- Aug 2023
For context, I don't use a traditional Zettelkasten system. It's more of a commonplace book/notecard system similar to Ryan HolidayI recently transitioned to a digital system and have been using Logseq, which I enjoy. It's made organizing my notes and ideas much easier, but I've noticed that I spend a lot of time on organizing my notesSince most of my reading is on Kindle, my process involves reading and highlighting as I read, then exporting those highlights to Markdown and making a page in Logseq. Then I tag every individual highlightThis usually isn't too bad if a book/research article has 20-30 highlights, but, for example, I recently had a book with over 150 highlights, and I spent about half an hour tagging each oneI started wondering if it's overkill to tag each highlight since it can be so time consuming. The advantage is that if I'm looking for passages about a certain idea/topic, I can find it specifically rather than having to go through the whole bookI was also thinking I could just have a set of tags for each book/article that capture what contexts I'd want to find the information in. This would save time, but I'd spend a little more time digging through each document looking for specificsCurious to hear your thoughts, appreciate any suggestions
First, your system is historically far more traditional than Luhmann's more specific practice. See: https://boffosocko.com/2022/10/22/the-two-definitions-of-zettelkasten/
If you're taking all the notes/highlights from a particular book and keeping them in a single file, then it may be far quicker and more productive to do some high level tagging on the entire book/file itself and then relying on and using basic text search to find particular passages you might use at a later date.
Spending time reviewing over all of your notes and tagging/indexing them individually may be beneficial for some basic review work. But this should be balanced out with your long term needs. If your area is "sociology", for example, and you tag every single idea related to the topic of sociology with #sociology, then it will cease to have any value you to you when you search for it and find thousands of disconnected notes you will need to sift through. Compare this with Luhmann's ZK which only had a few index entries under "sociology". A better long term productive practice, and one which Luhmann used, is indexing one or two key words when he started in a new area and then "tagging" each new idea in that branch or train of though with links to other neighboring ideas. If you forget a particular note, you can search your index for a keyword and know you'll find that idea you need somewhere nearby. Scanning through the neighborhood of notes you find will provide a useful reminder of what you'd been working on and allow you to continue your work in that space or link new things as appropriate.
If it helps to reframe the long term scaling problem of over-tagging, think of a link from one idea to another as the most specific tag you can put on an idea. To put this important idea into context, if you do a Google search for "tagging" you'll find 240,000,000 results! If you do a search for the entirety of the first sentence in this paragraph, you'll likely only find one very good and very specific result, and the things which are linked to it are going to have tremendous specific value to you by comparison.
Perhaps the better portions of your time while reviewing notes would be taking the 150 highlights and finding the three to five most important, useful, and (importantly) reusable ones to write out in your own words and begin expanding upon and linking? These are the excerpts you'll want to spend more time on and tag/index for future use rather than the other hundreds. Over time, you may eventually realize that the hundreds are far less useful than the handful (in management spaces this philosophy is known as the Pareto principle), so spending a lot of make work time on them is less beneficial for whatever end goals you may have. (The make work portions are often the number one reason I see people abandoning these practices because they feel overwhelmed working on raw administrivia instead of building something useful and interesting to themselves.) Naturally though, you'll still have those hundreds sitting around in a file if you need to search, review, or use them. You won't have lost them by not working on them, but more importantly you'll have gained loads of extra time to work on the more important pieces. You should notice that the time you save and the value you create will compound over time.
And as ever, play around with these to see if they work for you and your specific needs. Some may be good and others bad—it will depend on your needs and your goals. Practice, experiment, have fun.
- relevance tagging
- descending into the particular
- commonplace books vs. zettelkasten
- topical headings
- Niklas Luhmann's index
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- sparse indexing
- Feb 2023
Do folgezettel in combination with an index help to prevent over-indexing behaviors? Or the scaling problem of categorization in a personal knowledge management space?
Where do subject headings within a zettelkasten dovetail with the index? Where do they help relieve the idea of heavy indexing or tagging? How are the neighborhoods of ideas involved in keeping a sense of closeness while still allowing density of ideas and information?
Having digital search views into small portions of neighborhoods like gxabbo suggested can be a fantastic affordance. see: https://hypothes.is/a/W2vqGLYxEe2qredYNyNu1A
For example, consider an anthropology student who intends to spend a lifetime in the subject and its many sub-areas. If they begin smartly tagging things with anthropology as they start, eventually the value of the category, any tags, or ideas within their index will eventually grow without bound to the point that the meaning or value as a search affordance within their zettelkasten (digital or analog) will be utterly useless. Let's say they fix part of the issue by sub-categorizing pieces into cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology, etc. This problem is fine while they're in undergraduate or graduate school for a bit, but eventually as they specialize, these areas too will become overwhelming in terms of search and the search results. This problem can continue ad-infinitum for areas and sub areas. So how can one solve it?
Is a living and concatenating index the solution? The index can have anthropology with sub-areas listed with pointers to the beginnings of threads of thought in these areas which will eventually create neighborhoods of these related ideas.
The solution is far easier when the ideas are done top-down after-the-fact like in the Dewey Decimal System when the broad areas are preknown and pre-delineated. But in a Luhmann-esque zettelkasten, things grow from the bottom up and thus present different difficulties from a scaling up perspective.
How do we classify first, second, and third order effects which emerge out of the complexity of a zettelkasten? - Sparse indexing can be a useful long term affordance in the second or third order space. - Combinatorial creativity and ideas of serendipity emerge out of at least the third order. - Using ZK for writing is a second order affordance - Storage is a first order affordance - Memory is a first order affordance (related to storage) - Productivity is a second+ order (because solely spending the time to save and store ideas is a drag at the first order and doesn't show value until retrieval at a later date). - Poor organization can be non-affordance or deterrent which results in a scrap heap - lack of a reason why can be a non-affordance or deterrence as well - cross reference this list and continue on with other pieces and affordances