Friday, December 18, 2015

Introduction to Luhmann's Zettelkasten?

I just came across Introduction to Luhmann's Zettelkasten-Thinking. I agree with the author, Daniel Luedecke, on many things, but there are also many things I find questionable. Most of these have to do with the parallels between his Luhmann's usage of his card index and the principles behind the software by Luedecke. I still believe that Luedecke over-emphasize the importance of keywords. Under "Luhmann‘s Principle of Organizing his Zettelkasten," he lists "no categories," Linkage/Reference," "Tagging and Register," and then "Arbitrary Branching of Note Sequencing." While Luhamann had a register and sometimes used tags, he used direct linking as the main connecting organizing principle, as Luedecke also admits. In fact, tags were not even of secondary or tertiary importance, as far as I can see. And the register served just as a point of entering the net of links. Furthermore, the arbitrary branching is a direct result of Luhmann's conception of the links. It has nothing to do with registers and tags.

I don't know why Ludecke thinks that ConnectedText, which he lists under "Principles of Managing Notes: Links / References," has two problems, namely "Selective or specific retrieval of notes difficult" and "Limited scope of linkage, or at least impractical workflow for “multiple storage” and connections. ConnectedText has a very powerful search engine that allows you to drill down easily from a set of more than 10,000 notes to just two or three. And there is no limitation as to how many links you can create in any one page or the totality of the notes. I can only say I am baffled by these claims, as his "problems" are actually strengths of the program.

But, perhaps more importantly, it appears that Luedecke's Zettelkasten slows down considerably after just 1200 notes. As the author of this blog post says: "I am here with over 1200 Zettel and I am captured in this software. ... I want to change the software because searching became very slow." Daniel Luedecke answered: "I must admit that searching the database (Zettelkasten) is not extreme fast. One
reason is that I don’t use an underlying SQL database. But even with plain text search, performance might be increased. I’ll dig into this when I find some time."

I wonder what the performance would be with more than 10,000 notes, or even with 90,000 (which is sometimes claimed was Luhmann's number of notes). I am too old to ever reach 90,000 notes, but some people who read this won't be. Whatever other strengths Daniel Luedecke's software has--and I must say I find it intriguing--it does not come even close to replacing Luhmann's partner of communication because 1,200 notes are not even enough for the "critical mass" needed for fortuitous discoveries. On the basis of this alone, I would disqualify it as a serious contender in the note-taking field.

It might be said that even the best applications of today won't be around in, say ten or twenty years. I agree that this is probably true. Therefore, the ability of exporting one's notes from any program is important. Luedecke's program can do that. It "includes several plain text formats like CSV, Markdown or plain Text (or even LaTex, XML and HTML)." There are other popular note-taking programs that are woefully inadequate in this regard.

I really hope that Luedecke will be able to implement a database solution. Oh ... and the set of slides is interesting, not just for some of the copies of Luhmann's slips.[1]


1. I have said nothing about the notion of "Zettelkasten-thinking," as I don't think there is such a thing. I have written before about "Zettelkasten-writing." It is not considered to be a good thing. See here. My thesis advisor used to criticize books and articles, in which he (you) could tell where one index card ended and another one started.

6 comments:

Angry Thinker said...

I hope you don't mind, it's me again as the 1st one to respond, but your posts are thought-provoking. Just a remark below about this post.
Luedecke's app is based on Luhmann's Zettelkasten, but that does not mean that it should be a clone of Luhmann's "app". Luhmann could not use tags because it would not have been possible to "search" for all notes with the same tag like one can in a digital app. So why should Luedecke not add that functionality to his app? To my mind Luedecke has added value with this extra functionality.

MK said...

I agree. No one needs to follow Luhmann religiously. I don't either. However, if you claim that your application reproduces Luhmann's approach faithfully, then you should actually do so. He does claim that his program is. It is a "Zettelkasten a la Luhmann", after all.

I criticized him for being a bit misleading eight years ago on this blog. He has made adjustments, but he still under-emphasizes direct links. The point is relatively unimportant for most users of the program. It is important for me for more scholarly reasons.

Looking at the file again, I now find blue reminders at strategic points that what is described is not what Luhmann did. If they were there before, I overlooked them. (But if I had seen them, I would not have written the above post either.)

MK said...

Luedecke: "The core principle of Luhmann’s way to manage his notes was a combination of selective tagging, manual links between notes and a sequence of short notes and arbitrary branching (“diversification”) of note sequences (see also described in this post)."

Me: "The core principle of Luhmann's way to manage notes was manual links that allow arbitrary branching." No combination of three different things, but just one thing.

For Luhmann himself (in my translation) see http://luhmann.surge.sh/communicating-with-slip-boxes

Luhmann emphasizes "1. The possibility of arbitrary internal branching., and "2. Possibility of linking (Verweisungsmöglichkeiten)." Two aspects of one and the same thing.

He also thinks 3. A Register is necessary because otherwise it would be difficult to remember where what is. "Therefore we need a register of keywords that we constantly update." But this is neither constitutive of the basic functionality of his Zettelkasten nor necessary in an electronic version.

Angry Thinker said...

I quote you: "if you claim that your application reproduces Luhmann's approach faithfully, then you should actually do so. He does claim that his program is. It is a "Zettelkasten a la Luhmann", after all."
Following Luhmann's approach faithfully does not mean it is a replica/copy/clone of Luhmann's app, nor does it mean that no additional functionality can be added.
Reproducing Luhmann's approach faithfully means sticking as closely as possible to Luhmann's concept within the constraints as well as the extra possibilities of a digital environment.

Another quote: "I now find blue reminders at strategic points that what is described is not what Luhmann did." You obviously did not ask Luedecke what those blue icons represent otherwise you would not make a statement with such certainty that "it is not what Luhmann did". I happen to know what they symbolise: they indicate the Folgezettel associated with the Zettel that show those blue icons. And if there is 1 thing that is typically Luhmann, it is Folgezettel.

And as for keywords, how can you say they are not necessary in an electronic Zettelkasten? How else would one be able to lift a specific category of notes, which have certain things in common & perhaps constitute (part of) a story, out of the database? The keywords act as filters and have a totally different functionality than Searches. Keywords filter on the basis of words that do not necessarily appear within the body text of the Zettel, whereas Seraches are based on body text words. Therefore, keywords are a valuable addition to an electronic Zettelkasten, as far as I am concerned. You may not agree, that's fine, but don't make a sweeping statement that they are not necessary.

Now, I don't know what your game is here, but I am getting a feeling that you are making a concerted effort to detract from Luedecke's app, perhaps you are still sour about his perceived misleading 8 years ago or there is something else. In any case your comments have lost their constructive sincerity. If I am wrong about what I said above, which leads me to this conclusion, show me where I am wrong and I am willing to retract everything I said.

MK said...

You say: I am getting a feeling that you are making a concerted effort to detract from Luedecke's app, perhaps you are still sour about his perceived misleading 8 years ago or there is something else. In any case your comments have lost their constructive sincerity.

No one is forcing you to read my blog. Quite apart from the fact that I don't understand what "constructive sincerity" means, I think there was/is no need to insult me. It should be possible to disagree without invective. I could say a lot more about your claims in the last post, but I shall refrain from doing so.
Sincerely,
Manfred Kuehn

Angry Thinker said...

Your reaction clearly shows that you are overly sensitive. I have made some factual, objective statements, which led me to a subjective conclusion, and which I take full responsibility for & am willing to retract. However, it seems you are not able to provide counter-arguments to my statements that show me why & where I am wrong.
For a man of your stature your childish irrationality is astounding, but since this is your blog you are entitled to behave the way you want to. I have always enjoyed reading your posts & responding in a constructive way. It looks like your response here is like your spat with IainB on the Donation Coder site. I understand he did not want to get into polemics with you. But that's your business.
You are right when you say no one forces me to read your posts, and your latest reaction shows that it is no longer worth reading anymore. Good luck.