I hope that this is/will be a useful experiential tip.
The Zettelkasten (German Wikipedia)
was invented/devised by Niklas Luhmann (German Wikipedia)
(1927-1998) as an information collecting, numeric
cross-referencing and indexing system
for handwritten/typed information held on sheets of approx. A5 paper/card.
1954-1962 he was the administrative officer in Lüneburg, 1954 to 1955 at the Higher Administrative Court Lüneburg assistant to the president. During this time he also began to build up his card indexes (Zettelkasten). 1960/61 Luhmann received a further training grant for Harvard University, which he could perceive by his leave of absence. (German Wikipedia)
I gather that wooden cabinets holding an array of suitably-sized filing trays were built to the inventor's design, for his use.
There is even a computerised Zettelkasten available from a German website: Zettelkasten. Nach dem Vorbild von Niklas Luhmann - Eine OpenSource-Literaturkartei für Windows, Macintosh (Mac OS X) und Linux.
Several years back, I had wanted to make a computerised Zettelkasten PIM
(Personal Information Manager) for all
of my information, but the problem was that my information included not only text-based information, but also, for example:
- Images displaying text in them.
- Sound files of spoken words, and songs/music.
- Video files.
- Clippings of text and images from browser screens.
- Various document files - MS-Word, RTF, PDF, Excel spreadsheets, Access databases, etc.
I was not a fan of MS OneNote per se
, but in 2007, whilst trialling MS OneNote (as part of the client-based MS Office 2007 Pro suite under the $10 Corporate Home Use licence) I realised that if I adapted my work methods and took the relatively steep learning curve to make optimum use of OneNote's functionality, then I could probably enable it to be used to max effect to implement a Zettelkasten. So that is what I decided to do as a suck-it-and-see experiment, and the experiment has gone very well to date, and updates to MS Office (and OneNote) and Onetastic for Microsoft OneNote
have made things significantly easier towards that end.
Though I settled on OneNote, I did trial other PIMs, and I still keep an eye on them and any new PIMs I come across (including, for example, Zoot, Evernote, Zotero, Wezinc, Connected Text, and WizNote) but they didn't/don't meet my past and newly-discovered requirements, which include, for example:
- Mandatory: Notes had to be able to be client-based and/or web-based by user choice (it's all the same to OneNote, and even if it is web-based, client-based copy is always retained as cache and backup, regardless, for working offline).
- Mandatory: There had to be faithful retention of metadata, formatting, images, links .etc from web page capture (or partial capture). OneNote is not necessarily the best tool for this, but it is pretty good. (The best I've seen for this are actually Scrapbook and Zotero, which use the same engine for copying web pages, and WizNote gets a special mention as it is amazingly good.)
- Mandatory: It had to have OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) of files, which files may be saved/embedded within a note, or as a link to the file on hard or Cloud drives. In particular, integration with MS Office files and Internet Explorer was a must in this regard (though my preferred browser is Firefox).
- Mandatory: Integration with Win7/8/10 OS services - *especially* Windows Desktop Search (so a Notebook's contents can be searched via OneNote OR WDS).
- Mandatory: OCR of any text in saved images, which text then becomes searchable via OneNote OR WDS, and extractable.
- Mandatory: Ability to record and/or play sound files, and have spoken words in the files searchable via OneNote OR WDS. This can be a great timesaver when you have, say, a recorded radio interview, speech or meeting, but no written transcript of same.
- Mandatory: Hyperlinking of notes in Zettelkasten fashion, but using alphameric reference terms rather than Luhmann's purely numeric indexing, and using the same square-bracketed [[reference term]] hyperlinking approach as used in Wikis. In OneNote, if you type in [[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.
- Mandatory: To be able to have Notes structured in hierarchically-arranged collections if/as required. (OneNote offers a 2 or 3-pane display for this, as required.)
- Mandatory: The ability to create/paste/edit text, tables and numeric tables and bits of Excel spreadsheets into a Note, and perform simple math operations on them as well as in a line of typed text (e.g., to calculate the product of 2 x 12 as being equal to 24).
- Mandatory: The ability to convert a table in a Note into a spreadsheet (for those occasions when you realise you have exceeded the capability of OneNote).
- Mandatory: Very flexible rich text formatting capability, similar to MS Word, but without having to use MS Word and able to be copied into an MS Word (or any other RTF) document or email (especially per MS Outlook) with formatting intact.
- Highly desirable: Ability to integrate with MS Outlook for exchanging Notes, emails, tasks, flags and tags.
So, as a journey, I'm pretty much there, but there are still improvements I would like to see in OneNote and my Zettelkasten PIM structure. The add-ons and Macros available from OneTastic might certainly help to mitigate some
of the shortcomings I perceive in OneNote, to some extent, but they seem to have been kinda fringe items so far. The only qualm I have is that, having explored probably around 80% of OneNote functionality and capability, there is absolutely nothing
that I have seen out there that even comes close to it, so I could risk becoming dependent on OneNote, and I don't really like that. To some extent, because of what I have seen in the possibilities
of what OneNote is able to do - e.g., automatic OCR capture, output and indexing of text in images, automatic capture and indexation of deciphered spoken words in sound files - OneNote has caused me to become much more demanding
such that this functionality now becomes part of my mandatory requirements set.
I don't want to go backwards.
As Ren said in the Ren and Stimpy
cartoon episode "Space Madness":
"I'm not hitch-hiking anymore - I'm riding!"______________________________________