Zettelkasten Forum


The case for a digital folgezettel

Folgezettel is seen only as a solution to the physical nature of the Zettelkasten, and that UID's have a direct advantage over it.

While true, it doesn't mean that you should only be exclusive to one method; they can actually be complementary.

This essay makes the case that a Digital Folgezettel is indeed a helpful tool for beginning Zettlers. (whatever you call 'em)

When I started using the Zettelkasten method, I just used the UID system as instructed by @ctietze and @sfast in their overview articles. This worked fine, and as most of you have already experienced, it's awesome to use in a Digital Zettelkasten. But I felt like I'm constantly having a problem with connecting my notes, even though I already have a pre-determined workflow of connecting them based on the Types of Links article:

My priority of connecting new Zettels goes like this:

  1. I look at the index. The index contains broad topics that have formed within the Zettelkasten, so it's the best place to start. Indexes show the promising trains of thought you're currently progressing, so it makes sense to start here. This builds upon the premise of "direct links are the strongest types of links."
  2. I look at the tags. Well, it's as simple as clicking the tags you just put in your new Zettel. If your title summarizes the content of your zettel, then it becomes even easier to find relevant notes from the tagged notes.
  3. Lastly, I search for keywords. This is based on your intuition and what words you think are present in your previous notes. But as Christian says, it is an unreliable method of connecting notes because you might find that you're using different terms to describe the same thing over time.

That worked fine, but I felt like something's off for me. (as a newbie Zettler)

I figured that the problem with using UID's alone is it requires you to either create an index for your promising trains of thought, or go through a rabbit hole inside a certain note just to see your thought trains. In other words, it's hard to visualize your thought trains in a UID-based system since it isn't organized in any way.

Some scripts are available in the forum for visualization and backlinking, but they still didn't feel right for me; I was still struggling to develop my thought trains in an easy way. But don't get me wrong; it's definitely worth your time to find a connection inside the Zettelkasten. I just felt like it could be faster. (Experienced users of UID systems don't experience much of a problem and seem to love the complexity, though.)

To be fair, UID systems make it easy to go through direct links because all you have to do is click on them. It's maximum flexibility.. Folgezettel systems don't have this advantage; you still have to manually search for the mentioned direct link before you can get to it. For example, when {1a} links to {6b}, you still have to search for {6b} inside your archive and continue from there. This isn't a problem when you're working with a small archive, but when it gets bigger, (and it will) it becomes a black hole that sucks the hell out of your short life.

So, to solve this problem, I tried to get the best of both worlds; a hybrid method that combines the ease of visualization of a Folgezettel and the wiki-linking of digital UID systems.(Hat tip to @argonsnorts)

Folgezettel Makes Visualization Easy

In case you forgot, Folgezettel means "note sequences." They're what Luhmann used (initially, I guess? Not sure.) to navigate his physical Zettelkasten without complaining at least once. If patience determined the size of his pecs, he'd be a goddamn piece of meat who walks funny.

Aside from bodybuilding jokes, because Folgezettel is arranged alphanumerically, it makes thought trains easier to visualize; a useful trait especially if you have a physical archive. In a Digital Folgezettel, though, I found it helpful to easily see existing trains without manually creating structure notes for them. See for yourself:

And inside some notes, you'd see that I link using UID's:

So by clicking on it, I can see what other notes connect to this one.

As you can see, I found another novel set of connections: Thought Train No.3.{3, 3a, 3b}

My point is, linking doesn't end in the Folgezettel; rather, it shouldn't. You should always find links to other notes whenever possible. As you've seen, that act of linking creates surprise when you connect, say, the thought train from Zettel {1a} to {6b} as shown below:

So yeah, Folgezettel isn't just about creating note sequences, it's also about connecting one thought train to another. By the way, for those interested, I got this idea from Daniel Ludecke's presentation on the Zettelkasten Method.

But just to be clear, let me tell you that Folgezettel does not mean hierarchy. When I saw argonsnorts post about it, I thought a Digital implementation of Folgezettel was a hierarchical method of creating notes and combined the decentralized characteristic of UID-systems. I even commented on it; but I'd be wrong.

After seeing that, I reviewed how the Folgezettel worked, and then finally understood that it actually meant a direct, obvious connection between notes. Here's a picture of it from the zettelkasten.de blog, for your convenience:
(

In the image above from this article, you'll see that {1a} and {1b} are Folgezettel to {1}—they continue a sequence from note {1}. Obviously, "banana bread" and "flour bread" doesn't necessarily connect to each other. That shows that Folgezettel doesn't mean hierarchy; it simply states a direct, obvious connection to the note it branched off of.

Folgezettel for Dummies

With that out of the way, here's what I think is the best way to implement a Digital Folgezettel. For example, I have notes like:

  • 1 What is a zettelkasten
  • 1a Luhman used Zettelkasten to 10X his productivity
  • 1b Zettelkasten frees your brain's resources
  • 1b1 Zettelkasten as an idea scaffold
  • 1c Proactive Writing is productive writing
  • 1c1 Zettelkasten makes writing fun and productive
  • 2 Motivation is anticipation
  • 2a Motivation-ability tradeoffs
  • 3 Perceived Ability & Resources

The numbers {1} {2} would represent new trains of thought. That's because I've created a rule that: new numbers don't directly imply a connection. This is especally helpful when finding a topic to link to. If I just saw "the word Zettelkasten" on number {1}, then I'd instantly know it's going to go down the Zettelkasten rabbit hole. In that sense, the size of the Zettelkasten doesn't become a problem; I can easily move from one train to another by looking at the numbers.

Numbers can do that, like in the case of 2 and 3 (they're related by the Fogg's Behavior Model) but this is not always the case. Letters, on the other hand, do imply a direct connection; it connects {1a} and {1b} to zettel {1}. This means note 1, 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, and so on form a single thought train.

Final Thoughts

Since discovering this method, I've been addicted to working with my Zettelkasten. Actually, I just accidentally wrote this article while I was working on my thoughts. (That almost doesn't happen in real life.)

Also, I found it really easy to implement the Folgezettel + UID system in Zettlr. (I use Windows, folks.) I just click on the "sort alphabetically" icon and it's instantly organized into easy-to-follow thought sequences. Cool stuff. For The Archive users out there, you can check out the post where I got this idea here.

Anyway, let's see how this method would hold up in the future. If I run out of letters, I'll use the Greek alphabet. Numbers don't run out, obviously.

This essay was originally published at my site, Improveism.com

P.S. Please let me know if there are any factual errors, aside from that, let's have yet another insightful discussion!

I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

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Comments

  • So, if I understand you well, @improveism, you use 2 sets of numbers: the UIDs (format YYYYMMDDHHmmss) and the Folgezettel numbers. Correct?

    If so, don't Folgezettel encourage, if not force, following a certain route (thought train) thus reducing the chance of serendipity?

  • @Peter said:
    So, if I understand you well, @improveism, you use 2 sets of numbers: the UIDs (format YYYYMMDDHHmmss) and the Folgezettel numbers. Correct?

    Yes, the purpose of the Folgezettel numbers is easier organization. The purpose of UID's are for easier linking to other notes.

    If so, don't Folgezettel encourage, if not force, following a certain route (thought train) thus reducing the chance of serendipity?

    That's a good question. It might seem that way in theory, but using the UID's seems to mitigate that "forced" effect. Surely, Folgezettel 'seems' to force zettels to connect to a single sequence—but in practice, it's actually a good thing. I keep the "Folgezettel link" (ie 1, 1a, 1a1) only to the most obvious connections, and direct links to less obvious, more serendipitous ones.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @argonsnorts used a comma separator between the nodes of the folgezettel number.
    @improveism I am curious, what was thinking about not using them?
    Luhmann used a separator on the first node:

    That image is from this post by Sascha that you referenced in your OP.

  • @MikeBraddock said:
    @argonsnorts used a comma separator between the nodes of the folgezettel number.
    @improveism I am curious, what was thinking about not using them?

    I actually tried the same thing but Zettlr didn't sort {1,a} and {1} correctly so I tried eliminating separators—until it worked. :lol:

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • You could shorten the Luhmann-ID by removing every seperator. If you alternate between numbers and letters it would be unambiguous.

    I am a Zettler

  • What happens when you get to Folgezettel 101? Is that a first node branch from Folgezettel chain 10 or the beginning of the 101st folgezettel chain?

    We are all new pondering these ideas. Luhmann seemed to use a separator for the first node.

    @sfast I see what you are saying.

    The above would be

    {10a} instead of {10,1} and

    {101} would be the 101st Folgezettel chain.

    @sfast We are all going bonkers for Folgezettels. How's that blog post coming? :)
    I am excited to see what you tell us about this.

  • Cool write up @improveism . Thanks for the hat tip.

    Regarding the syntax of the bracketed IDs, I use separators and a space at the end {2,2,c,1,b } because otherwise the sort function I use didn't sort them properly. I'd prefer a shorter/cleaner scheme, but what can you do.

  • @argonsnorts you are a genius. I love what you did. I love the commas too. The numbers and letters makes me cross-eyed.

  • @MikeBraddock I think the 101 problem comes with ASCII sorting, which can be turned off in Zettlr. (not sure for other software, though)

    @argonsnorts Thanks! You're a genius, man.

    Just a quick edit for more clarity, my version of Folgezettel works more like this:

    New first numbers would be treated as a new note sequence.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @MikeBraddock said:
    @sfast We are all going bonkers for Folgezettels. How's that blog post coming? :)
    I am excited to see what you tell us about this.

    Already drafted and now in the editing pipe on Christian's side. I hope that I'll can drag you from this Folgezettel madness. :lol:

    I am a Zettler

  • This makes me think of this. These discussions are so much fun!

  • Interesting essay @improveism!

    I've build my hacky zettelkasten so that it when I create a zettel, it automatically, and bidirectionally, links to the zettel I was just reading. On the newly created zettels, these links
    are labeled as Origin and software prompts me for a label on the other side.

    Now, this allows me to draw parts of my zettelkasten as trees by following the origin-links only. Up to recently, I've been adding notes without any regard to folgezettel idea and the trees I get are like the one attached below. They are shallow and wide (contrast this with the 'folgezettel'-zettel below, where I consciously tried to do differently).

    I think paying some attention on building longer threads useful. If for nothing else, navigating shallow and wide trees is a hassle.

    1DE286B2-AAB5-40C4-A3E1-3F5AD80530F9-my-zettelkasten
    ├─ 734B1AD0-BAAA-4276-A250-C694454BC7B6-inline-embedded-code
    ├─ CEC17D3E-0D04-4D30-89BF-ADF8A709D376-elucidation
    ├─ 07D06FA4-DA06-4F1B-9A64-6B7ED055DF31-zettelkasten-ideas-from-information-mapping
    │  └ 19F3AE04-9E75-4F0E-9625-5E11FC037624-how-to-visually-structure-zettels
    ├─ B5AD85D0-F8B7-4DBA-BCF4-A7B5687E465A-luhmann-on-communicating-with-slipboxes
    ├─ 77D8ECF7-C908-418C-A872-7A231D9E661B-executable-zettels
    │  ├─ 755AFA0E-38E8-4245-8477-849CB41E2E11-embedding-stuff-in-zettels
    │  │  └ 73475B21-9E3B-4FD3-A456-8F4A1EF966F8-idea-terminal-markup-language
    │  └ 8D0A744B-0FE2-4DAB-9C3A-90E305110B57-plan-for-ui-of-executable-zettels
    ├─ 03FD0976-47C1-49C8-B844-88AA9A471B43-the-purpose-of-origin-links
    │  ├─ 41E01EEC-5D8B-46FA-A6E3-396167FD6E8C-maxim-all-zettels-must-have-context
    │  └ 2020-3-30-evening-⟦ᤍᤍ⟧-folgezettel       <----- See difference here
    │     └ 2020-3-30-evening-⟦ᤀད⟧-folgezettel-and-origin-links
    │        └ 2020-3-30-evening-⟦↙ལ⟧-use-of-continuation-zettels
    │           └ 2020-3-30-evening-⟦ᤞ2⟧-folgezettel-navigation-and-tools
    ├─ 2020-3-27-afternoon-⟦ཟᤌ⟧-about-zettelkastens-and-knowledge-processing
    └ 67E2EFEF-273E-48A0-B388-BAD02E3E0E64-deprecations
    

    (the graph above doesn't show links between zettels other than the 'origin'.)

  • @discordian This is amazing!

    At first glance, people might think this is hierarchical, but if you look at the thinking behind it, it's really a flat structure that arranges the collection Folgezettel-style.

    Great work!

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @sfast said:
    Already drafted and now in the editing pipe on Christian's side. I hope that I'll can drag you from this Folgezettel madness. :lol:

    I know you don't like, nay fiercely disapprove of, Folgezettel, but why do you call it madness? If it works for certain people, makes them feel more at ease, gives them what they feel are better results, why would you need to drag them away from it?

    A Zettelkasten in the digital age has, to some degree, evolved away from the original concept, but if there is an original feature that someone would like to use, why not? Isn't diversity what makes the world , incl. the Zettelkasten world, so interesting?

  • @Peter

    I am a bit hyperbolic. :smile:

    The theory that the sun circled the earth felt right for some people. But I think we might agree that it is not the bad thing that only a minority of people still adhere to the old ways, don't we. :smile:

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    The theory that the sun circled the earth felt right for some people. But I think we might agree that it is not the bad thing that only a minority of people still adhere to the old ways, don't we. :smile:

    That doesn't answer @Peter's question in useful way, though. The way you answered made me feel like you're defending a religion/dogma.

    But personally, I honestly would like to know with an open mind the objective reasons why you disapprove of Folgezettel.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @improveism

    Perhaps, my irony is swallowed by my English. :wink:

    I am a Zettler

  • @improveism said:
    That doesn't answer Peter's question in useful way, though. The way you answered made me feel like you're defending a religion/dogma.

    But personally, I honestly would like to know with an open mind the objective reasons why you disapprove of Folgezettel.

    @improveism, as you know, I had quite a discussion here about Folgezettel. And although I agree with @sfast that Folgezettel are not useful in a digital Zk, I can understand that there are those, even with a large number of zettels like @pseudoevagrius, who do find them useful.

    That is why I cannot quite understand why Sascha refers to it as Folgezettel "madness" and why he seems to be on a mission to "drag people away from it".

    I don't understand his "sun circling earth" analogy, nor his reluctance (if that's what it is) to let others enjoy Fogezettel.

  • Maybe he was making a joke and trying to be humorous? He did use smiley faces?

  • @Peter said:
    @improveism, as you know, I had quite a discussion here about Folgezettel. And although I agree with @sfast that Folgezettel are not useful in a digital Zk, I can understand that there are those, even with a large number of zettels like @pseudoevagrius, who do find them useful.

    That is why I cannot quite understand why Sascha refers to it as Folgezettel "madness" and why he seems to be on a mission to "drag people away from it".

    I don't understand his "sun circling earth" analogy, nor his reluctance (if that's what it is) to let others enjoy Fogezettel.

    Haha, I have same concerns here. To the best of my knowledge, I think he sees Folgezettel has low or negligible value because of the digital/UID advantages. (Btw thanks for linking to @pseudoevagrius I'm gonna check him out now)

    But since there are people who have Folgezettel systems that work, then that means that statement "UID is king" has a potential to be disproven or at least, refined into a more precise version. The reason I used a hybrid folgezettel + uid system is to get the best of both worlds, though.

    @MikeBraddock said:
    Maybe he was making a joke and trying to be humorous? He did use smiley faces?

    It came off sarcastic to implicitly equate Folgezettel to a disproven belief, though. In other news, I want to learn @sfast's side, too. He's the most experienced here, hence the most qualified to dispute our false assumptions regarding Folgezettel.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @improveism said:
    Haha, I have same concerns here. To the best of my knowledge, I think he sees Folgezettel has low or negligible value because of the digital/UID advantages. (Btw thanks for linking to @pseudoevagrius I'm gonna check him out now)

    @pseudoevagrius comment about his 12,000 zettels is here, and, for the record, I got it from @MikeBraddock on this page.

    It came off sarcastic to implicitly equate Folgezettel to a disproven belief, though.

    I felt that too, but we must have misunderstood.

    In other news, I want to learn @sfast's side, too. He's the most experienced here, hence the most qualified to dispute our false assumptions regarding Folgezettel.

    I believe Christian is at least as experienced as Sascha because the former introduced the latter to Zk, if memory serves.

  • Guys. Calm down. Am I the only internet around or what?

    The correct answer to my Folgezettel madness is: THIS IS SPARTA!

    But ok. My humor is not warranted. Back to the original German way with no fun and just plain bad English.


    @Peter wrote:
    I don't understand his "sun circling earth" analogy, nor his reluctance (if that's what it is) to let others enjoy Fogezettel.

    I don't see at "you do you and me do me". I see disadvantages in using it. The upcoming blogpost will clarify my position. I am in this game to help people even if they fight me off. :smile:

    @improveism wrote:
    In other news, I want to learn @sfast's side, too. He's the most experienced here, hence the most qualified to dispute our false assumptions regarding Folgezettel.

    @Peter wrote:
    I believe Christian is at least as experienced as Sascha because the former introduced the latter to Zk, if memory serves.

    I am not sure if I am the most experienced in general. But I am a bit peeved that there is persistent rumor that Christian introduced me to the Zettelkasten Method. He introduced me to the plain text approach, though. But that was a long and painful process, painful mostly for him because I harassed him for being such a nerd.. :wink:

    Our eternal love (#nohomo) is founded on our independent discovery of the Zettelkasten Method and especially the famous article by Luhmann.


    Perhaps, my writing is a bit loaded because to me it is a decade ago that I worked that Folgezettel thing out. So, give this old horse some slack.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    Guys. Calm down. Am I the only internet around or what?

    The correct answer to my Folgezettel madness is: THIS IS SPARTA!

    But ok. My humor is not warranted. Back to the original German way with no fun and just plain bad English.

    Your and @ctietze's english are actually good!

    @Peter wrote:
    I don't understand his "sun circling earth" analogy, nor his reluctance (if that's what it is) to let others enjoy Fogezettel.

    I don't see at "you do you and me do me". I see disadvantages in using it. The upcoming blogpost will clarify my position. I am in this game to help people even if they fight me off. :smile:

    @improveism wrote:
    In other news, I want to learn @sfast's side, too. He's the most experienced here, hence the most qualified to dispute our false assumptions regarding Folgezettel.

    @Peter wrote:
    I believe Christian is at least as experienced as Sascha because the former introduced the latter to Zk, if memory serves.

    I am not sure if I am the most experienced in general. But I am a bit peeved that there is persistent rumor that Christian introduced me to the Zettelkasten Method. He introduced me to the plain text approach, though. But that was a long and painful process, painful mostly for him because I harassed him for being such a nerd.. :wink:

    Our eternal love (#nohomo) is founded on our independent discovery of the Zettelkasten Method and especially the famous article by Luhmann.


    Perhaps, my writing is a bit loaded because to me it is a decade ago that I worked that Folgezettel thing out. So, give this old horse some slack.

    We're looking forward to your blog post! Thanks for all the effort, @sfast.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @improveism said:
    Haha, I have same concerns here. To the best of my knowledge, I think he sees Folgezettel has low or negligible value because of the digital/UID advantages. (Btw thanks for linking to @pseudoevagrius I'm gonna check him out now)

    I don't know about madness and I (obviously!) don't speak for Sascha, but the disadvantage I'm seeing is that it adds needless overhead and complexity to (re-) introduce a separate, privileged structuring mechanism when, as far as I can tell, structure notes can easily serve the same purpose if and when wanted.

  • edited April 17

    @Eurobubba said:
    I don't know about madness and I (obviously!) don't speak for Sascha, but the disadvantage I'm seeing is that it adds needless overhead and complexity to (re-) introduce a separate, privileged structuring mechanism when, as far as I can tell, structure notes can easily serve the same purpose if and when wanted.

    Absolutely--this post got outdated by my current assumptions, though. I'm going to create a new version of this to explain the whole thing. In a nutshell, I've discovered:

    1. Note sequences are good for continuing thought trails. UID systems can do that, too. Note sequences just make it more convenient.
    2. Direct links devalue note sequences if the value is linking alone. I got Sascha's point here and fully understand it now (and I agree). But like I said in #1, the value comes from continuing thought trails, not linking alone. Therefore, some value still remains. But there was a problem. (more on this later)
    3. While structure notes easily serve the same purpose for developing ideas, Note sequences allows you to easily see how your ideas flow from the outside, at a glance.

    Problems regarding the old note sequencing method

    1. The binary tree problem. If you follow the convention listed in niklas-luhmann-archiv.de, you'll stumble upon the binary tree problem. Each note can only branch to two other ideas--which is far from ideal because you want unlimited branching.
    2. The proximity problem. Creative ideas that attempt to solve #1 but retain the convention would only make it worse--connected notes, say 1a and 1b, get pushed further and further away the moment 1a1 to 1a30 exist.

    Note Sequence 2.0 - My theoretical solution

    So yeah, after talking to Christian, I've developed another Note sequencing technique that still follows the same principles of the ZK organization. Take a look:

    One caveat, though--this isn't helpful anymore when using Physical collections. But I doubt someone is likely to use a physical collection now.

    I'm grateful for Christian keeping an open mind while discussing something he disagrees on. He's on a completely different level.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @improveism , I have a question. Luhmann used direct links between notes in his ZK. But this is not reflected in your "Old Folgezettel" diagram. I honestly do not understand how the "Note sequence 2.0" is not a diagram of Luhmann's original ZK practices. Can you please explain? Did I misunderstand the way the initial ZK was implemented?

  • @cobblepot That's correct--thanks for pointing out. Luhmann did use direct links even while using the old note sequence.

    I honestly do not understand how the "Note sequence 2.0" is not a diagram of Luhmann's original ZK practices. Can you please explain? Did I misunderstand the way the initial ZK was implemented?

    I'm currently constructing a comprehensive post to explain each of my findings to open it for discussion. But essentially, Luhmann's original ZK practices only allowed two branches per note (hence, binary tree) and he used direct links to connect one binary tree to the other. Christian and I talked about this as well as the other problem that emerges when you try to solve the binary tree problem.

    As a preview, I've attached the fruit of our discussion here.

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

  • @argonsnorts has said they use separators after every character
    So you get things like: 1,3,d,5.
    That gave me an idea to solve the tree problem.
    We could assign a double character id for every branch consisting of an alphanumeric pair.
    (the beginning can be kept the same) Like so 1-1-a1.
    The letter identifies the branch and number the note in sequence.

    So it would go like this:
    1-1 note
    1-2 continuation
    1-2-a1 branching from 1-2
    1-2-a2 continuation of 1-2-a1
    1-2-a3 continuation of 1-1-a2
    1-2-a3-a1 - branching from 1-2-a3
    1-2-a3-a2 cont.
    1-2-a3-a3 cont.
    1-2-a3-a4 cont.
    1-2-b1 another branch from 1-2
    1-2-a4 continuation of 1-2-a3
    1-3 continuation of 1-2
    2-1 something else entirely

    I suppose you could do without the separators but I find this easier on the eyes, plus one might mix things up.

    The initial pair already serves such function so it can be kept as is.

  • edited April 17

    @cobblepot it seems like the link didn't get included.

    @Shandi you should check this out, too—this clearly defines the problem

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/lgie7drzszwu13f/My Conversation with Christian Tietze 20200416170728 (2).pdf?dl=0

    I write about unconventional self-improvement advice at improveism.com

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