History: Is TiddlyWiki A Card-Index System?

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@TiddlyTweeter

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Mar 29, 2018, 10:07:03 AM3/29/18
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Mark S. asked ...
Perhaps with your background you could explain Zettelkasten. There seems to be an almost cult-like culture around a system of taking notes (by software or index cards). https://zettelkasten.de/ .

Mark S. asked me that interesting question in another thread, started by Mat, comparing TW to other "similar software". I been thinking about Mark's question. I wasn't sure if people here are interested in this, but then I thought well, hey, they might be ...

"Zettelkästen" is just the German for "card indices" in general. https://zettelkasten.de/ is a specific "Zettelkästen Methodology" derived from the work done originally (on physical cards) by the brilliant prolific sociologist and systems theorist Niklas Luhmann.

He was one of several social scientists who prefigured issues that would come up in the development of software for "soft data" and "emergent structure". The point being that in the social sciences, a lot of the time, theories/patterns emerge during research, so you need flexibility--its not like hard science which is more driven by strict prior hypotheses that have clear "data slots"--nor is it like birth & death records, nor address books etc. In short, social science (especially ideographic fieldwork) needs an "open" way to record information.

The PRACTICAL issue for the Luhmann style Zettelkästeners, in software, was (1) how to maintain the integrity of the record (the card) AND (2) relate that record to other records (the cards) in an EMERGENT way. In other words NOT be a strict database that only had determined prior slots (hypothesised significant). At the time of emergence of such work it was a hot issue.

The "Zettelkästen Methodology" is interesting and clearly is still used to good effect. Not so remarked upon, but significant, is that quite a lot of the sense-making in it is EXTERNAL to the computer. Its about guesses external to the data itself to find pattern.

Luhmann make two Zettelkästen (manual, physical) in his life, with thousands of records each, and they informed and structured most all of his voluminous writing. It worked. But I'm not convinced it worked without HIM doing "in head" most of the cross-connection work.

Zettelkästen Methodology now looks a bit like a "blast from the past" ... I mean the oft discussion of the vitality of "Tags" OVER "Topics/Categories" is already a done deal on the net nowadays. So in that sense its a bit like a Philosophy of Knowledge that's done it job already.

---

On the comparison of TiddlyWiki and Card Indices ... which OFTEN users point to and celebrate ... well it works for SOME TiddlyWiki set up that way. No harm in using that analogy. BUT the analogy quickly breaks down.

Card Index systems (& computer equivalents) are base on the sacredness of the record (Card) whilst TiddlyWiki is based on the equality of the fragment (Tiddler). So what in the Zettelkästen Methodology is seen as a "basic unit" (card), in TiddlyWiki might also be a card, but could also be composed of fragments (Tiddlers), decomposed and reassembled multiple ways.

Zettelkästen Methodology also has no conceptual way of dealing with "the software itself" and "the organisational system itself" being also equal components. In Zettelkästen Methodology you have Cards, then an external software framework to organise them. These are not distinct in TiddlyWiki.

IMO, a Tiddler is hardly an "index card" at all in any normal sense. Its outstanding characteristic is its a CHAMELEON :-).

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FWIW, to give some perspective to this issue, the "card analogy" actually owes its greatest realisation in computing to stricter database structures.

The Index Card as an idea probably got its first airing in the 1640s in Harrison's "The Ark Of Studies". Serious early application was by Linnaeus to be able to organise the taxonomy of species in a flexible way where records could be added and re-ordered at will (1760's). Then the Dewey library card index system (1870's) was very significant, which was widely adopted, with Index Cards beginning to be adopted widely for all sorts of purposes--police records, doctors records, address "books" etc.

A big step towards computing was the development of index cards with punched holes at their edges that were then "notched" into when the card was in a "category". Say you had a thousand cards and only wanted to see cards about "cats" ... you threaded a slim long knitting needle through the "cat hole" and then you could lift off all the records that were not for cats to just see cats (basic filtering). A bunch of different mechanical systems for doing this were developed of varying degrees of sophistication. These "Knitting Needle Machines" were conceptually important to the later development of relational databases.

Extending from the needle hole idea, a next step was to replace the data recorded on the body of the cards with punched holes on the card--the "punch card"--made on a kind of typewriter. Data that previously were in written language became holes. These could be analysed by mechanical devices that fed the cards through a kind of pianola that notched up a count for when there was a hole.

In turn, all this partly fostered punch-tape that in early "on-line" computing WAS your computer program... you'd feed it into a machine and it would transmit signals to a remote computer (they were all remote at the start) according to the pattern of holes.

The Punch-Hole Index Card metaphorically matched BINARY thinking vital to early computing to do with fundamental "gates" ... that could convey information as "1" (hole), "0" (no-hole), or on computer as "signal on", "signal off".

So, overall, the Card Index was pretty central to concepts of organised knowledge first, and computer realisation of that knowledge, later. An important social and technological bridge from the past to now.

But I don't think metaphorically TiddlyWiki has other than a quite generic relationship to card indices. No more than many ordinary programs do.

Best wishes
Josiah

Ste Wilson

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Mar 29, 2018, 2:17:09 PM3/29/18
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Cheers for that. Interesting stuff.

Mat

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Mar 30, 2018, 3:13:45 AM3/30/18
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Appreciated, Josiah!

<:-)

Alex Hough

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Mar 30, 2018, 6:58:48 AM3/30/18
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Yes... I am a bg fan of all this 

surely we'll have TWs which with AI soon

Alex

On 30 March 2018 at 08:13, Mat <matia...@gmail.com> wrote:
Appreciated, Josiah!

<:-)

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TonyM

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Mar 31, 2018, 12:11:39 AM3/31/18
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Josiah, 

"Yes, but", - That is my answer to the question asked.

The but comes in because it can be A Card-Index System or more. Most algorithms, such as the card-index can be implemented in TiddlyWiki but they can go way beyond, and any algorithm can be developed with continuous improvement. This is a key reason I have committed to TiddlyWiki as my platform of choice. Algorithms that have stood the test of time, have being refined by practice and wisdom  are very good starting points. In fact I moved to TiddlyWiki in the early days to escape the limitations of a sophisticated personal information and task management system that was on paper, yet really powerful.

Regards
Tony

LDL

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Mar 31, 2018, 8:13:00 AM3/31/18
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Hello,
I've been a longtime silent reader of this forum and zettelkasten practitioner.

Thank you Josiah for your explanation and for the stimulating perspective on index cards. In my experience TiddlyWiki can be used as a valid digital zettelkasten. The software itself is perfectly capable of implementing all the basic requirements of the system, with some added bonuses like backlinks, lists and transclusion. The guys at https://zettelkasten.de/ make a big deal about adopting a plain text format for the sake of data longevity, but as long as I'm able to export all my tiddlers as json file (easy to parse and reuse with some basic coding skills) I'm perfectly fine with storing my data in TiddlyWiki. My only concern, as of today, is reaching the limit in the number of tiddlers and size of the file that TiddlyWiki can manage, but for now everything is working smoothly.

To anyone interested in the subject I highly recommend having a look at the blog of Manfred Kuehn, who also translated into English two essays of Luhmann himself about the Zettelkasten system. There is also the recent book by  Sönke Ahrens that offers a detailed and thorough explanation of the method along with a lot useful resources about note-taking and knowledge work.

Regards,
Lorenzo

@TiddlyTweeter

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Mar 31, 2018, 9:04:02 AM3/31/18
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Hi Lorenzo. Thanks for that post. I was glad to read it. And its worth repeating ...

LDL wrote:
I've been a longtime silent reader of this forum and zettelkasten practitioner.

... In my experience TiddlyWiki can be used as a valid digital zettelkasten. The software itself is perfectly capable of implementing all the basic requirements of the system, with some added bonuses like backlinks, lists and transclusion. The guys at https://zettelkasten.de/ make a big deal about adopting a plain text format for the sake of data longevity, but as long as I'm able to export all my tiddlers as json file (easy to parse and reuse with some basic coding skills) I'm perfectly fine with storing my data in TiddlyWiki.

I totally agree that its pretty easy in TiddlyWiki to create a valid, good, zettelkasten. And that its a good application of TW. There can be a good fit between the two.

My only concern, as of today, is reaching the limit in the number of tiddlers and size of the file that TiddlyWiki can manage, but for now everything is working smoothly.
 
Right. There are performance issues that can come up with TiddlyWiki at very large scale. FWIW, its being discussed and worked on at the moment. Some things can be improved a lot on speed. But there is a limit as TW doesn't use database style indexing.

At what point it slows down is pretty much an empirical matter because of the complexities of specific TiddlyWiki. Some can be huge and efficient. Others only moderate size and inefficient. At the moment.

To anyone interested in the subject I highly recommend having a look at the blog of Manfred Kuehn, who also translated into English two essays of Luhmann himself about the Zettelkasten system. There is also the recent book by  Sönke Ahrens that offers a detailed and thorough explanation of the method along with a lot useful resources about note-taking and knowledge work.

For folk interested in the broader development of software sensitive to information philosophies I do find Luhmann & the zettelkasten method it inspired very helpful. Because it is explicit about what it is doing and why. So it helps, also, get other things in perspective.

Best wishes
Josiah

@TiddlyTweeter

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Mar 31, 2018, 9:32:00 AM3/31/18
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Ciao TonyM


TonyM wrote:
"Yes, but", - That is my answer to the question asked.

Right. And also "No, but..."

The fundamental architecture in TW is not "slot based". Classical card indexes are. The "free-form" types of card-index are also still defined as "slots" or "blobs" of data ... i.e. they are DISCRETE in foundation in scope, even if content is YET to be organised/understood.

Its a very interesting discussion to examine what is the "integral data unit?"

To cut to the chase on TW: (1) it can support easily the Card Index approach; but (2) its native metaphor of basic data (fragments) are more in-kin with "back-of-an-envelope" notes and "post-it-notes" of any size. Card Index cards already have an implying of a series, a purposive collection. Notes on scrap paper usually don't. 

Just thoughts
Josiah

Tristan Kohl

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Apr 2, 2018, 1:06:15 PM4/2/18
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Great recap Josiah, thank you for that :)

I want to drop my two cents as well: Before I came to TW I was just looking for a note taking application and tried many (DokuWiki, Zim, CherryTree,...) and mentioned Zettelkasten. Since I live in Germany it was pretty easy for me to get into the mostly german community as there was no language barrier for me to overcome. However after some months and dozens of cards I came to the conclusion that "finding emerging interconnections" is not the same as "note taking".

I then stumbled on TW and gave it a try as I did with all the others. Back then I did not expect that I would fall in love with it and TW bringing me an exciting new hobby waking the urge to learn programming. Today, looking back at my odyssey I see TW as a general purpose database which provides the (boring but necessary) backend (storing, linking, searching, saving, ... )  to build any imaginable application on top. So I would second Tony's observation and state that TW can be used as the database to implement a full blown Zettelkasten. But you could not use Zettelkasten for everything TW can do (see my experiences above).

Nowadays I use TW as a tool to keep track of my bees, my honey wine production, home automation and many other things which I could not do on top of many other software other than a real DBM - but than I would have to recreate the frontend over and over again instead of just using a bunch of widgets and wikitext.

I just noticed that the author dropped the original Zettelkasten application in favour of his new app - TW still exists so I would say that is another win for us users :)

Cheers,
Tristan

TonyM

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Apr 2, 2018, 5:51:48 PM4/2/18
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Josiah,

You say "2) [TW]  its native metaphor of basic data (fragments) are more in-kin with "back-of-an-envelope" notes and "post-it-notes" of any size. Card Index cards already have an implying of a series, a purposive collection. Notes on scrap paper usually don't."

That is your interpretation of TW "structure" or lack of, I do not share this. I see it's potential both as unstructured and structured (multiple alternatives). It is quite east to "impose" structures of TW through the modification of the interface to make it easy to use TW a particular way. I appreciate the unstructured limited barriers to capturing ideas which I can then access by a range of alternate structures. 

In fact I am building tools as I go to do this because I do very much focus on TiddlyWiki as a universal tool set, one idea is to capture notes, in a multilevel hierarchy then build an advanced next previous that allows a path to be followed through the whole heirachy with conditions available to determine if a set of children should be reviewed, or repeated for N cases.

(almost) Every form of structure can be imposed if desired in TW

Regards
Tony  

@TiddlyTweeter

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Apr 5, 2018, 4:32:30 PM4/5/18
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Ciao TonyM

Lovely reply. Actually I don't think we disagree at all. The point I was, centrally, trying to make was that TW is NOT inherently any kind of Card-Index.

You CAN use it to construct Card Indices, no problem. And it is. And I think YOU were saying that? Right? That I agree with FULLY.

BUT. my key point was not opinion actually (despite some of my opinions around that)--rather it was focused on "what is the minimal unit in TW?" Its is certainly NOT a Card Index. Its a fragment before that. That fragment, Tiddler, can take on the guise of a Card Index but its basic state isn't one unless you intended that. Its just as much more like a note on the back of a fag packet :-).

Josiah , x

Alex Hough

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Apr 30, 2018, 4:00:40 AM4/30/18
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The new feature in the latest release where you can change the text for "New Tiddler" is more useful that I ever imagined. It enables the user to construct a more meaningful set of prompts with TW.

It stuck me that prompts can be designed to help enhance the feeling of collaboration with the technology -- like Luhmann 



Alex

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David Gifford

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Apr 30, 2018, 5:05:03 PM4/30/18
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Wow thanks for pointing that out, I hadn't noticed that feature yet. Nice!


On Monday, April 30, 2018 at 3:00:40 AM UTC-5, AlexHough wrote:
The new feature in the latest release where you can change the text for "New Tiddler" is more useful that I ever imagined. It enables the user to construct a more meaningful set of prompts with TW.

It stuck me that prompts can be designed to help enhance the feeling of collaboration with the technology -- like Luhmann 



Alex
On 5 April 2018 at 21:32, @TiddlyTweeter <tiddly...@assays.tv> wrote:
Ciao TonyM

Lovely reply. Actually I don't think we disagree at all. The point I was, centrally, trying to make was that TW is NOT inherently any kind of Card-Index.

You CAN use it to construct Card Indices, no problem. And it is. And I think YOU were saying that? Right? That I agree with FULLY.

BUT. my key point was not opinion actually (despite some of my opinions around that)--rather it was focused on "what is the minimal unit in TW?" Its is certainly NOT a Card Index. Its a fragment before that. That fragment, Tiddler, can take on the guise of a Card Index but its basic state isn't one unless you intended that. Its just as much more like a note on the back of a fag packet :-).

Josiah , x

TonyM wrote:
You say "2) [TW]  its native metaphor of basic data (fragments) are more in-kin with "back-of-an-envelope" notes and "post-it-notes" of any size. Card Index cards already have an implying of a series, a purposive collection. Notes on scrap paper usually don't."

That is your interpretation of TW "structure" or lack of, I do not share this. I see it's potential both as unstructured and structured (multiple alternatives).

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TonyM

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Apr 30, 2018, 8:22:57 PM4/30/18
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Tristian,

Thanks for sharing your story. So not along with Platform and ecosystem we could say TiddlyWiki is a "user friendly database", "a front end", a back-end, a programming playground, a Hobby, application development platform.

Its functions are not limited.

Tony

Alex Hough

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May 1, 2018, 5:12:51 AM5/1/18
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i thought Jeremy's "Osmosoft" moniker was a useful partner to defining TiddlyWiki 

the concepts  of osmosis, biological systems.... then there was the image of the "fractal veg" ... all this produced an aesthetic that supported the idea that TW is a living thing, in an eco system.

I particularly like "osmosoft" as it emphasises software. Somehow the "soft" and "softness" has been lost in "software"

When I discovered that Jeremy had done some animations for a Richard Dawkins TV program (am I right Jeremy) and for the BBC


Collaborating at with a Zettlekesten at the level of osmosis seems like a development of Luhrman's idea. There's software and biology together, hinting at a future where computers are very different...


So... a few ideas

Lets re-introduce the biological and the fractal-biological metaphors into TW documentation!





Alex


 

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@TiddlyTweeter

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May 1, 2018, 6:09:15 AM5/1/18
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"The wonderful thing about Tiddlers, is Tiddlers are wonderful things."
-- A.A. Ruston --

AlexHough wrote:
i thought Jeremy's "Osmosoft" moniker was a useful partner to defining TiddlyWiki ...

... I particularly like "osmosoft" as it emphasises software. Somehow the "soft" and "softness" has been lost in "software"

@TiddlyTweeter

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Sep 2, 2018, 7:44:17 AM9/2/18
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A reader of this thread may be interested in a later discussion of Zettelkästen here:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/tiddlywiki/1BBrshZvk1c
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