Monday, December 29, 2014

Card Files (or Zettelkästen) and Databases

As this topic has come up in the comments to the last blog post, I would like to say a bit about the relation of card files or Zettelkästen and Databases. It is often claimed that databases represent the generalization of a card index. This is especially so for index cards that are assigned a unique identifier. Just look at this explanation from a Website that represents an Introduction to Databases:
A database is structured collection of data. Thus, card indices, printed catalogues of archaeological artefacts and telephone directories are all examples of databases. Databases may be stored on a computer and examined using a program. These programs are often called `databases', but more strictly are database management systems (DMS). Just as a card index or catalogue has to be constructed carefully in order to be useful, so must a database on a computer. Similarly, just as there are many ways that a printed catalogue can be organised, there are many ways, or models, by which a computerised database may be organised. One of the most common and powerful models is the `relational' model (discussed below), and programs which use this model are known as relational database management systems (RDMS).

Computer-based databases are usually organised into one or more tables. A table stores data in a format similar to a published table and consists of a series of rows and columns. To carry the analogy further, just as a published table will have a title at the top of each column, so each column in a database table will have a name, often called a field name. The term field is often used instead of column. Each row in a table will represent one example of the type of object about which data has been collected. ...

One advantage of computer-based tables is that they can be presented on screen in a variety of orders, formats, or according to certain criteria, all the towns in Hertfordshire, or all towns with a cathedral.
There is nothing that links such a structured collection of data" essentially to paper, even if some of the first databases, like Luhmann's Zettelkasten, were paper-based. Luhmann himself said late in his life, he would have used an electronic version for his system, if it had been around when he first started his Zettelkasten.

On the other hand, it is possible to design a skeuomorphic version of a database. Microsoft's "cardfile" in early versions of Windows did this.

AZZ Cardfile is a lot less skeuomorphic. And it appears to me that DEVONthink is even less so. Using a unique identifiers as the titles od notes does not change this fact. And to use these in wiki-like links moves them even farther away from the paper-model—or so I believe.


Angry Thinker said...

AZZ Cardfile does not seem to support internal linking i.e. between cards.

MK said...

No, it doesn't.

MK said...

It does now (January 2018)