags or attributes is up to me. If I thought an explicit ID for a zettel would make a difference, I simply could add it - but I don't need to.

Very intriguing to me!

• @ralfw

I had similar experiences when I switches software. I had two experiences that were totally similar to yours: Switching to DokuWiki and to ZimWiki. Both felt like having a new warm home after being a nomad wandering with tents through the tundra.

Before @ctietze persuaded me to use the plain-text appraoch I was dependend on software to provide me with a feel through design.

I think that is the point @ctietze is making: The feel is quite powerful and gets you doing stuff.

If not, it is the point I am making: The feeling of software is a real phenonemon.

I wonder why your drift is so different from Christian's. I was harassing @ctietze a while before he gave Emacs a try. It seemed such a great fit for his programmer's mind and since he has similar nerdy tendencies like I have it couldn't fail. Whenever I encounter people with coding experience, normally they have a weak spot for software that give a feel like development environments.

Your drift seems more similar to mine before @ctietze converted me to plain text. You seem to be more drawn to the layer of user experience than to the rawness of the platonic world of code.

What do you think?

I am a Zettler

• I came from Notion to Roam to The Archive. I created (programmatically with bash script) daily notes for next 6 months (with tags in each note for year, month, week, so I can easily access relevant stack, I have current week open in one tab all the time, current day in another tab, and another is for working with everything else) and I'm using it here the same as you're using Roam, thanks to script that generates backlinks for markdown files Daily Notes + backlinks are really, really great, I totally agree.
I switched to TA after ~2 months in Roam exactly because the fact that collecting stuff in Roam is that easy and life shows everywhere that important stuff requires effort (learning, keeping good relationships, good health, making money, etc.). I want to think before I write, I want to make the connection and understand the thing deeply with my brain (using notes on paper, mindmaps, etc) before I store it for future reference - Roam took it from me, I was getting lazy, I was collecting too many things. I'm using TA in similar way to Roam, but it makes me slower, working here needs to be more deliberate, I can't just dump stuff without thinking.
Maybe after a while I'll switch again to Roam, but for now, after I experienced both ways, I feel that plain text files encourage much better thinking habits

• Before @ctietze persuaded me to use the plain-text appraoch I was dependend on software to provide me with a feel through design.

I'd distinguish between functionality and usability. The same functionality can be presented with different usability - but in the end usability cannot make up for missing functionality.

Am I "dependent on software to provide me with a feel through design"? Hm...

An example against it: I like to use Markdown. MS Word has its value - but mostly it's to heavy weight for the purpose of composing a text. For writing Markdown is just fine. For reading, though, I prefer a richer presentation. There is truth to hundreds of years of designing texts in books, newspapers etc.: How a text is presented conveys a message and helps reception.

An example for it: I rather use a visual way of configuring a software than a textual interface. Or I like to play a visual game on an iPhone, and remember how boring it was to play early computer games like something with dugeons or the like where the interface was text based.

Bottom line: I think, I don't depend per se on a slick UI. It's more a function of the frequency with which I use a software. And also the general stuff that needs to get done.

For example for note taking I don't need a graphical UI like with a visual network of nodes. I don't need it - but there are cases where I find it helpful to have it, eg to get an overview of certain parts of a graph.

I think that is the point @ctietze is making: The feel is quite powerful and gets you doing stuff.

If not, it is the point I am making: The feeling of software is a real phenonemon.

Yeah, sure. Like with any tool. Design matters. A good design (making functionality easy to use) helps to become efficient. (And maybe even is appealing to the eye.)

Abstraction is powerful. Or: Abstraction empowers.

On the other side one has to be aware of LOLA. Some abstractions are helpful only so far - and then they break down.

Your drift seems more similar to mine before @ctietze converted me to plain text. You seem to be more drawn to the layer of user experience than to the rawness of the platonic world of code.

>

Simple things should be easy, complicated things should be possible.

In the world of note taking, what are the simple things? I'd say whatever is common, often needed, ubiquitous in digital tools in general.

1. Creating a container for thoughts (note)
2. Marking up text
3. Inserting other media
5. and of course: referencing other notes, ie creating note structures as need.

Dropbox Paper for example is good for 2,3,4. But it's compartively clunky when it comes to 1 and limited with regard to 5.

Evernote? Much better at 1, a little better with 5, but on par for 2,3,4.

Notion surpassed Evernote by making 5 easier and providing ways to do more complicated stuff too.

And Roam? It's sooo much better at 1, it's a little less capable for 2 and 3, on par for 4, but really, really shines for 5. The more complicated stuff Notion can do I don't miss right now. I can fall back to Notion or whatever for that.

The combination of increased easiness for 1 and 5 is making the difference for me.

All programming can be done in machine code - but I prefer to use Kotlin or C# or F#.

All persistence can be done using raw file IO - but I prefer high level abstractions like SQLite or MongoDb.

All note taking can be done using Notepad ;-) - but I prefer to use Evernote, then Bear, then Notion, now Roam.

Well done abstractions make the world go around :-D

Frugality has it's place - but I prefer "luxurious" abstractions for productivity ;-)

• @ralfw you have a skill/gift/talent for articulating things clearly and quickly. I enjoy the perspectives you share here.

• In the world of note taking, what are the simple things? I'd say whatever is common, often needed, ubiquitous in digital tools in general.

1. Creating a container for thoughts (note)
2. Marking up text
3. Inserting other media
5. and of course: referencing other notes, ie creating note structures as need.

Ah, ok. It seems to me that you emphasis on the surface of note taking. But that is the very thing I am quite suprised.

Take self-organisation for example. A layman would gravitate to something like reminders. It already on his mac and gives a simple user experience. A power user would gravitate to something like Omnifocus. And then there are some people who fall into the rabbit hole of Emacs-Org.

Technically, I stand between a layman and a power user. Using Emacs is a quite a stretch for me. But Christian can get something out of his org.

I'd thought that as a software developer you'd put more emphasis von power than on user experience with the tools you use.

I am a Zettler

• My feeling is that there is still a misunderstanding: I'm particularly concerned with surface. I'm concerned with "getting shit done" - my shit, that is ;-)

First and foremost what I need for that is functionality (with suitable performance and scalability). And this functionality should be accessible with little effort. A tool should not get in my way. That's maybe what you mean by "emphasis on the surface".

The combination of functionality + usability has to be right for me.

What I've observed over the years is that my toolset has become more diverse. In the beginning it maybe was filesystem (folder/file hierarchy to organize content) + documents (.txt, .doc as containers for content).

Or maybe not in this specific order. I don't remember exactly ;-) But you get the picture: "The monolith" got broken up. And this process still continuous!

The tools I'm using seem to become ever more fine grained in their purpose.

Am I a power user? Maybe not according to your "definition" since I might be using the reminders app ;-)

But if I look around and see people struggling to go beyond email and Word... (Believe me, there are many people in offices in Germany who are still almost at war with computers.) I think I'm a power user because I'm confident to use whatever tool seems to serve my purpose. And that's just level 1 of being a power user.

To me there is a level 2: Being comfortable with changing the toolset to follow the development of the tool landscape.

Part of level 2 is just plain fun. But more importantly it's about reducing friction.

And let me add: What I'm saying is not limited to digital tools/software. In fact I don't pretty much care about whether a tool is digital or analog. What I care about is convenience.

Yeah, I'm a "convenience fetishist" :-D A tool needs to be convenient for my life style. And this life style is very mobile. From this mobility springs a need for little baggage. And digital tools are very helpful in reducing baggage.

Travelling a lot and having a job where I want to get shit done for me means: I don't have time for inconvenient tools.

Sometimes Sublime is the most convenient tool to do something. Mostly, though, it's not. Nowadays Roam is the most convenient tool to take notes of all kinds. The reason I tried to explained in my previous posting.

Sublime has its limits, Roam, too.

For maybe 15 years I used blogs and technical magazines as my zettelkasten. That's what I realized when I read Sönke Ahrens and your book, @sfast. I had been "taking notes" (verzetteln) all along - but big notes (in the form of public long reads). Nevertheless I deem my thousands of articles in blogs and magazines to be zettels. They helped me to develop and evolve my thinking.

But once I really learned about the zettelkasten I switched from these public notes to private notes and started building a real zettelkasten. And that to me still is a discovery process. I'm still iterating, trying to find the most convenient tool (or combination of tools). Roam brought me a step closer to that, I feel.

OmniFocus does not make a user a power user, I think. It's the mindset and the basic ability to use and switch between tools. And maybe also to customize tools.

A power user, to me, does not feel limited by a current tool set. And I don't feel limited (even though I might not like some features or the lack of others) :-D

P.S. Take this response for example. To me it's almost like a zettel. It's not really worth to be preserved, nevertheless it it's valuable to me. Right in this moment it helped me to become a little bit more clear about something. Taking a response seriously helps me getting insights about myself/the world. Through writing I changed I teeny tiny bit for the better :-) Hence this too is a tool for getting shit done :-) (But now I have to move on a get other shit done: a presentation for a conference.)

• To me it seems @sfast and @ralfw have two totally different objectives. The amazing beauty of a Zettelkasten over, say, the mere act of "taking note" and "collecting stuff", lies in its productive power: you apply a layer of method to the practice and get something else than all the other people who "take notes". (Productive doesn't necessarily mean to publish texts, but also to generate new thoughts. And fun times thinking about stuff. Whatever your goal is, I guess.)

Yes, you can take note in Notepad, Dropbox Paper, etc., and here the different angles appear to me: @sfast hints at the Zettelkasten Method, which is independent from implementation, while @ralfw points out that the mere sameness of features isn't all there is, there's also a better user experience. Of course it's nicer to have clickable links and a graphical user interface with smooth pixel-by-pixel scrolling over telnet-ing onto a remote server to manipulate files from the command line. Both have their place, but that's not the point, is it? Without method, it doesn't matter how nice a note-taking environment is, since the way one takes notes doesn't change; and without any user interface affordances, it doesn't matter how good your method is if you cannot even wield the tools. That actually sounds pretty trivial to me.

I don't think anyone benefits from blurring the lines about what a Zettel is, though. If a forum post is a Zettel instead of being the product or foundation of a Zettel, you lose a lot of the meaning. If you follow that direction, you can say that thoughts are Zettel, too, because "thought" is the next best abstraction that unifies all your written things.

This reminds me of the distinction between data and information: collecting data doesn't teach you anything, doesn't make you grow, unless you process it somehow. Communication in e.g. a forum post can yield many a thought and Zettel, but it isn't part of your knowledge network, so it's just in your mind. If our forum server is wiped, the stuff we all wrote would be gone. We don't really own the posts in the way we own our notes and Zettel. While the data/information distinction is about the intake, the forum post or blog VS Zettel distinction is about the product. There's a difference that makes the difference, if y'all allow the Bateson quote here

The Roam links I followed so far, and I pointed that out to @Stian (https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/894/zettels-roam-newsletter-individual-and-social), look like an interesting playground to facilitate connective thinking. But the result is very idiosyncratic. I cannot read them to learn something new, apart from scanning for web links, maybe. That's why I'd like to argue that pages on Roam are not publications, for example. They're just views into the workshop of a knowledge worker. Interesting, even voyeuristic, yes, but only informational when it comes to the meta-level: how does he/she work and use the tools? This mixing-up of "what is public", a mere observation, with "being published", which expresses intent, is kind of similar to conflating taking notes in general with nourishing a Zettelkasten.

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

• But the result is very idiosyncratic. I cannot read them to learn something new, apart from scanning for web links, maybe. That's why I'd like to argue that pages on Roam are not publications,

Strange, I would have never thought of a zettelkasten as a medium for publication. To me it's the antithesis to publication. A zettelkasten - whether done with Roam or The Archive - to me is highly personal. Like a person's brain is unique in its low level wiring a zettekasten to me is unique.

Whatever tools I'm using for my zettelkasten I'd never claim the result to be digestable by anyone else. (This does not contradict my description of the sum of my articles as some form of a zettelkasten. They were written for publication, sure. But as it turned out they also served as a medium for developing my thinking. And that, I guess, is what a zettelkasten is about.)

Luhmann did not compile his zettels with another reader in mind, I guess. Nor did Arno Schmidt. They were the sole producers and consumers of their zettels.

So, if I use Roam for my zettelkasten, I would not expect for example @ctietze to be able to gain anything from it. The same would be true if I used Notion or Bear or whatever.

But if I used Roam or Notion or Bear to compile a knowledge base for a team or the public to use, I could do that. I'd simple employ the features provided by the tools in a different way. I'd structure the content differently. I'd use a different language maybe etc.

The same means (features of a zettelkasten app or a programming language) can be used to produce something functional or dysfunctional and something publicly understandable or inscrutable.

• I think @ctietze got the misunderstanding. I am using the term Zettelkasten to refer to something specific. You seem to use note taking device and Zettelkasten interchangeable and even use the term Zettel for publications in magazines.

I am a Zettler

• I think the misunderstanding goes further

I apologize if I violated any formal definition of "zettel" which I don't know of.

But if a zettelkasten is a tool to further your thinking, to evolve your mental model of the world, to help you progress towards your aspirations, to become more clear in your understanding a matter, and if a zettelkasten does that by accumulating text (and other media) and building relationships between them of different kinds (e.g. sequence, hierarchy, link)... well, then I'm still of the opinion that I used blog and magazine articles as a form of zettelkasten.

This does not look like Luhmann's zettelkasten, it does not look like yours, and not even like mine today. Nevertheless to the best of my knowledge I was intuitively using the WWW and other media like a zettelkasten.

Did I get the benefits from it like I get now from a "real" zettelkasten? Maybe not. But then... so much in life is a trade-off.

My point was about intention, purpose. Yours seems to be about form. That's fine with me.

In my view there can be a lot of ways and methods and tools to achieve... well, what? A zettelkasten is just a tool, too. A tool "nourished" through tools. Why create a zettelkasten at all?

I view it as a tool to understand the world better. In contrast note taking is about remembering, I'd say. That's the main difference: insight vs memory.

But on the outside both might look similar: a person writing down stuff. As @ctietze said: it's a matter of intent. And intent is not always easy to see from the outside.

And now I'm sorry, I've lost track of where we were coming from. Maybe we should put the thread to rest. I just wanted to give a snapshot of my purely subjective experience working with yet another shiny tool for growing a "zettelkasten" for my personal use with the humble intent to understand the world better by writing down thoughts and observations and cunningly connect them with nifty forward- and backlinks

• @ralfw wrote:
But if a zettelkasten is a tool to further your thinking, to evolve your mental model of the world, to help you progress towards your aspirations, to become more clear in your understanding a matter, and if a zettelkasten does that by accumulating text (and other media) and building relationships between them of different kinds (e.g. sequence, hierarchy, link)... well, then I'm still of the opinion that I used blog and magazine articles as a form of zettelkasten.

Well, that is technically a fallacy. If you clean that up you need to modify what you said:

(1) If the following conditions are met and are the only necessities existing Y is X.
(2) The following conditions are fulfilled.
(Therefore) Y is X

Y is everything you call a Zettel or Zettelkasten (Blogs, Magazines). X is either "Zettel" or "Zettelkasten".

If the following conditions are sufficient that Y is X.

The rest goes as above.

Now, we are here a community that could be technically described as a bunch of people who are searching for the necessities and sufficiencies to be fulfilled to call a note a Zettel.

Or: A bunch of people who are in search of the necessities and sufficiencies to be fulfilled to call a note taking system a Zettelkasten.

Calling next to everything a "Zettel" or a "Zettelkasten" clouds the collective thinking taking place. And I don't mean it like this is a super big deal. But it is always a opportunity to relate posts to the overarching theme.

I think that experience reports are quite valuable. Therefore, your public thought processes on your tool switch is quite interesting and offers important insights. But the quite strong claims (X are the basics of note taking) or implicit claims (See the fallacy above) are something to point out. They disrupt the very fundamental questions "What is a Zettelkasten?" and "What is a Zettel?".

This is completely irrelevant for your own thread or thoughts (though, I think that you'd benefit from a clearer distinction yourself). But in the broader picture of the collective thought process the distinction is important. Therefore, I am not so much saying (whiny noise) "HoW DaRe YoU using "Zettel" when it is not!?". I am connecting your thread to the collective thought process by relating your super-liberal use of the concepts to the overarching questions and thought processes.

I am a Zettler

• A bunch of people who are in search of the necessities and sufficiencies to be fulfilled to call a note taking system a Zettelkasten.

Please feel free to point me to a definition the "bunch of people" (or the community) as worked out or just has agreed on.

Until then let me try to phrase what my understanding is:

Category: A Zettelkasten is a tool. It has a specific purpose.

Purpose: To me the purpose behind a Zettelkasten is to improve my understanding of the world. It helps me to gain insights.

One could say, the Bible or Tarot cards or the scientific method are also tools to improve one's understanding of the world; it just depends on one's general world view
So I guess a bit more is needed to distinguish a Zettelkasten from them.

Form: A Zettelkasten is a compilation of recorded and interconnected thoughts and finds.

• Recording: I'm using this very general term to not suggest a special material or medium. Luhmann used paper slips for his recordings, The Archive uses individual digital files stored in a file system, Evernote might use digital JSON documents in some NoSQL document database. The medium or material thus does not (seem to) make a difference for a tool to be called a Zettelkasten. And I'm using recording to not suggest a specific form of content. Text might be the most prevalent, but I don't see why a recording should be limited to that. Images, music, sound, videos: all that might be recorded in a Zettelkasten.
• Compilation: I call a Zettelkasten not just a container, store or pile, but a compilation, because that term to me carries more purpose behind why recordings are added to it.
• Thoughts and finds: A recording can either be something I found in a book or on the web or anywhere and which I like to remember because it helps my understanding of the world in some way (examples: a quote, a paragraph in a book, an image, a link to an article). Or a recording might be something new (to me at least), something I created, the result of a creative act of mine (examples: an idea, an insight, a hypothesis, a definition, a summary).
• Interconnections: To me the most defining characteristic is the interconnection between its recordings. That distinguishes it most from a plain container like a filing cabinet. Recordings are not just made to be stored as is for later retrieval. Rather recordings are made with the intention to connect them in many ways. These connections between recordings are making a Zettelkasten more than the sum of its parts. Connections, relationships, links between recordings can be of different kinds. Whatever suits the purpose best. They can be unidirectional (recording A referencing (->) recording B ) or bidirectional (A->B and B->A), they can have attributes (e.g. A -(explains)-> B or A -(generalizes)->B ), they can be explicit (recording A contains an identifying attribute of recording B ) or implicit (in a total order recording A is located before or after recording B ) and much more, I guess.

In summary: A Zettelkasten is a tool to compile interconnected recordings of thoughts and finds for the purpose of developing one's understanding of the world.

I think of "Zettelkasten" - which only makes sense in its literal meaning to German speaking community members anyway - as just an idiomatic term. It has no normative power, i.e. a Zettelkasten does not need to be made of wood, nor does it need to be material at all, nor do Zettels be paper slips etc. The term is used to honor the origins of the tool and its prominent inventors/contributors like Luhmann, Kempowski, Schmidt etc.

Now, with this kind of personal definition of a Zettelkasten, I can look at this forum. What would I expect from it?

1. Open discussions revolving around how to best record and interconnect to serve the purpose. I'd call that a method.
2. Open discussions revolving around all sorts of tools to best implement the method in different contexts (e.g. private/business, stationary/on the road).

And my feeling is, that's what's happening here. Mostly at least ;-)

Now feel free to disagree with my definition of what a Zettelkasten is.

• This is not a problem of correct categorisation. I can interject at any step of your post.

• What about people who don't want to understand things but just finish a bachelor thesis? Or people who use a Zettelkasten just for introspection? Those tools wouldn't count because they aren't aiming for understanding of the world.
• If I'd use your concept my brain would qualify as a Zettelkasten: "a tool to compile interconnected recordings of thoughts and finds for the purpose of developing one's understanding of the world"

The issue is not about a correct and formal definition. It is a pragmatic problem on communication. Nobody has authority to basically say what a Zettelkasten is and what it is not. But you can see with my second interjection that you are repeating the fallacy. Your concept is way to broad to be used in an exchange of opinions.

With your concept it would make sense to see bare thinking as an application of the Zettelkasten Method.

And look what you wrote yourself:

Strange, I would have never thought of a zettelkasten as a medium for publication. To me it's the antithesis to publication. A zettelkasten - whether done with Roam or The Archive - to me is highly personal. Like a person's brain is unique in its low level wiring a zettekasten to me is unique.

Yet you wrote this:

For maybe 15 years I used blogs and technical magazines as my zettelkasten. That's what I realized when I read Sönke Ahrens and your book, @sfast. I had been "taking notes" (verzetteln) all along - but big notes (in the form of public long reads). Nevertheless I deem my thousands of articles in blogs and magazines to be zettels.

And are aware of the contradiction:

Whatever tools I'm using for my zettelkasten I'd never claim the result to be digestable by anyone else. (This does not contradict my description of the sum of my articles as some form of a zettelkasten. They were written for publication, sure. But as it turned out they also served as a medium for developing my thinking. And that, I guess, is what a zettelkasten is about.)

It is a contradiction. The Zettelkasten is the antithesis of publication because it is one familiar you create. Articles spread over the internet are not such thing.

My long walk with my dog served as a medium for developing my thinking. Yet, it is not a Zettelkasten or part of my Zettelkasten.

I am a Zettler

• My long walk with my dog served as a medium for developing my thinking. Yet, it is not a Zettelkasten or part of my Zettelkasten.

Sure. And since you seem to have read my definition there's no need to mention this.

Likewise "bare thinking" cannot be a Zettelkasten, because it is a process whereas a Zettelkasten (according to my humble definition) is a compilation of recordings (i.e. the result of a process, but not a process).

What about people who don't want to understand things but just finish a bachelor thesis?

If you think a Zettelkasten is a tool which should also be of help to such people and you don't deem a bachelor thesis to be a product of "better understanding the world", then I'm happy to read a different definition of Zettelkasten from you.

Nobody has authority to basically say what a Zettelkasten is and what it is not.

Even if you'd present this community with your definition of a Zettelkasten nobody would assume you to be the final authority on it. But why should that limit the value of your definition?

It would be interesting to see what you think, how you view the matter. And that might lead to fruitful discussions because people agree with you - or they don't.

Since you're saying

The Zettelkasten is the antithesis of publication because it is one familiar you create.

I have to assume you actually have a definition of Zettelkasten. Because how otherwise would you be able to judge my point of view? "Antithesis" is a pretty definitive judgement. Where does that come from? With which authority are you uttering this statement?

I don't mind you disagreeing with me. But I find it sad to seemingly be denied a definition, because I don't have a specific authority which you would recognize (and I never claimed to have) - and then you feel entitled to tell me that my definition is clearly wrong? Hm... strange. But maybe - again? - I'm misunderstanding you?

• @ralfw said:

My long walk with my dog served as a medium for developing my thinking. Yet, it is not a Zettelkasten or part of my Zettelkasten.

Sure. And since you seem to have read my definition there's no need to mention this.

But you see my point, don't you? Your concept is so wide what you can't say my long walk is not part of my Zettelkasten. Or walking is me applying my version of the Zettelkasten Method.

Likewise "bare thinking" cannot be a Zettelkasten, because it is a process whereas a Zettelkasten (according to my humble definition) is a compilation of recordings (i.e. the result of a process, but not a process).

Thinking is me applying the method. My brain is my Zettelkasten.

What about people who don't want to understand things but just finish a bachelor thesis?

If you think a Zettelkasten is a tool which should also be of help to such people and you don't deem a bachelor thesis to be a product of "better understanding the world", then I'm happy to read a different definition of Zettelkasten from you.

No. I don't need to push any definition to anybody. But one of my clients had severe depression and was struggling with his master thesis. I costumised the Zettelkasten Method in a manner that allowed him to just finish the damn thing. He didn't understand a damn thing like many students do not want to understand much of they have to learn. To be exact: His Zettelkasten was a tool to understand the least amount possible.

Nobody has authority to basically say what a Zettelkasten is and what it is not.

Even if you'd present this community with your definition of a Zettelkasten nobody would assume you to be the final authority on it. But why should that limit the value of your definition?

I am happy to take part in the collective thinking process. It is way to early to have a opinion on what it is. We are at a stage on finding what a Zettelkasten not is. (For example: A strictly categorised, dead bunch of note piles; or: next to everything you write if it improves understanding)

It would be interesting to see what you think, how you view the matter. And that might lead to fruitful discussions because people agree with you - or they don't.

Since you're saying

The Zettelkasten is the antithesis of publication because it is one familiar you create.

I have to assume you actually have a definition of Zettelkasten. Because how otherwise would you be able to judge my point of view? "Antithesis" is a pretty definitive judgement. Where does that come from? With which authority are you uttering this statement?

I am not uttering anything. I am repeating your own statement and giving you a reason why one of your thoughts might be plausible which is a reason for you to reject the contradicting parts.

But you are right. Antithesis is a pretty definitive judgement. It is the judgement you made yourself.

I don't mind you disagreeing with me. But I find it sad to seemingly be denied a definition, because I don't have a specific authority which you would recognize (and I never claimed to have) - and then you feel entitled to tell me that my definition is clearly wrong? Hm... strange. But maybe - again? - I'm misunderstanding you?

Perhaps, you should re-read how I rejected your definition of the concept:

• Technically, you are making a fallacy. I pointed it out two times.
• I gave you plenty of examples where it should be obvious that you definition does not work. It is way to inclusive.

There is a technical reason why such attempts to define concepts like yours do not work. They are not organic and alive enough. They don't allow for the necessary language-game. You act like the early Wittgenstein conquering words and definition with mechanical and dead tools. But since we are here in a community we need to play this game together instead anyone just doing anything (everything is a Zettelkasten) or only acting like an input-output machine ("A Zettelkasten is defined as a system that has traits 1-10").

Or to put it in philosophical terms: When is a heap of sand a heap and when is it a bunch of of grains? There is a point when a bunch of grains become a heap when you add grains. And there is a point when a heap becomes a bunch of grains when you remove individual grains.

I am a Zettler

• Your concept is so wide what you can't say my long walk is not part of my Zettelkasten.

I'm sorry to see a misunderstanding: I never claimed my definition to be final. It was just my definition at some point in time - and at least I'm feeling free to change it when coming across interesting insights.

What you're implying, though, it seems is that a definition needs to be narrow. Why should that be? A definition can be as broad or narrow as is helpful. A definition is just another tool.

Or walking is me applying my version of the Zettelkasten Method.
My brain is my Zettelkasten.

Yes, why not? Filling you "wet Zettelkasten" while walking. I like that And it's in line with the notion of Tiago's "2nd brain", I'd say.

You're right in that your brain would fall under my definition of a Zettelkasten. And I take that as a validation of my definition
At the same time, though, you're right that that could not possibly what I meant. So let me add this to my definition:

• Recordings and connections are made explicitly on some medium outside one's body

Now your brain's not a Zettelkasten anymore.

There is a technical reason why such attempts to define concepts like yours do not work. They are not organic and alive enough. They don't allow for the necessary language-game.

What in my attempt is not organic? Making my thinking explicit?
I'd argue that what you call "organic and alive" is an approach which is prone to fail (and/or be slow) because participants are unable (or unwilling) to clearly express their positions and thinking. Much hand waving is going on, misunderstandings abound since so much is unsaid/just implicitly said - and in the end a reasonable discussion turns ad hominem. Sad. So much good will wasted.

I'm sorry again that you seem to misunderstand my intention: I never claimed my definition had any special value! (Except maybe for myself.) I just put it here as one definition to explain my thinking and maybe motivate discussion about its aspects.

What you might not like is that any drawn line is fixed as soon as it's drawn. I agree that would not be alive/organic.
But it would be a fallacy to conclude from any drawn line that it was fixed, just because your experience has been that people with a fixed mindset are quick to draw lines.

Yes, I drew a line. But that's what you do when there is "chaos": you act (I'm referring to the Cynefin framework here). I gave the perceived chaos around the term Zettelkasten some order by drawing a line. I divided what is a Zettelkasten (in my view) from what it's not. A duality was created.

It seems, you dislike what I have done on two levels:

1. You don't like where I drew the line
2. You don't like that I drew a line

I can perfectly well understand your first dislike. But I follow you on the second one.

Just because there is a community - in my humble experience with many community over the course of the past 30 years - clear statements don't need to be absent. You yourself are a friend of drawing lines, making statements, having your own opinion and uttering it - and at the same time think of yourself (at least I guess) as open minded. You don't feel a contradiction between clarity (a visible line drawn) and willingness to redraw the line. Or am I mistaken?

When is a heap of sand a heap and when is it a bunch of of grains?

It's funny you're alluding to Eubulides. Because in my view his paradox is an example how important definitions are. He's one of the reason's why I'm so interested in definitions, or maybe "clear positions".

An example from software development: Customers have a hard time to describe, what they want. That's why iterations are so important: You quickly show them what you understood they might want - and that enables them to express more clearly what they really want. As soon as the customer has something tangible in her hands she can feel/see a contrast compared to what so far had been inexpressible for her.

And it was the same with you: as soon as you saw my definition you were able to see a contrast with your own mental model of a Zettelkasten. I imagine that to be the case with many community members. Drawn lines tend to draw reactions from people

• @ralfw said:

Your concept is so wide what you can't say my long walk is not part of my Zettelkasten.

I'm sorry to see a misunderstanding: I never claimed my definition to be final. It was just my definition at some point in time - and at least I'm feeling free to change it when coming across interesting insights.

What you're implying, though, it seems is that a definition needs to be narrow. Why should that be? A definition can be as broad or narrow as is helpful. A definition is just another tool.

Or walking is me applying my version of the Zettelkasten Method.
My brain is my Zettelkasten.

Yes, why not? Filling you "wet Zettelkasten" while walking. I like that And it's in line with the notion of Tiago's "2nd brain", I'd say.

You're right in that your brain would fall under my definition of a Zettelkasten. And I take that as a validation of my definition
At the same time, though, you're right that that could not possibly what I meant. So let me add this to my definition:

• Recordings and connections are made explicitly on some medium outside one's body

Now your brain's not a Zettelkasten anymore.

This is exactly what I meant. You are not playing the language-game. This is just another modification of a already dead machine.

I do not object to your definition. I object that your method of finding any definition is not able to produce something that is alive. You are trying to capture a wholeness by forcing parts together.

There is a technical reason why such attempts to define concepts like yours do not work. They are not organic and alive enough. They don't allow for the necessary language-game.

What in my attempt is not organic? Making my thinking explicit?
I'd argue that what you call "organic and alive" is an approach which is prone to fail (and/or be slow) because participants are unable (or unwilling) to clearly express their positions and thinking. Much hand waving is going on, misunderstandings abound since so much is unsaid/just implicitly said - and in the end a reasonable discussion turns ad hominem. Sad. So much good will wasted.

I'm sorry again that you seem to misunderstand my intention: I never claimed my definition had any special value! (Except maybe for myself.) I just put it here as one definition to explain my thinking and maybe motivate discussion about its aspects.

What you might not like is that any drawn line is fixed as soon as it's drawn. I agree that would not be alive/organic.

Anything and organic that is alive is self-organising. It is made out of layers that are either fragile or antifragile in relationship to another.

Your forcing parts together or ripping parts away is not capable to give birth to something alive because you are starting with dead parts. To create something living you need to start with something living. That is not a definition. This forum is giving birth to that living thing: By playing the game. Many living familiars, personal Zettelkastens, are emerging and the appropriate thing is to give some advice for nurturing and educating the little creatures.

You might ask for a clear definition but there will be non (I hope) for quite a long time because the question on what a Zettelkasten is will be answered -- in some way -- by the collective game that gives birth to a community and a culture. It will be a strong shared feeling instead of a abstract thought.

You might be a bit out of touch with that feeling because you are not taking part in a reciprocal manner it seems. You are mainly putting out your thoughts and reacting to reactions.

That is fine. More than fine. Experience reports on tools are quite important.

But it would be a fallacy to conclude from any drawn line that it was fixed, just because your experience has been that people with a fixed mindset are quick to draw lines.

Yes, I drew a line. But that's what you do when there is "chaos": you act (I'm referring to the Cynefin framework here). I gave the perceived chaos around the term Zettelkasten some order by drawing a line. I divided what is a Zettelkasten (in my view) from what it's not. A duality was created.

It seems, you dislike what I have done on two levels:

1. You don't like where I drew the line
2. You don't like that I drew a line

I can perfectly well understand your first dislike. But I follow you on the second one.

Just because there is a community - in my humble experience with many community over the course of the past 30 years - clear statements don't need to be absent. You yourself are a friend of drawing lines, making statements, having your own opinion and uttering it - and at the same time think of yourself (at least I guess) as open minded. You don't feel a contradiction between clarity (a visible line drawn) and willingness to redraw the line. Or am I mistaken?

When is a heap of sand a heap and when is it a bunch of of grains?

It's funny you're alluding to Eubulides. Because in my view his paradox is an example how important definitions are. He's one of the reason's why I'm so interested in definitions, or maybe "clear positions".

The paradox is an example of not having any reasonable boundary for a definition. There are phenomena that have definite cases but no clear boundaries. And there is a realm where are no clear boundaries and drawing boundaries is a results of inappropriate ways to act in this realm.

An example from software development: Customers have a hard time to describe, what they want. That's why iterations are so important: You quickly show them what you understood they might want - and that enables them to express more clearly what they really want. As soon as the customer has something tangible in her hands she can feel/see a contrast compared to what so far had been inexpressible for her.

And it was the same with you: as soon as you saw my definition you were able to see a contrast with your own mental model of a Zettelkasten. I imagine that to be the case with many community members. Drawn lines tend to draw reactions from people

No. I didn't contrast my mental model to any of your's. I just saw the fallacy that underlies your thinking that is: Something alive can arise from forcing dead parts.

I am a Zettler

• I guess I now got what you mean.

However, I still disagree with your view that your approach is the only, what?, reasonable or viable one, and I'm stumbling from fallacy to fallacy. But never mind. All's well for me.

Yours truly

Dr. Victor Frankenstein

• @ralfw said:
However, I still disagree with your view that your approach is the only, what?, reasonable or viable one,

No, it isn't. Of course, I think it is the best because if I wouldn't I'd change it.

and I'm stumbling from fallacy to fallacy. But never mind. All's well for me.

The fallacy might be the reason why you are one step behind like the hare against the hodge. But it is not a good reason to stopp to run for fun.

Yours truly

Dr. Victor Frankenstein

Haha. You got it.

Have a nice one.

I am a Zettler

• @ralfw : Good write-up Ralf, clear, interesting. Your idea about what constitutes a Zettelkasten and what it is used for is what it is. Your use case is yours and is what suits you best. And thus your definition cannot be too broad by definition because the definition of a Zettelkasten has evolved over the years, esp. in this era of electronics.

BTW, I started off my note-taking life with Evernote 7 years ago, and dropped it 2 years later. I drifted to a number of other apps, particularly looking for a Zettelkasten-type app; I won't list them all here; suffice to say I did also use what is supposed to be a typical Zk app: ZKN3.

In the process I also became a markdown freak, the main reason being portability. Changing note-taking apps and/or computers drove that point home to me. I wanted my notes/files in a folder that I had access to and that I could save to a flash drive and copy to another device without losing anything. 1st having to export to another format is not acceptable to me.

Furthermore, even though markdown is a fantastic invention, it sometimes does not allow me to do what I want, such as e.g. coloured text. For those cases I use HTML - I needed an app that supports both. And the app should be cross-platform.

To make a long story short, I now use 2 apps that fulfil my criteria: Typora and VNote. The 1st one I use to make unlinked notes in markdown, such as my daily journal entries, while the 2nd one I use as …… yep, my "Zettelkasten". I won't go into details about my Zk, though I am sure @sfast and perhaps @ctietze would not agree with my use of the term "Zettelkasten".

VNote is more advanced and more mature than Typora, although the latter is more advanced than many of its peers, incl. Bear.