Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Zettelkasten with ResophNotes

It is quite possible to reconstruct something like a Zettelkasten with with ResophNotes, Notetab or ConnectedText.[1] It is easy enough to continue entries like this: [1/1], [1/2], or [2/1], [3/1]. It's just as easy to branch the information like this, for instance. [1/1a] [24/5b6]. In ResophNotes and Notetab, you just have to enclose the numbers in square brackets, in ConnectedText you use double square brackets and you have a link. The only question is why one would want to do this in an elctronic version. In some sense, it is much easier to use [words] as hyper- or wikilinks, as one typically does in a desktop wiki like ConnectedText.

It's rather obvious why you need a numbering scheme like this one in a paper-based system. The numbers actually determine a fixed place for the piece of paper. If you take out a scrap, you know precisely where to put it after you are done with it. The numbers are also absolutely essential for effective cross references. Because they refer to the fixed place, you can always find the other piece of paper. This would be difficult, if you used concepts and a hierarchical organisation. Also remember the length of the "path" that would have to be written every time.

The numbering scheme reprents in some sense the skeleton of the file. It would have no structure (or the wrong structure) without it. This structure is exogenic, but it also reveals something about the endogenic structure of the data. So, the organisation by numbers reveals something about the information that wouldn't be revealed, if you used just words. You would see right away that anything having the number "1" or "2" belongs together in some way. Mind you, this "belonging together" is not supposed to be hierarchical. 1/1 or 1/2 just continues 1, and 1b branches off 1 somewhat arbitrarily. Still, it allows you to determine "regions" or "clusters in your information in your information. Indeed, it would be difficult to see this without the numbers.

The numbering scheme also makes you think about where the information belongs, that is, where it connects up with the other stuff that you already have in the file. It makes therefore for a much more "connected" text than using just words, though this difference is only gradual, as you can also look at the words that point to already-existing topics.

Is this benefit enough to justify using numbers. Using numbers makes the contents of the file more opaque to the user. It isn't immediately obvious what a number like [54/6c5] hides. Though the person who has constructed this thing knows better than anyone else, it would require a super-human memory really to remember this combination of numbers and letters. Even longer ones would be absolutely hopeless. There is a certain non-transparency built into the system, and
the "surprises" that Luhmann's Zettelkasten gives to Luhmann seem to a large extent due to the non-transparent character of the numbering scheme. The use of words makes the connections more transparent and thus appear less fortuitous. But since this is more a matter of appearance, it is less important than he thought.

So, it seems to be just the visibility of clustering that makes numbering important for applications like ResophNotes and Notetab. ConnectedText has other ways of showing clusters, namely embedded graphs. That's one of the reasons, why I will stick with it.

1. Do a search for "Zettelkasten" or "Luhmann" on this site for more background information on this.
2. See Outliners in ConnectedText.

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