Simplifying Zettelkasten by working out loud
What did I learn about learning as I explored using Zettelkasten idea and knowledge management to write five newsletters about disinformation in the 2020 US elections?
A couple of months ago I introduced an enewsletter into my personal content strategy to explore how Zettelkasten-powered idea and knowledge management could improve my personal productivity and creativity
I chose a specific subject — “disinformation in the US 2020 elections”- both because it interests me and to ensure I’d have plenty of material. My 5th edition was the last with that specific editorial focus, because the process itself led me to a new topic to pursue, as well as a much simplified, more powerful personal content strategy.
Here’s what I learnt, with a brand new example.
Annotate in my own words
It’s (now) a commonplace that you have to write in your own words to extract maximum value from content, even if you’re only writing notes to yourself. As Sönke Ahrens (author of Zettelkasten bible How to Take Smart Notes) puts it, actually writing your own material then becomes simply a matter of assembling your notes together.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know that when I launched my first Hub on Tumblr back in 2013: for the past 7 years I’ve been curating content by: selecting a suitable phrase; clicking ‘Hub it’ to curate it onto my Hub with that phrase auto-pasted into the notes; pasting in more words; and lightly editing the result.
The result was deeper than simply reading, but was still relatively shallow. Over the past couple of months I actually found it pretty easy to change that habit: I now write my own notes as I curate content. While this takes longer, writing the actual enewsletter editions then becomes both quicker and more productive: I can focus more on the connections between resources in each edition, rather on simply summarising them.
Sharing is simplifying
I also realised how easily I could simplify my MyHub.ai-powered process if I simplified Zettelkasten and just shared everything.
A Zettelkasten is supposed to be private: the original one, below left, was literally two wooden boxes where you put a variety of different types of note, linked together using a rather complex numbering system.
My first attempt at adapting this, above right, was to add both ‘private’ content and new types of note to MyHub.ai. While I still might give each MyHub.ai account a ‘Private’ space if there’s demand, I’ve made my life much simpler by just making everything public and ‘Working Out Loud’.
I’ve made my life much simpler by just making everything public and ‘Working Out Loud’
As a result, my content strategy looks like this:
This model represents a significant simplification. As set out previously
- I manage the Content Firehose using Inbox Curation and a Scan/Queue/ Read/Store process to ensure I focus only on the most valuable content.
- I then curate that content — what Zettelkasten calls Bibliographic notes — onto my Hub as Stuff I Like, tagged as necessary to help build connections.
I don’t need what Zettelkasten calls Fleeting and Permanent notes. If ideas occur as I curate some content, I’ll simply add the tag ‘fleeting’ to the Resource. And if I feel the need to write up a separate idea, I simply create a new Resource, classify it “Think”, tag it as needed plus add the tag ‘fleeting’.
If I want to create what Zettelkasten calls an Index or Overview, MyHub.ai’s Service Pages give me a place to write notes and automatically pull in all MyHub.ai items (notes, newsletters, blog posts) with the tags I specify.
My newsletter remains a simple MyHub.ai item classified “Think” and tagged #newsletter. Each edition summarises and compares the content I’ve Hubbed recently, a process which helps embed the knowledge in my mind and stimulates new ideas and/or updates to relevant Overviews.
My blog posts, as before, are either published in full on the Hub or posted on a platform like Medium and curated onto the Hub, tagged “Think”.
And it’s all tagged by topic. For example, here are the resources I Hubbed for my #US2020 #disinformation newsletter; all enewsletter editions (or just the ones about #disinformation, if you prefer); or all my blog posts, or just those about #community, or the ones about #community and #participation, etc.
Example and next focus: the Fediverse
How does this look in practice?
Fact-Checked on Facebook and Twitter, Conservatives Switch Their Apps
Since the election, millions have migrated to alternative social media and media sites like Parler, Rumble and Newsmax…
If you check out the notes I made as I curated that article, you’ll find more than just a mix of quotes and annotations in my own words. Annotating this article sparked ideas about something I’ve been meaning to follow up on for some time - the Fediverse: a universe of interoperable social networks built on Open Web standards.
a universe of interoperable social networks
Until I wrote that edition, the Fediverse had nothing to do with disinformation in the US elections. But once the connection was made, I decided to make this my next focus by adding #fleeting to the item, rereading all my notes tagged #fediverse, adjusting my Inbox Filters to highlight relevant content, and creating a Fediverse Overview on My Hub:
Fediverse: collection of interoperable social networks built on Open Web standards. ActivityPub standard, for example…
A blog post will hopefully emerge naturally, probably after one or two newsletter editions, and the occasional Overview update. Until then, I’ll be working out loud, so you can: