Tinderbox Forum

Growth of zettelkasten and note taking

With respect to the fashion for zettelkasten, my thoughts are that as a system it represents how just one man successfully took notes in a time before digital note taking existed. He was arguably much more successful than the average note taker, but as a system it represents what worked for his particular brain. There seems to be an almost cultish desire to replicate it exactly - one of the guys who runs the forum mentioned above quite openly (and, for my taste, bluntly) tells people they are wrong if they talk about modifications of the approach. If note taking can be seen as an extension of the brain, and since people’s brains differ in how they think, I’m not yet convinced (either way, for clarity) that there is just one approach that is ‘right’ for all modern note takers, as opposed to ‘true to the original method’.

As for real world examples on that forum, it’s actually a great forum, (on the most part) extremely helpful, but there does seem to be a type of person that it appeals to and I suspect that flavours the kinds of projects (or at least the approach to them) being discussed.


In the spirit of fairness, I’ve just revisited the forum for the first time in a while (I was put off of it for quite a while) and I think this may not be so much the case now - there seems to be a wider range of subject types being discussed.

I’ve often said that I look at person+program+method+work-to-be-done as a system, and each system is unique, with elements that interact in ways that are peculiar to that system. My leanings in psychology are more towards social than cognitive, and I can’t point to a body of research that says this, but it seems to me to be a reasonable way to look at the question. It also seems to me that working out one’s own method is actually a crucial part of the process of engaging with the material one wishes to study. Other people’s methods can spark useful ideas, but if you just take on someone else’s method wholesale, you may be missing out on an important phase of study. With my social constructionist leanings, I would say that this early phase of the work is one in which the material changes the person studying it, which may then change what they want to do with it. The material that I study is not inert, and there is an interaction between me and it. This is why I rather like C Wright Mills on Intellectual Craftsmanship:


He has a few things to say about discussions of methodology that we probably ought to heed!

Oh, and on this subject:

since people’s brains differ in how they think

the difference might appear in ways that many of us might not expect:



Really interesting, thank you. I’ll have a closer read when I get a chance.

That’s precisely my instinct.

So happy to see my video was helpful and encouraging of new questions about how to use Tinderbox. Honestly, I didn’t get much into the UI because I hardly understand it myself. I know little to anything about coding or markdown so learning Tinderbox has been a rather steep uphill climb for me. I made the video as part of a grad class assignment to show how I was doing my senior project.

I can respond to a few things you mention though.

The second link to DevonThink is from a Publish to DevonThink stamp that I found here in the forum so I could push all my notes and outline to DevonThink. I could then search across all DT - my journals and Tinderbox notes - for something I was looking for.

Yes, the outline view was for the purpose of helping me write the final paper but I didn’t write the actual paper in it. I used them more like items I was going to use in that section. One thing I wish I had done better was making more concept oriented notes that I could more easily manipulate and shift around. Changing note titles don’t change the respective links I’ve already made so that caused a lot of confusion.

I’m not sure what you’re asking "why drag this, what is that for. Happy to answer more questions! I don’t plan on doing another video on how I did this but I did make a separate video on all my processes I use for grad school.

My purpose hasn’t been so much to give a step by step explanation but rather to give other people ideas, especially since I generally stumbled into my workflow than specifically designed it and can rarely explain the UI behind the scenes. Anyway, hope this helps!

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Regarding the issue of videos on TBX, I honestly find the dearth of visual examples a concern. Other applications have put a lot of effort into having media outreach to show off how people are using it and their workflows and they get a lot of views. That indicates there is value there.

Beck Tench’s videos were instrumental for me to realize that TBX could be a tool that could address the problem I was having. Not because I liked her system but because it illustrated what it was capable of. I’ve watched a lot of videos about Roam, Obsidian, and Notion as well as on Zettle, Evergreen Notes, and Building a Second Brain. I haven’t replicated any of them but they offer great ideas I can incorporate. As someone that doesn’t know coding/markdown language, reading instructions is like reading a different language. Watching Beck’s videos had the effect of introducing me to TBX’s unique terminology.

Watching other people’s workflows is also tremendously helpful in understanding inter-app capabilities. I found TBX because I had DevonThink.

I could keep going on the value that videos offer but I’ll get off my soap box now. :wink:


Not sure how that relates to what I wrote, but I liked your video very much :slight_smile: – and I agree that videos can be worth a ton of prose in a manual. I have had similar learning experiences.

lol I suppose I didn’t make that very clear. Sorry! The idea that watching other’s methods can spark useful ideas but you shouldn’t really try to take someone’s method on completely without making it your own. Well said! Thus why I think videos are so helpful.

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this is reflecting my experience of people seeing something, getting interested by it, trying it with their problem, then turning up saying “I watched X and it was great but I can’t replicate it” which generally boils down to things seems but not guessed without the expertise.

I don’t think the overview and process explanation bellowing in the same video as I suspect it will simple fail on one of the now two aims. Rather, I was thinking—generally, rather than your video per se—that there might be scope with videos people find inspiring but can’t ‘just’ use to have separate videos explaining the how of the things seen.

I hope that explains my comment a bit better. To be clear, it’s not a critique of your video :slight_smile:

I didn’t take it as a critique so no worries! You do a lot for this community and value your thoughts. :+1:t2:

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Your video was fantastic, as are others. The one problem (for want of a better word) with Tinderbox and general tutorial videos for it is that Tb is so open-ended and used in such a personally tailored manner. Again, the videos from you, @beck, @eastgate and others have definitely opened my eyes to possibilities I’d never arrive at independently, and are in no way a detriment to the learning experience – quite the opposite. I just don’t know how you’d go about formulating a suite of videos that didn’t come across as “this is how to use Tinderbox” rather than “this is how Tinderbox can be used”.

Maybe that’s the answer (as already touched on to an extent above)? Videos presented as illuminating usage examples but not prescriptions. The ones I have seen already fit well into that category, but apart from @eastgate’s contributions they come from the community rather than the publisher. Once more, if I was the publisher, I’d be hard pressed to develop a whole series of them that conveyed both the depth and versatility while second-guessing the endless things people are going to do with the app and the way they’re going to do it. Still would welcome more videos, though.


For what it’s worth, I’m here from morning until late at night, helping folks with Tinderbox and Storyspace and improving the code.

It’s really hard to balance the advantages of another video as opposed, say, to a bit more machine learning, or a bit of UI polish.


It’s worth a lot. That’s the difference between buying software from a monolithic company and going with a niche supplier. The resources for sizzle* mightn’t be there, but the personal touch is.

*That’s not to say videos are just fluff. The one you did on planning for a political convention (link here for those who haven’t seen it) made me aware of techniques I probably never would have discovered any other way. But I’d imagine making dozens of these would be a massive timesink.

The training-specific resource I learned the most from is the Actions and Dashboards link in the Help menu. I would always point a new user to it and the Getting Started document found in Help as well. And of course aTbRef for more(!) detail.

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The videos should definitely come from the community and NOT eastgate. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing how people organize their workflows for improving one’s own, especially for an app with such mammoth potential as TBX. Check out how many videos there are from people explaining how they use Notion and Roam. The world is becoming a much more visual place which is one reason TBX is so helpful. Videos from the community would help push that message. I’ll stop preaching now :wink: Thanks everyone for all the work you do!

I’m really enjoying this thread, thanks to everyone here.

Zettelkasten is a much-hyped concept and a buzzword that I feel is often misused. There are forums full of people arguing over what is and what is not a true Zettelkasten and a plethora of shiny YouTube videos about it. I personally don’t care much. But, it’s one of those things that helps put a name to something people have trouble describing, so maybe it’s a net gain.

Watching videos can be a hit-or-miss method of learning about things like Tinderbox or Roam. They vary from low-quality, indecipherable, and basically useless to highly-polished, hype-driven SEO bait. But, somewhere in the middle are videos showing an interaction or use case that I may not have considered, and that’s when videos are valuable to me. I don’t care if some of the concepts in a video are beyond me or my specific use case. Almost every video I’ve ever watched about Tinderbox has given me some idea of how to solve my own problems or make better use of some feature. I used to argue that most videos should instead be a thought-out, illustrated blog post. This is often still true, but I’ve also realized that there’s no serendipity in text.

Videos can sometimes accidentally demonstrate some small but incredibly useful thing that would never have been explicitly mentioned in writing. I love when that happens. I’ve been using Tinderbox almost daily for at least a decade, and it still happens.

I gravitate toward 2 types of videos. The first, and most interesting to me, are those that say, “Here’s how I use Tinderbox to do X”. If I’m new to some tool, it’s very informative watching someone actually using it to do something. If I’m already experienced in the tool, it’s often useful watching someone use it in ways that I may never have considered.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand the specific Agents or Prototypes involved when watching a video. It’s useful enough if it helps me see what Tinderbox can do for others. I can take it from there.

Or, I can watch my second favorite type of video, those demonstrating some specific feature. Things like “How to use Prototypes”. In these videos I want to see the details. What do I click and what does it do? They’re not as fun, but they add to my toolbox.

I didn’t intend to go on this long, but this thread got me thinking.


Would you mind describing how you create an index note in TBX?

Actually that’s not it. Or at least that’s not how I understand it. Rather, the important step that turns “reading notes” into a Zettelkasten is the process of “curating” those reading notes: summarizing, expanding, adding context from other sources, and so on.

I’m still in the early stages of building my own Zettelkasten, but that “curation” step was what turned the light on for me. That insight and many more via Sönke Ahrens:

Good summary here:

Coincidentally, Sascha Fast wrote on the Zettelkasten forum this morning:

“So, in practice all the knowledge about the Zettelkasten Method is very simple.”

That was really the point I was trying to get across. All the methods I have tried in the past have sunk under the weight of too much complexity and intricacy. Now I look for simplicity where I can. But if I were to write that comment today, I would add that linking now seems to me to be important. In other words, it seems to me that creating a network that links ideas is a crucial part of the process.

I have a background in psychology, so what I have read of Ahrens (not much, I confess) is familiar ground to me.

Season’s greetings from “plague island” as Britain is now known! I may have to re-read Daniel Defoe. I have got myself a copy of i Promessi Sposi, but haven’t had the energy to dive into it yet. Let us hope for better times …

Yes, definitely agree.

I’ve encountered this a lot in books about writing. In order to write a “how to” book, you necessarily have to establish yourself as an Authority and impose some kind of linear order on the process. Which can be disastrous if someone whose brain works a different way tries to follow the advice literally. Less polished advice – video walkthroughs, blog posts, etc. – can be helpful precisely because it shows that the process is inherently messy and prone to happy (and unhappy) accidents.