Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Card Index, Kartei, Slip Box, or Zettelkasten: What are the Differences?

The short answer, there really are none, if you are looking at electronic implementations of them. Their physical implementations differ insofar as card indexes (Kartei, Karteikasten, etc.) use card stock, whereas slip boxes or Zettelkästen) employ lees durable paper. Luhmann, one of the people who used paper, chose it because it took up much less space than card stock and was much cheaper--especially since he used the backs of letters, bills, etc. cut in half to DinA 5 size for his Zettelkasten.

All that is irrelevant to an electronic version of card indexes. What is more relevant is how these applications categorize their contents. It could be alphabetical, numerical, a combination of the two, or systematic. Anyone of these will work, though, as most of the readers of my blog will know, I think the best way to implement such an electronic version is by dispensing with all such organization and use a hypertextual approach. But, however, that may be, there is nothing magical about "Zettelkasten." It just means slip box, no more, no less.

There are some applications that are not well designed to implement slip boxes (or whatever you want to call them), and those are applications that emulate notebooks (like Circus Ponies Notebook or OneNote, for instance). The note-book metaphor seems to go against the very nature of a slipbox.[1] I cannot imagine how you could easily navigate the different notes once you reach 10,000 or more. This is one of the reason why notebooks of ledgers were abandoned in favor of card catalogs in libraries, for instance. And this is why the metaphor of a card box (database) is superior to that of a notebook when you need to deal with huge amounts of data. (My imagination may, however be just too limited to see how organization by notebooks might be superior, though I do not think so.)


1. Added later: Since these might also be based on databases, they may be quite capable at performing searches, but the way "stuff" is organised gets in the way (at least for me).

7 comments:

Angry Thinker said...

You say it is difficult to navigate your notes in e.g. OneNote when you have 10 000 notes or more. But does that not depend on how one has organised those notes? I am not sure you can make a statement like that without having tested it in practice. Have you?

MK said...

I gave up at a few hundreds (a long time ago). I never said that I never tried OneNote. There are also reports on the Internet about such problems, however. See here and there, go down to Classification.

MK said...

Actually, there is a very good description of part of the problem by Andrew Peng in the comments of my first post concerning my problems with OnenNote.

Angry Thinker said...

Manfred, 1st off I have no ax to grind about OneNote, I don't care what you or others use because everyone has to use what works best for them.
Looking @ the 1st page: the poster only got to a few 100 pages when he started to experience problems. He asked whether 1N is good for 1000s of pages, but did not get an answer. Could he have mis-installed 1N? How did he organise 1N? etc. Do his issues indicate 1N is no good for 1000s of notes?
Looking @ the 2nd page: it is about OneNote 2007 !!! You still use that to form an opinion about 1N. It is a bit outdated.
To be fully honest & open, I must say I am disappointed that you use those 2 pages as a reference for your view about OneNote.
You used 1N yourself a long time ago (version 2003 or 2007?) with only a few 100 pages.
How can you make a statement today about 1N based on your old experience plus those 2 other outdated/unresolved ones? This is out of line with the usual level of relevance of your posts.

Angry Thinker said...

I have not read Andrew Peng's comments, so my comments above do not refer to his in any way.
By the way, I have over 1000 pages in 1N, many of which have a large number of attachments which represent other pages (different way of organising 1N) and I have not experienced any slowdown or any other form of degradation in 1N's performance.

MK said...

I did not mean slow-down so much as I meant trouble finding your way around. I know that OneNote does not really slow down and that syncing troubles are usually due to extraneous causes.

The problem was the organisation according to notebooks, pages and "stuff on pages", and that has not changed, unless I am very much mistaken.

What has changed, unless you use the paid-for version, is that you have to use the Internet. I dislike that as well.

"I don't care what you or others use because everyone has to use what works best for them." That is the spirit. I hope you don't think I want to bully anyone into my way of thinking! I don't care either what other people use "because everyone has to use what works best for them."

Also, I should have emphasized in my post more how a "notebook metaphor" is not the best way to capture the nature of a card index. It can perhaps be done, but it is far from optimal.

MK said...

@Angry Thinker,
Do you mind telling me, how you have organized your entries?