Thursday, December 25, 2014

Note Connections

I have already referred to Christian Tietze's blog on the "Zettelkasten" method several times. I recently came across this: DEVONthink as a Zettelkasten Note Archive. It discusses Tietze's four criteria for evaluating software that emulates a slip box. They are (1) The ease of note retrieval, (2) the ease of note creation, (3) "which mechanisms does the app support to create connections?" and (4) the ability of exporting data with relative ease. I have no problem with (1) about note retrieval, or (4) about data retrieval. I heartily endorse (2): Note creation: does it take many clicks or keystrokes to create a new ... note? But I have serious problems with (3) or the downplaying the importance of note connections.
Note connections: which mechanisms does the app support to create connections? I’m leaving this point pretty vague intentionally. I know of various ways different applications deal with this problem. Also, I’m going to cheat a bit: if full-text search works, manually linking notes will work, too: just put the target’s identifier somewhere, copy it, search for the identifier, and open the resulting note.
Not only is the mechanism for note connection intimately connected with the ease with which we can create a note, but full-text search seems to me a lame alternative for the direct linking of notes. In fact, as I have made clear earlier, I don't even think that indirect linking by means of tags can substitute for direct linking. And, yes, the decision to link should be manual, based on the best judgment of the person who maintains the note base.[1] The kind of fortuitous connection described by Luhamann and others crucially depends on the architecture of the link-structure. It may be largely arbitrary in the end, but it is an arbirtrariness that is connected with a definite "partner in communication" or maintainer of the note base and it takes place within a definite context or research project.[12 It is not the Internet.[3]

1. This is also why I don't use Devonthink—a program that I otherwise admire. I even own Devonnote, but I don't really use it. Just listen to this: "If you are willing to use RTF-files, DEVONthink also offers clickable links. Just right-click (or Ctrl-click) the file you want a link to, select “Copy Item Link” and paste it into your document (that’s about 4 or 5 clicks in total)." That is four clicks too many. I would insist on free links that allow me to link directly by enclosing the word or phrase in double square brackets.
But it gets worse: "If you use plain text files instead, here’s what you could do: Copy the link as described above and paste it into your note. Then highlight the link, right-click it, and click “Open URL”. It will now open a new window of your linked file." And "here is a hidden preference to show mmd-files automatically in HTML Preview mode, so the links I set are instantly clickable. This gives DEVONthink a wiki-like feeling to it, but I need an additional mouse-click or keystroke to make my mmd-files editable, so this solution isn’t for everyone."
I consider a "wiki-like feeling" to be just as unsatisfying as a "love-like feeling." In other words, I want the real thing, if at all possible.

2. I was tempted to say "It is precisely not the Internet". But that is the kind of nonsense rampant among continental philosophers of some sort. Nothing is "precisely not" something else. The complement of any term is what Kant called an "infinite judgment."

3. The allusions are of course to Luhmann. The two relevant articles in English translation can be found here and here.


Angry Thinker said...

The article about DevonThink was written by his friend Marko, so opinions expressed therin belong to Marko, I assume.

MK said...

Well, that might be true. But the opinions I criticized were those expressed in what I took to be quotes of Christian Tietze.

Joshua said...

DevonThink will automatically create links when you type in the titles of other pages. You just have to turn on the WikiLinks option under Preferences > Editing (and click the button for "Names and Aliases"). This works on plain text as well as rtf documents.

MK said...

That is indeed a lot better. I did not know that.

Though I still do wish to have more control, it is almost what I want.