Slip boxes aka zettelkasten

Zettelkasten is usually mentioned as a note-taking method. However, the end goal of Zettelkasten is not gathering and collecting notes, but rather creating a competent and knowledgeable communication partner. The main interaction with the slip-box is not when we are writing and adding new notes, because the slip-box is not there to be an archive of our memory and knowledge. Slip-box is there to be an apparatus with which we think. Therefore, the main interaction is when we communicate with the slip-box by confronting ourselves and our thinking with our prior knowledge.

~ Eva Thomas from, https://medium.com/@ethomasv/understanding-zettelkasten-d0ca5bb1f80e

This appears to be part four of a series: On knowledge systems, Push and pull, and Commonplace notebooks. Depending where you are on your personal journey you may have been sitting back, chuckling, waiting for me to “discover” zettelkasten. …to which I reply, “y u no email me about zettelkasten?!”

Now this idea I definitely have seen before. I can recall stumbling on the idea very early in my personal productivity and self-awareness journey. Without looking, I’ll bet I found it first on 43 Folders. I had the distinct pleasure of following along through Merlin Mann’s journey—trying to keep up, but not succeeding at the time. (Posts on that site run from 2004, through 2011.) If you just went, “43 Folders? …what’s that?” You need to go look at 43 Folders.

…oh sorry, I was off on a tangent there. I just realized Mann has a podcast that’s on episode #503. Shit. Another thing I probably need to listen too. I’ll just say: My web site serialize tool can drip podcast show notes pages at me too, so I’ll drip all those so I can skim the show notes, and I’ll just listen to the few that are “must listen” [in my opinion of course.]

*shudder* I’m all over the map today. Zettelkasten, right.

When I first encountered it, I got stuck on the idea that it’s “notes” in “boxes.” Why would anyone want to do that, now that we have (back then) web sites where you can tag stuff, search, edit, etc.? Now I see this part—trimming my lead quote down—is the neat part:

The end goal of Zettelkasten is creating a competent and knowledgeable communication partner. The slip-box is there to be an apparatus with which we think. Therefore, the main interaction is when we communicate with the slip-box by confronting ourselves and our thinking with our prior knowledge.

Do you see it now? The slip-box system can be slips of paper, digital notes/files, or many other implementations. The original slip-boxes (physical things, pre-Internet… actually, pre-electricity,) were used by one person. Using modern technology we can implement one that allows people to collaborate too. (If we wanted. Not saying I necessarily want that.)

Oh, and guess what I built four years ago. A very complicated, (that’s not a compliment,) system for weaving together references, summaries, and articles on a site called Hilbert’s Library. It was literally my first attempt to build a knowledge management system. I’m now thinking it’s over-designed—I mean yes, sure… I over-think and over-design everything. But I mean that now I see why the design I built into it actually gets in the way of it being maximally useful as a knowledge management system.

What? Oh, yes, people have built lots of ways to implement slip-boxes. Notably, Emvi does that (among other things, because zettelkasten can be confusing so they pitch it in various use cases.)

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