# The case for a digital folgezettel

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• @improveism , I still don't understand why you feel that having 2 branches per note is a problem. Notes are atomic, and note sequences are composed of many notes, leading to exponential growth in the number of possible sequences even with only 2 branches per individual note. Can you (or @ctietze ?) articulate the problem -- ideally with a concrete example rather than just abstract note numbers - that exists in the current system that you think is such a serious limitation?

It also seems to me that Shandi is correct. The ostensible limitation exists only because of the one-character letter/number extension for a new note branch. If we simply allowed/required 2 characters per new note "level", we get 100+ branches possible at every level without needing a new system.

• @cobblepot okay here's what Christian and I found:

Say you have note 1/1a. Using binary branches, the only notes you can have to "continue" this thought are 1/1b and 1/1a1.

But when a new note that's connected to 1/1a appears, then there's nowhere left to branch.

The result is you create another note sequence: 2/1 and connect it using direct links.

And that's exactly the problem: I might as well use UID's if I'm just going to use direct links over and over when something related to 1/1a comes up.

Anyway, I'll take note of that question when I create the longer explanation

• @improveism wrote:
But like I said in #1, the value comes from continuing thought trails, not linking alone.

This is a misconception of the levels of analysis. Links and Folgezettel are both methods to map connections between thoughts. To seperate the levels:

1. The level of the note.
2. The level underneath: The level of thought (or knowledge)

You can map thought trails also via Structure Zettel. A trail is structure (or pattern) in your Archive and can be mapped by Structure Zettel which is the very reason they exist (hierarchical structures are most prominent).

I am a Zettler

• @sfast said:

@improveism wrote:
But like I said in #1, the value comes from continuing thought trails, not linking alone.

This is a misconception of the levels of analysis. Links and Folgezettel are both methods to map connections between thoughts. To seperate the levels:

1. The level of the note.
2. The level underneath: The level of thought (or knowledge)

You can map thought trails also via Structure Zettel. A trail is structure (or pattern) in your Archive and can be mapped by Structure Zettel which is the very reason they exist (hierarchical structures are most prominent).

It's true that Structure Zettel allows you to continue a trail, but it doesn't necessarily devalue the Folgezettel's feature of showing these trails visibly from the list of notes—especially with the 2.0 method I mentioned earlier. (I find that merely typing a note title automatically shows all thoughts "next" to it, unlike the old Folgezettel method)

I think the new method is akin to automatically having a Structure Zettel for notated thoughts, albeit Structure Zettel can also be implemented to add value via explanations. Trails born from relationships of relationships (through direct links) would really require Structure Zettel, though.

But the point of the method is it removes much of the dependence on Structure Zettel. I'm not saying it won't be needed, because like I said, it can either add value or explain a relationship of relationships.

• Ayayay ... I did not advocate multidimensional branching. I said it's a help to postpone thing breaking down eventually. With a one-character scheme, you can switch numbers, lowercase characters, uppercase characters, and symbols. Or you use two letters, as @Shandi and @cobblepot pointed out. This allows you to create more branches, but doesn't solve the underlying issues.

My (maybe stupid, since I repeat it so often) point is that Folgezettel and branches sound so cool in part because they pull related stuff close together. (Aka proximity.)

If you have note 1 and note 2, they are next to each other. When you intersperse a note between the two by branching off of 1, things look fine and useful. When you introduce 100 branches with 100 branches each below 1, you push 1 and 2 so far apart that their original proximity is effectively lost. They are not close to each other anymore; in a graph of IDs, conceptually, yes, they are still close; but in practice, where you look at a one dimensional list of notes, no. (That's a limitation of paper and computer file listings. May not be an issue when you use mapping tools like The Brain and such.)

My words from the message to @improveism:

In fact, proximity breaks down with use. It's fragile. It is not even stable. If you like the layout of notes today, the more you use your Zettelkasten, the more you'll deviate from the layout you fell in love with. It degrades. Something else will show up, but the original beauty of the e.g. proximity of topics that correspond to the example list above, poof, gone.

If proximity in general, and the proximity of two particular notes is important to you, then you will not be able to keep this. Prolonged use of your Zettelkasten will make you lose this piece of information. Their relation is not "encoded" in proximity in your file listing anymore when you put more files in between.

When you have an association today and Folgezettel-fy it, chances are that 10 years down the road there'll be so much more stuff at this location in your Folgezettel pseudo-hierarchy that the original association may not be clear to you anymore.

• Maybe the association and thus the placement and thus the whole Folgezettel chain turns out to not have been as important as you thought 10 years prior;
• or you also "encoded" (aka re-ified, encapsulated, hold-on-to) the relation in another note which lives on independently, also making the Folgezettel irrelevant because notes like this become more authoritative sources of old information.

Create a note that links to 1 and 2 and encapsulates their closeness in a way that's easy to consume. Tell your future self why you like that 1 and 2 are close together today. What's the relevance? What potential do you see? -- Once taken note of, that information is robust, it will not change on its own.

@improveism said:
I might as well use UID's if I'm just going to use direct links over and over when something related to 1/1a comes up.

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

• @ctietze I've addressed the proximity problem in the file I sent you, but I think my pictures didn't show it clearly.

Anyway, it'll take a while before I can make a follow-up post re: my arguments and modifications I made on the flawed Folgezettel technique prescribed in the luhmann website.

• I have been following these discussions and have gained much from all the dialog. The arguments for and against the value of folgezettel have been stimulating. That said, I do ultimately agree with @sfast who articulated why structure notes essentially render folgezettel useless, as well as the argument by @ctietze regarding the degradation of the the value of proximity. On the other hand, I understand that @improveism (and others) continue to find value in proximity.

This post is an attempt to reconcile the implementation of folgezettel (independent from agreement) without disruption of the base system of date-based ID's. It seems that @improveism is attempting to achieve at least two objectives:

1. Expand the limits of folgezettel branching
2. Preserve the perceived value provided by proximity through trains of thought

Regarding objective #2, this can be solved with a new type of note.

What I mean is that in addition to structure notes that create hierarchy, one can simply implement a new note-type for mapping proximity. So we would have:

• Structure Notes: Notes that impose structure.
• Proximity Notes: Notes that "preserve" thought trains.

So, utilizing @improveism proposal for branching we would have a Proximity Note that captures the following (for additional range you could implement the suggesting of @Shandi ):

1 [000000000000] Title Text
1a [000000000000] Title Text
1a1 [000000000000] Title Text
1a1a [000000000000] Title Text, see 1a2
1a1b [000000000000] Title Text
1a2 [000000000000] Title Text, see 1a1a
1a3 [000000000000] Title Text
1a4 [000000000000] Title Text
1b [000000000000] Title Text
1b1 [000000000000] Title Text
1b2 [000000000000] Title Text
1c [000000000000] Title Text

This new note-type would then preserve the thought trains because the user manually adds to a specific Proximity Note (and you can create as many as you want and even link between them). Then, to solve the problem of proximal degradation you can simply create a new Structure Note. (I included "links" in the example above between 1a1a and 1a2 for the sake of completeness, but those types of links may be better solved by internal liking with stable date-based ID's or structure notes anyway without making them explicit in the Proximity Note itself.) Because of the degradation of proximity and the seemingly hierarchal nature, this type of note could also be considered a type of "fleeting structure note."

Additionally, utilizing this new note type would allow experimentation within current archives without changing the stable date-based ID's, or manually prepending numerous files to implement something that can be captured through a Proximity Note. Also, by keeping the date-based ID, it makes possible for one to attempt to retroactively retrace trains of thought for creating Proximity Notes. And if Proximity Notes do not seem to be useful down the road they can be discarded. It doesn't change the system since stable date-based ID's are used for linking and Luhman numbering (or 2.0) would be used exclusively for mapping proximity.

In summary, I propose:

• Utilize stable date-based ID's to create and maintain stability in the system.
• Utilize Structure Notes for creating hierarchy (structured order of thoughts)
• Implement Proximity Notes for mapping proximity (fleeting trains of thoughts)

This approach is accommodating regardless of which side of the folgezettel camp one is on, but more importantly, it allows the beginner to just get started with a stable base-system, but also with the option of satisfying the "feeling" of value by proximity if desired, and without the disruption of the system if the Proximity Note is ultimately abandoned.

• edited April 2020

@Darryl Wait, let me create a new discussion re: the branching and proximity problem so you guys can clearly see my point. My new method does not care about proximity between 1a and 1b anymore--that's what makes it so special. It works more like a mind map. Except it's non hierarchical. Aight just a moment

• @improveism said:

@sfast said:

@improveism wrote:
But like I said in #1, the value comes from continuing thought trails, not linking alone.

This is a misconception of the levels of analysis. Links and Folgezettel are both methods to map connections between thoughts. To seperate the levels:

1. The level of the note.
2. The level underneath: The level of thought (or knowledge)

You can map thought trails also via Structure Zettel. A trail is structure (or pattern) in your Archive and can be mapped by Structure Zettel which is the very reason they exist (hierarchical structures are most prominent).

It's true that Structure Zettel allows you to continue a trail, but it doesn't necessarily devalue the Folgezettel's feature of showing these trails visibly from the list of notes—especially with the 2.0 method I mentioned earlier. (I find that merely typing a note title automatically shows all thoughts "next" to it, unlike the old Folgezettel method)

I think the new method is akin to automatically having a Structure Zettel for notated thoughts, albeit Structure Zettel can also be implemented to add value via explanations. Trails born from relationships of relationships (through direct links) would really require Structure Zettel, though.

But the point of the method is it removes much of the dependence on Structure Zettel. I'm not saying it won't be needed, because like I said, it can either add value or explain a relationship of relationships.

It is as automatic as using Structure Zettel.

You make an effort to give a Zettel a position. The rest takes are of itself. No difference to Structure Zettel.

I am a Zettler

• edited April 2020

But the point of the method is it removes much of the dependence on Structure Zettel. I'm not saying it won't be needed, because like I said, it can either add value or explain a relationship of relationships.

It is as automatic as using Structure Zettel.

You make an effort to give a Zettel a position. The rest takes are of itself. No difference to Structure Zettel.

The effort is the almost the same as finding a link, though, rather than creating a Structure Zettel. No--actually, because of notation, link prospects become easier to find.

Edit: Anyway, I still use Structure Zettel in conjunction with this method--it's totally valuable and I do think it's an irreplaceable element of the ZK method.

• Are you talking from experience or from theory?

I am a Zettler

• @sfast said:
Are you talking from experience or from theory?

Both. Assigning a note sequence ID to a note takes an effort similar to finding links in a UID system.

You haven't tried my actual method while I've tried both. If you want to test it out, I posted it here. @Darryl seems to explain it better than me, though.

Anyway, while I've yet to create a sort of comprehensive rulebook for this new technique, I'm already seeing it solve all problems with the Folgezettel--but only when combined with Structure Zettel for nonconspicuous trails only.

• @improveism
Both. Assigning a note sequence ID to a note takes an effort similar to finding links in a UID system.

1. How long did you test both techniques?
2. How did you measure the output to measure success?
3. How much is the productivity of both compared?
4. How did you measure the quality of text that is produced by either of the methods?

I am a Zettler

• edited April 2020

We've yet to test the results, thanks

But you're contradicting yourself by asking those questions. If you based the usefulness of a technique on those questions, then the original Luhmann Folgezettel would trump every method of yours—which clearly does not make sense because you've proven your methods more useful and in fact, superior than Luhmann's, despite having less experience and output than him.

Anyway, the point of my discussions isn't (yet) to prove which work best, or which technique produces the best quality or best productivity, but to share this technique with others so we learn about the possible gaps I can fill in in terms of feasibility. Based on your replies it seems to me you only care about proving it wrong and forcing the direction into your methods. But then, that's just how I see it. I might be wrong or I might have misinterpreted your replies.

In any case, I'll take those questions into account to prove its effectiveness. But right now, my research/testing efforts are directed toward the technique's usability and scalability.

• edited May 2020

@improveism
But you're contradicting yourself by asking those questions. If you based the usefulness of a technique on those questions, then the original Luhmann Folgezettel would trump every method of yours—which clearly does not make sense because you've proven your methods more useful and in fact, superior than Luhmann's, despite having less experience and output than him.

No, I did not prove anything.

But I measure myself against Luhmann. There is no data on connectivity yet but in total Zettel and text production I am way more productive as Luhmann. But I can't test just one single technique because we cannot erase confounding factors. Therefore, I only have tested

1. general productivity against time invested for me. (Zettel per day/session) (refinement of Structure Zettel in 2017 resulted in an increase of 10,04% of Zettel production). Introduction of Structure Zettel increased my production about several fold (no data measured but I doubled my productivity at least because I doubled my total Zettelcount in one year)
2. I measured myself against Luhmann and write more Zettel per day given the total time investment.
3. My Zettelkasten is too young to produce large amounts of books. The articles of my German blog are not measured. But the amount of research possible per time window increased as demonstrated by the amount of carefully researched evidence (superficial commentry work does not count)
4. The amount of written words per deep work session increased from 2000-3000 words to 4000-10000 per day by some refinement in 2017
5. Subjective increase in break through moments in that time period -- confirmed by Christian.

I do no extensively measure my work quantitative. Therefore, I have only few key data. However, I do track temporarily how different changes impact my productivity.

I do have less experience but I have way more output than Luhmann. At the moment, this is a claim that is not demonstrated in public. So, take this statement with the proper grain of salt.

I started using Structure Zettel back in 2015 consciously. The oldest Structure Zettel is from 2012 (happend to be one without intent). I used Folgezettel for a couple of years with various software solutions. So, there are some years of practice behind my work.

Post edited by sfast on

I am a Zettler

• @sfast said:

general productivity against time invested for me. (Zettel per day/session) (refinement of Structure Zettel in 2017 resulted in an increase of 10,04% of Zettel production). Introduction of Structure Zettel increased my production about several fold (no data measured but I doubled my productivity at least because I doubled my total Zettelcount in one year)

This is amazing—I might sound like I'm contradicting myself, but I honestly do find value in Structure Zettel. Much so that I've incorporated it in this new system.

Anyway, your productivity is crazy high, even on the lower end. This is the first time I've had a high sense of appreciation for it.

I started using Structure Zettel back in 2015 consciously. The oldest Structure Zettel is from 2012 (happend to be one without intent). I used Folgezettel for a couple of years with various software solutions. So, there are some years of practice behind my work.

You're definitely authoritative on this topic, and upon trying it out myself I finally agreed with your statements about the old Folgezettel—that's actually why I began to modify it.

Btw have you seen the updated post yet? I changed a lot on the Folgezettel's rules to make it usable. If there are still holes with usability & scalability, I'll be happy to discuss it.

P.S. I still can't get over with the 4000 to 10,000 words per day—that's insanely high. I'm hoping to get to that level, but I should set my expectations to doing this for 5 years.

• Here is the new post, btw:

Fixing the old folgezettel

• Based on your replies it seems to me you only care about proving it wrong and forcing the direction into your methods.

Nope. I am testing your reasoning and evidence. I am the first person to test something I deem promising. I really like the effort and investment you are putting out. I am just not convinced that you are on something new.

I am a Zettler

• @sfast said:

Based on your replies it seems to me you only care about proving it wrong and forcing the direction into your methods.

Nope. I am testing your reasoning and evidence. I am the first person to test something I deem promising. I really like the effort and investment you are putting out. I am just not convinced that you are on something new.

Okay, thanks for clarifying. I apologize for the wrong assumption.

• @improveism said:
You're definitely authoritative on this topic, and upon trying it out myself I finally agreed with your statements about the old Folgezettel—that's actually why I began to modify it.

I am not authoritative. There is the layer of arguments and theory. The other one is practice and proof by success. Both should be tested independent of any person.

Btw have you seen the updated post yet? I changed a lot on the Folgezettel's rules to make it usable. If there are still holes with usability & scalability, I'll be happy to discuss it.

Yes. But Folgezettel is a dead end from my perspective. Not that deny the benefit over some other ways to organise a note taking system (e.g. strict categories). But the alternatives (direkt linking, Structure Zettel) are way more powerful by design. I let you figure that out if that is true for yourself.

Think of investment: I am risk averse. I don't invest in startups but wait if something is at least midcap.

P.S. I still can't get over with the 4000 to 10,000 words per day—that's insanely high. I'm hoping to get to that level, but I should set my expectations to doing this for 5 years.

There is no magic to it. Just write everyday and it comes naturally. I am no super productive genius but just practiced.

I am a Zettler

• edited April 2020

@sfast said:

I am not authoritative. There is the layer of arguments and theory. The other one is practice and proof by success. Both should be tested independent of any person.

Oh, my mistake--by "authoritative" I meant reliable as a source on a topic.

Yes. But Folgezettel is a dead end from my perspective. Not that deny the benefit over some other ways to organise a note taking system (e.g. strict categories). But the alternatives (direkt linking, Structure Zettel) are way more powerful by design. I let you figure that out if that is true for yourself.
Think of investment: I am risk averse. I don't invest in startups but wait if something is at least midcap.

Alright, I get where you're coming from now. Yeah there's no denying the direct linking and Structure Zettel are powerful--they're the actual principles rather than the techniques. Somehow your stance reminds me of Taleb--the "Skin in the Game" concept. That's what I'm gonna do next, then; I'll let everyone know where this conquest takes me.

There is no magic to it. Just write everyday and it comes naturally. I am no super productive genius but just practiced.

I find it inspiring--and adds even more promise to the already proven power of serious Zettelkasten work.

Anyway, when I tried to understand Folgezettel's "lack of promise" in your perspective, I figured I'd want to test this out until I can show commendable results. Thanks for the fruitful discussion, man. I think it'll take a couple of months before I post a new discussion about this again.

• @improveism said:
@sfast said:

I am not authoritative. There is the layer of arguments and theory. The other one is practice and proof by success. Both should be tested independent of any person.

Oh, my mistake--by "authoritative" I meant reliable as a source on a topic.

I would rather be in the background and let results and arguments speak for themselves.

Yes. But Folgezettel is a dead end from my perspective. Not that deny the benefit over some other ways to organise a note taking system (e.g. strict categories). But the alternatives (direkt linking, Structure Zettel) are way more powerful by design. I let you figure that out if that is true for yourself.
Think of investment: I am risk averse. I don't invest in startups but wait if something is at least midcap.

Alright, I get where you're coming from now. Yeah there's no denying the direct linking and Structure Zettel are powerful--they're the actual principles rather than the techniques. Somehow your stance reminds me of Taleb--the "Skin in the Game" concept. That's what I'm gonna do next, then; I'll let everyone know where this conquest takes me.

It is quite similar. At least, I admire his work.

Anyway, when I tried to understand Folgezettel's "lack of promise" in your perspective, I figured I'd want to test this out until I can show commendable results. Thanks for the fruitful discussion, man. I think it'll take a couple of months before I post a new discussion about this again.

Looking forward to reap the benefits from your work and promote it if something is promising.

I recommend to work with your Zettelkasten, try to produce many texts and publish them. This will enhance learning what is best for yourself.

I am a Zettler

• @sfast great advice—I'll definitely do that. I enjoyed this discussion, overall. Thanks a lot