Zettelkasten Forum


Anybody using a digital Zettelkasten without backlinks? Would love to hear your experience

Greetings,
after testing several note keeping Apps for my second brain, I see Apple Notes is the best choice for me, but I'd lose backlinks (I've been testing Obsidian for some month, it's great, but not for me).
(I think I'll open another thread sharing my thoughts about the reasons why I want to move to Apple Notes: I don't want to weight this post down)

So this solution would take me back to the old Zettelkasten concept: each note has a UID, and I refer to the note by that UID. Period.

Anybody using a digital Zettelkasten without backlinks?
Would love to hear your experience.

Thank you!

Comments

  • @IvanFerrero

    I haven't kept up with Apple Notes sufficiently to appreciate any recent developments. Can it even do forward links - that is, a link you can click on which will take you to another Apple note? Without that, you'd be stuck searching on a UID each time you wanted to jump from one note to another - very cumbersome. And what about tags? Thinking about my own workflow, and particularly how I create new links and generally maintain my ZK, using Notes seems totally unworkable.

    Out of curiosity, why would you select Notes over The Archive?

  • @IvanFerrero

    I've been using Obsidian without backlinks for two months, and I'd say I've been having a blast.

    I highly advise against using backlinks.

    It doesn't matter how a backlink is created.[1] Backlinks aren't automatic only when the program you use makes them.[1] If you manually create backlinks by habit, it's also automatic.[1] It's like breathing. We breathe manually, but because we do it so often, it's almost automatic.

    Backlinks are bad links because they lack link contexts.[1] Without link contexts, you don't create knowledge. Also, they don't tell you why you should follow them, so you waste your time if you look at them.[1]

    Would love to hear your reasons for using backlinks.


    References:

    [1] S. Fast, “Backlinking is not very useful - often even harmful,” Zettelkasten, Nov. 12, 2020. https://www.zettelkasten.de/posts/backlinks-are-bad-links/ (accessed Apr. 18, 2021).

  • I'm a bit confused I think on the notion of "using" a backlink. Any link, with thoughtful cause/association, generates what we refer to as backlinks.

    The cycle A->B, B->A, makes every note in the set of backlinks.
    If you mean explicitly creating a backlink B->A EVERY TIME you created A->B then bl aren't the problem, the lack of thought in link generation and contextualization is at issue -- which I think was sfast's point: when linking becomes automated and thoughtless we loose control of our ZK.

    Suppose you had three notes each which are mathematical theroems T1, T2, T3 with the same resulting corrolary C. It might be natural to implicate the corrolary by linking to it in the theroems. I.e. create an "implies" link from each T to C.

    Surely knowing which items each imply a result is important: which is just the exploration of the set of backlinked notes. I will concede that having the backlinks explicit in the note is not very useful - but a method of finding them is.

    Fun:
    1. What is the intersection of the backlink sets of all notes linked to in a structure note?
    2. In the physically zk, what are we doing when we peek behind a particular note A2?

    I'd summarize by saying: habitually writing down backlinks is counterproductive. Knowing the set of backlinked notes for a given note is implicitly useful.

  • edited September 24

    I use a simular stratagy as @bradfordfournier. Forward and backward links are just links. From the perspective of a particular note, all its links pair it with target notes. From the perspective of a target note, all its links pair it with other target notes. IF the idea expressed in the target note pairs with the idea in the original note, I create a link that is unlike any other link. This may happen at note creation or during future refactoring. Links don't do anything but pair ideas. There is no directional movement.

    Sans experience, one might think that if notes are paired with a link, then both should contain links to each other, and if I create one side of the pair, wouldn't it be great if the software automatically created the other side of the pair? But this automaticity is counterproductive and is bad. It robs you of the very cognitive exercises that grow knowledge; mapping context and concepts, cross-examining ideas, inciting rethinking, mentally testing connections, etc. This is why link density is a good measure of how involved one is with knowledge building.

    explicitly creating a backlink B->A EVERY TIME you created A->B then bl aren't the problem, the lack of thought in link generation and contextualization is at issue -- which I think was sfast's point: when linking becomes automated and thoughtless we loose control of our ZK.

    I wish I could show a concrete example. Every example I find needs a long, convoluted back story, only I would understand, to express why I choose to pair two notes and not the reciprocal. In searching for an example, I realized that while this is my practice to interrogate each idea before creating a link, I still navigate almost exclusively via full-text search, relying on links very little. For me, they are the evidence of my dancing with the idea expressed. Linking is most of the "fun" of zettelkasting.

    Maybe I need more experience with zettelkasting and writing in general. Incremental practice will get us there.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a futzing, second-guessing, backtracking, compulsive oversharing, ZK-maniac, in other words, your typical zettelnant.
    Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing, Cognitive Workload, Python, Data Science
    kestrelcreek.com

  • I use the same system, (connecting "forward" by uuid)
    but implicitly you already have the backlinks, doing a search in all the notes for the uuid of the note you are working on..

  • I'm sorry for the (huge) delay.

    I thank you all for the replies: now I see I made a mistake (confusion?).
    @Dilan_Zelsky my original concern was: I'd lose bidirectional links, and now I see everything may be a link, and I like the concept of "directional link".

    @bradfordfournier and @Will you're right, A --> B may differ (and it's not the same) from B --> A: it's a different meaning.

    And I can replicate such movement even on plain text, and I can get such "directional links" by merely searching for the UID, as @crlsh says.

    @GeoEng51 I prefer Apple Notes simply because I'm full Apple right now, and Notes is instantly synced in the background, works offline and has other features.
    It also has a kind of machine learning when searching for a term in order to show you the "best" results.
    If you insert images or PDFs you can also search inside of them.
    And since I use a Mac, I can use the App Exporter to export all of the Notes in Markdown if/when I want to go away.
    The App also keeps images and PDFs embedded into the Markdown files.

  • @IvanFerrero said:
    @GeoEng51 I prefer Apple Notes simply because I'm full Apple right now, and Notes is instantly synced in the background, works offline and has other features.
    It also has a kind of machine learning when searching for a term in order to show you the "best" results.
    If you insert images or PDFs you can also search inside of them.
    And since I use a Mac, I can use the App Exporter to export all of the Notes in Markdown if/when I want to go away.
    The App also keeps images and PDFs embedded into the Markdown files.

    Interesting and thanks for your response. I am also "full on Apple". Are you able to link from one note to another?

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    Interesting and thanks for your response. I am also "full on Apple". Are you able to link from one note to another?

    Kind of…and it’s a real pain…
    You can get the link to the note, but you have several steps (too many, IMHO):
    1) click the share button
    2) pretend you share the note with yourself, but with a different email address, but don’t share for real, just insert the other email address
    3) now a link to the note should appear, or at least an option to copy the link should appear

    I don’t for sure since I’m resulting to my memory, but it’s something like this.

    It’s something pretty useless anyway.

    Oh BTW: after iOS15 Notes has tags to ;-)

  • @IvanFerrero

    I'm glad that you thought about backlinks.

    @Ivan Ferrero said:
    Kind of…and it’s a real pain… You can get the link to the note, but you have several steps (too many, IMHO)

    One of the criteria for a Zettelkasten software is that you can create notes quickly without effort. To me, this program doesn't seem like a good choice.

    I get it that it might have neat features, but perhaps you could do without them. Just develop conventions and stick to them.

    E.g.: I don't have Obsidian's sync feature, so instead I make manual backups every so often. Also, it doesn't have any machine learning for the search. Searching for link candidates for me boils down to looking for terms, tags, and following links in notes. That's it.

  • @Dilan_Zelsky said:
    One of the criteria for a Zettelkasten software is that you can create notes quickly without effort. To me, this program doesn't seem like a good choice.

    But creating notes is very easy, and you can automate some process by using the Shortcuts and Siri.
    Most of the times I create new note on the go by dictating to Siri: I don't even need to take my phone out from my pocket.

    The only pain is if you want to get the link to a note.

    I get it that it might have neat features, but perhaps you could do without them. Just develop conventions and stick to them.

    I agree with you.
    The secret, as per with all the Apps, is to develop a System that doesn't rely to some "secret" feature of the specific App.
    This way you can move away whenever you want without corrupting your brain.
    It means keeping the System as simple as possible in the features needed to keep it running.

    i.e. I use Apple Notes as a text note taking App (though it allows handwriting and search for handwritten text).
    I only embed images and PDFs.
    This way I know I can export my notes in Markdown whenever I want without corrupting anything ;-)

  • @IvanFerrero

    The only pain is if you want to get the link to a note.

    I misinterpreted you. My apologies.

    You seem happy with your app and I'm glad about that. Have fun with it!

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