Saturday, December 5, 2015

Is OneNote Your 21st-Century Zettelkasten Pim?

I don't know, but that is what is argued in this interesting contribution to the Donation Coder Forum. You may have noticed that my previous post reacts to some of the requirements that are declared to be mandatory (even before it appeared in the Forum). The reason for this is that the contribution was first posted in a slightly different form as a comment on My Zettelkasten. Much to my regret, it was, however, deleted again by the author.

Since I receive an e-mail from Blogger with the contents of every comment (including those that are later deleted), I had the pleasure of reading this contribution a long time before anyone else.

Obviously we disagree, but perhaps the differences are worth discussing further.

Let me make two comments: (1) I am not sure whether integration with Windows and other Microsoft programs is really that important. I am not sure either how important this OS (or any of the other existing Operating Systems) will be in the next eighty years or so. Nor do I think that e-mail, sound files, and spreadsheets have any essential place in something that emulates index cards. But be that as it may, my orientation is obviously more academic, textual, and stodgy. (2) I am sure that the author is right in claiming that it is an important feature of OneNote that when you type a "[[reference term]], it will search for an existing Note page in any of the Notebooks (only opened ones, I think) with that exact title, and then link to it, but if there is none, then it will automatically create a new Note page with that title, at the bottom of the section you are currently in, so that you can put in any relevant text later, but meanwhile it leaves you in the text where you were currently writing. These hyperlinked (wiki-like) pages can be moved around and OneNote will keep track of them. If the user is unsure whether "reference term" is correct for an existing hyperlinked Note title, then a search within OneNote for all or some of the terms in "reference term", will find them, with any OneNote page titles bearing the terms being listed first in the search results, which makes it easy to find them." In fact, any good wiki will allow you to do this. And this is one of the main reasons why I do love ConnectedText, for instance.


MiGrant said...

Your recent posts are making me wish for a personal wiki app that runs on the Mac, manages links in the way you describe here, and in which individual notes are plain-text files that can also be edited and manipulated outside the application. I don't suppose anything like that exists?

Andrew Peng said...


For your purposes, I recommend DokuWiki. It's a full-blown Wiki that doesn't use a database... all the pages are plain text files behind the scenes, and you can edit them outside of the wiki (and search them in Spotlight), but it also has all the power of a wiki. It's got an active community with a lot of plugins, so if you want to add things like calendaring or different markup, or book-like indexing, or tags, there's usually something around.

It's easy to install on OS X. You can do it without anything else, but IMHO the easiest way is just to install MAMP (free), then unzip DokuWiki into MAMP's HTDocs directory, open install.php in your web browser, and you're done. I also recommend downloading a program called "Fluid" that lets you create a web browser app just for your Wiki, so it shows up like a regular application on the OS X taskbar, rather than something you access from Safari or Firefox or Chrome (though you can do that too).

One really nice thing about DokuWiki is the way it handles file attachments. File attachments are stored in their original format, unchanged, so you can find them in Spotlight, and if you decide to leave the system, everything is still on your hard drive in plain text (your notes) and the original attachments. One big failing with OneNote is that there is no way to export all attachments in their original format, other than going through every single page and saving each attachment individually.

Andrew Peng said...

Oh, before I forget, out of the box DokuWiki's page renaming functions are limited. If you want the ability to rename pages without breaking links as MK mentioned, you need to install the "Move plugin". It adds a little icon as part of the tool set on the right hand side of each page that lets you do proper renaming. This should be part of the default installation, but for some reason it isn't. It's easy to install though... a few clicks in the Extension Manager.

Another nice extension for OneNote fans is the ToDo plugin, which lets you create checkbox items on various pages. (You can also prepare searches for pages with unchecked todos, and unlike OneNote, those searches can be live searches.)