Sunday, February 8, 2009

ConnectedText and Luhmann's Zettelkasten

I have written a few times about Luhmann's Zettelkasten and how it can be reproduced it without reverting to keywords as the main means for connections, for this does not seem to me very "Luhmannian." He relied on direct connections between different entries. This can be easily reproduced with other programs, like Notetab and Softfile. Other programs, like Jot+ Notes, which allows easy linking to existing topics by enclosing them in square brackets, can do this too. But I have never seriously used such a scheme. The upkeep would be just too laborious and links can easily be deleted inadvertently. It would just not be worth the effort.

A personal wiki, like ConnectedText, is, I am convinced, a much better means of reproducing Luhmann's main idea, just because it relies on direct links and makes continuations and branchings of topics very easy. Since it is based on a database, the user does not even need to be aware of the unique identification number of each of the topics. The program takes care of this.

But I have been wondering whether the decisions one has to make in thinking about the numbers has a cognitive advantage. In the paper-based system one had to decide when it was best to continue a series of topics, when it was best to branch off, and when one should start an entirely new series of topics. And after one had created many topics, one had a strong visual indication of where different clusters of concern had formed. The numbers gave rise to a "map" of the topics.

So, I thought about re-creating such a map in Connectedtext. The result was this: Making ordered lists with ConnectedText. I have a hunch that it will allow me to recognize clusters of topics in an easer way than otherwise possible. But I don't know whether this is true. It may not add anything of value to wiki-notetaking, but I will try it out with a smaller project (and report back at some point).


pandorathecat said...

Sorry to resurrect an old post, but I just discovered your excellent blog and the concept of Luhmann's Zettelkasten, which I am very intrigued by.

I have a question about using a wiki program such as ConnectedText to reproduce such a system, that I think relates somewhat to your concerns about topic branching.

My understanding of a wiki is that you create links based on words, which seems somewhat more restrictive than the coded index cards Luhmann used. So, in a wiki, I might say, "Yesterday I saw a raven", and then highlight the word "raven" and link to, for instance, a definition page with pictures of the bird. But the word raven might also remind me of the film "Le Corbeau" or the Poe poem, and I may want these to be separate cognitive branches, all coming off the same word "raven". In a wiki, it seems I would need to create an intermediate "disambiguation" page that would load when I clicked on the word "raven", whereas with alphanumeric codes, I could have unlimited branches off the same word without the need for an intermediate page (which I fear would stifle discovery, because the order of the concepts on that disambiguation page would suggest a hierarchy of meanings, and would also be frustrating to create).

How do you deal with this issue in your wiki-based note taking? When a single word or concept takes you in two directions that you view to be distinct?


PS: I appreciate your time and I hope my question makes sense!

MK said...

Good question!

I don't think you need to go through a disambiguation page, though. In fact, you could could use numbers to branch [[1145]], etc. after the first occurrence of the concept. You could also put a footnote after the word with more references. Let's say you have [[Muesli]] in ConnectedText, you could put [![[Muesli1]], [[Muesli2]], etc.!]

pandorathecat said...

Thank you! I like the footnote idea.