Tinderbox Forum

Growth of zettelkasten and note taking

I’m amazed at the interest in note taking and the zettelkasten method.

It’s clear to me that Mark Bernstein and Tinderbox were way ahead of the curve on advanced note taking and thinking tools.

Article on Zettelkasten

List of Artificial Brain Networked notebook app’s

There are many developers trying to create capitalize on Roam’s growing popularity.

It is good to see Tinderbox mentioned here as a stub:

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Indeed. And people also seem to be mesmerised by the quantity of work produced by Luhmann. Yet others may only produce one book in a career, but it changes everything in the field.

There are lots of pressures in academia that did not exist thirty years ago, and we seem to live in an increasingly complex world. The Zettelkasten fashion (and it does seem to be a fashion) is, no doubt, partly fuelled by the difficulty of making sense of a vast mountain of information, and the fear of losing things. I’ve noticed that any program or service that offers linking seems to be seized on like water in a desert (and I know that I suffer from this tendency, too). Yet it often seems to be the case that it is my own memory that allows me to find things. Go figure.

“Yet it often seems to be the case that it is my own memory that allows me to find things.”

Yes! But, sometimes too, when it comes to find again, as quickly as possible, words you’ve read somewhere, but forgotten, a quick search with just a cmd + F shortcut can help a lot, especially if you have to finish to write in time your doctoral thesis. And I don’t even say a word about the attribute browser, which works for me as a tool for associating keywords to thoughts. But that trick requires you’ve written down those words somewhere. That’s why I take notes with Tinderbox.


I wonder too if this fascination isn’t a symptom of a general distrust of subjectivity in many aspects of life. Marketers have told us for years that we need a device to tell us if we’ve gotten enough exercise or enough sleep; that algorithms will find the right job candidate better than biased human beings, etc. We are bathed in the ideology of data=truth, while people are biased and unreliable.

Maybe the quest for note-taking miracles is another such quest to eliminate the unpredictable, inconstant and mysterious workings of the mind from another aspect of life.



I don’t think so. I think the present interest in Zettelkasten has more to do with the dopamine rush we get when we discover new things:

How Dopamine Enhances an Optimism Bias in Humans

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Spectators come. They get to see everything, and nothing else – just as in a porno film. And are disappointed accordingly.

Zuschauer kommen. Sie bekommen alles zu sehen, und nichts als das - wie beim Pornofilm. Und entsprechend ist die Enttäuschung.


:rofl: So true—not of our aspirations, but rather the outcome. Interested in the source of this, I came to

Translated to English:


Perhaps the problem isn’t so much the note taking, but why the note taking? People are told to store all sorts of abstract information and I can see the appeal in leaving a journal behind for your great grandkids to read (if people can still actually read then), but I’m not sure writing for writing’s sake is that beneficial. It’s similar to evernote which will store everything you put in it, but do you need to store everything?

I quite liked Tiago Forte’s idea of storing notes related to a project. The project could be anything from producing an app to establishing your thoughts on the end of the world. I like being able to write about something and keep adding to that body of knowledge so I am growing my understanding in that area. Tiago also mentions that you should note down what stands out to you, which I also find useful. In this way note taking becomes useful to me and TB’s ability to see those notes in different ways is really helpful. But I’m completely disinterested in collecting notes for the sake of collecting with no purpose.


I agree with Simon, with one caveat. I research a number of areas and use Tinderbox to collect my reading notes and other material. One of the things I like about Tbx however is that from time to time I can look at collections of notes (usually in Map view) and see connections between them that I hadn’t thought of before. That may take me into an area that I hadn’t expected to go into, but it’s worthwhile. But in general terms I don’t see the point of putting stuff into notes simply to have it there. I speak as a one time Evernote user who eventually dropped it because that’s what I found myself doing.


Reminded me of this, by Harriet Fleischman:

Lives of great men all remind us
As we history’s pages turn
That we often leave behind us
Letters which we ought to burn.


I’ve found (oddly enough) that my killer combo is Tinderbox, OneNote, Google Keep and my Samsung phone with a pen. In reverse order–

  1. the phone because I can easily jot down stuff with an endless supply of virtual paper. This is for transient stuff that may or may not end up elsewhere.

  2. Keep because it is so simple and syncs well. Also for transient stuff.

  3. OneNote because it is a good copy/paste repository and allows for markup (but its sync is maddening and fragile).

  4. Tinderbox for the stuff I really want to retain and draw significance from.

I’m all over the place with regards to brands and complexity, but after a fair bit of fiddling I’ve found my information management mainstays.

buns by great men
reached and kept
are not attained
by sudden flight but they
while their companions slept
were falling upwards
through the night

Don Marquis https://www.markbernstein.org/May16/Family.html

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I’m a bit surprised by the response to the interest in Roam and equivalents in this forum. I definitely understand the eye-roll inducing hype cycle that comes with a lot of new software trends, but I’d argue this isn’t really a trend and more of a natural progression away from hierarchical data structures. I’ve tried pretty much every note taking app out there, and I could never quite shake the feeling that it’s not that much better than paper and pen, other than having search. Now, with software like Tinderbox and the newcomers Roam and Obsidian, you’re able to get away from having to categorize your notes up front into impossible-to-maintain hierarchies and allow emergent discoveries to arise with backlinks. It’s the first time I’ve seen software leap far, far ahead of paper.

That being said, I think the primary issue with services like Roam is that they store highly personal information in an unencrypted fashion on a server you don’t control. It is why I was never drawn to it. Obsidian on the other hand built their software around txt files on your machine, which I think is the right move. They don’t even have a privacy policy since they don’t collect any data.

I was immediately drawn to the concept of Zettelkasten, but was baffled by the lack of real-world examples when researching it. Finally, with the explosion of Roam, I found a couple of videos and posts showcasing specific workflows which helped me think through how I organize and adjust.

Lately, I’ve been building a pretty decent setup around DEVONthink, Tinderbox and a dash of reMarkable tablet.


I’m not quite sure what you mean by “real world examples”. I would have thought that www.zettelkasten.de had most of the information one could want on the subject. And a pretty active forum, too.

Funny you mention that. I scoured the entire site (I even used The Archive for a while too) but there really isn’t any real-world examples. There is endless amounts of discussing the method, the history of it, the purpose of it… but there was no “Let’s use the Zettelkasten while we research a paper on affects of alcohol on the brain” kind of examples.

Maybe I’m an outlier, but I learn best by working through examples/projects. As I said in another forum, it’s the equivalent of trying to learn to program by reading a reference book vs building a simple project with examples.


Graph based note-taking. Notes on a computer have almost always been stored in some kind of hierarchal folder system. Tags came along to try and transcend this problem of hierarchy, but that was problematic for a few reasons. I believe the “trend” right now is simply a realization that folders… well… suck and that notes are better kept in a way that allows interconnectedness without a lot of work.

Couldn’t agree more. Just because you store a bunch of notes in a box like Luhmann doesn’t mean you suddenly wake up with a brilliant hypothesis. In fact, I’d argue that the Z technique requires an immense amount of up-front work to reap any benefits in the long run, which I doubt many are doing.

I’ve been a programmer for decades and I’m very skeptical of “the new shiny”, but I’m also wary of dismissing something just because it comes bundled with a bunch of internet hype. Sometimes new technology/processes are simply better and we shouldn’t dismiss them simply because they have a bunch of fanboys/fangirls.

I can’t but feel that applies to link creation. That’s no to imply anyone’s links are not of use to them. I’d agree the outline issue feels like a digression, but may occur because people may be progressing from explicit outline tools to Web-abstracted ones like Roam but with only passing understanding of the nature of Hypertext, to which Ted Nelson gave a name way back in 1965 and which still lives—albeit in the shadow of the Web and attendant new shinny-ness. IME, hypertext is better with a human hand on the tiller rather than an AI. Tinderbox’s ‘suggested’ links rightfully acknowledge that: I think it goes beyond the mere UI labels, as the apps been around since 200, and draws on older designs going back to the 1980s.

Things go in cycles. About once a decade a young person will breathlessly tell me corduroy trousers are very on-trend. Who knew they ever went out of fashion? They endures, like solid ideas lying there ripe for re-discovery.

Another thing overlooked is the difference in what can be done on the Desktop vs. some elastic ‘cloud’ system, which can mean we can (unintentionally) draw specious comparisons usually by over-concentrating on one narrow feature.

I still remain surprised that amidst the hoopla, Tinderbox’s hyperbolic view is getting nary a mention. Or maybe intentional linking is as fashionable as my corduroys… :thinking:

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Well, Christian did make some videos of taking notes from a book: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/david-epstein-range-episode-1/

But I don’t think there is a lot to learn, really. You read, and you make short notes (rarely more than 50-70 words), each note being a discrete, separate text. Much as you would if you were jotting things on index cards. That’s it, really.

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That’s what I like about Z method: it’s the best of both worlds. I can traverse a deeply interconnected set of notes from various angles, or I can create an index note that creates a hierarchy where and when I want. I’m not limited to one or the other.

To me, the new enthusiasm for this style of note taking --which I’m sure will eventually die down-- will mean more innovation in this space. The more the merrier.

Well… I guess you could say that’s not dismissive… but it definitely feels a bit snarky. :wink: On a side note, a big thanks to most of the people in this thread. The posts you’ve all made over the years here helped me figure out TBX.

Well said! I’m gaining trust in my note taking system. I’ve bounced around from composition books to spiral notebooks to a myriad of digital apps. My thinking shift has been the desire to get all the notes related to my domain in one system.

I’ve always been clear with my “why” but I’ve struggled with the “how”. It’s been helpful to see people open up the way they keep notes. I’m hoping to develop a system that I stick with.

Hyperbolic view is awesome. It is way better than the beautiful visualizations you get in roam or obsidian. However, I don’t know of any “influencers” who are making videos on Tinderbox. Two big youtubers Thomas Frank and Ali Abdaal have made Roam videos explaining the benefits. Sönke Ahrens, author of How to Take Smart Notes who seems to be on the leading edge of the Zettlelkasten movement said that he switched to Roam.

I would love for Tinderbox to get more exposure because I think our entire community would benefit. I think Tinderbox blows away the competition. However, I think Tinderbox has a much steeper learning curve that scares people away.