A zettelkasten is note taking system featuring atomic notes which are densely interlinked and are used primarily for writing and acting as an external memory. While most often private repositories, some can be maintained in public as a supplement to or part of a personal website. The word is from German and translates literally as "slip box" (plural Zettelkästen).
They often will have taxonomies including tags, usually expressing membership in a group, and categories which more often act as subject headings which might be found on an index page. Portions of the system also include citations and references for use in attributing ideas to original sources.
While online zettelkasten may have many user interface features in common with their intellectual history antecedent the commonplace book or related forms like wikis and digital gardens their form and function is subtly different.
In practice, there are very few websites that one might call "traditional" or stand alone digital Zettelkästen in the wild, but people may have their zettelkasten integrated into their website in a hybrid fashion with other functionalities and forms including wikis and blogs.
The examples below are closer to traditional zettelkasten functionality only. Those with hybrid examples are encouraged to place them on the commonplace book, wiki, or other appropriate pages and annotate them as such. This may help those designing specific types of functionality and use cases be more focused on real world examples of actual use.
- Note that his zettelkasten site is physically separate from his main personal site.
- Rather than using the German word zettelkasten to describe the form or function of the site, Andy uses the more English-centric terms "notes" or "evergreen notes".
Soren Bjornstad, an engineer for RemNote in 2021, has a digital zettelkasten online at https://zettelkasten.sorenbjornstad.com/. It's built using a customized version of TiddlyWiki. He's created a video walk through of how his system works which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjpjE5pMZMI.
Examples of analog zettelkasten which were subsequently digitized:
- Niklas Luhmann https://niklas-luhmann-archiv.de/bestand/zettelkasten/tutorial
- ZK 1: https://niklas-luhmann-archiv.de/bestand/zettelkasten/zettel/ZK_1_NB_1_1_V
- ZK 2: https://niklas-luhmann-archiv.de/bestand/zettelkasten/zettel/ZK_2_NB_1_1_V
- Missing Link: Luhmanns Denkmaschine endlich im Netz An overview (in German) of Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten and how it was digitally archived with some potential ideas about how this might be done for other such systems or for ideas for those building and designing their own.
- Ross Ashby's system can be found at http://www.rossashby.info/index.html
- Add yourself here… (see this for more details)
- Due to large overlap in functionality a large variety of related software or platforms can be found at commonplace_book#Platforms
Books / Articles
- 2021-07-03 Chris Aldrich Differentiating online variations of the Commonplace Book: Digital Gardens, Wikis, Zettlekasten, Waste Books, Florilegia, and Second Brains
- 2021-05 David Kadavy Digital Zettelkasten: Principles, Methods, & Examples (book)
- 2017-02 Sönke Ahrens How to Take Smart Notes – One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (book)
- 2014 - ongoing https://zettelkasten.de/ is a website focusing on the concept and use of zettelkasten (both digital and analog). While most of the focus of the site is on using digital tools to maintain private, personal zettelkasten, one may be able to extract some hints and use cases for building and maintaining a public digital zettelkasten on a personal website.
- 1992 : Kommunikation mit Zettelkästen (German)/ Communicating with Slip Boxes (English translation)
- Published in print in Ein Erfahrungsbericht, in: André Kieserling (ed.), Universität als Milieu. Kleine Schriften, Haux, Bielefeld 1992, ISBN 3-925471-13-8, p. 53–61;
- Jean Paul (1763-1825), a German romantic novelist, kept an early version of a Zettelkasten made of slips of paper in bound books.
"In the event of a fire, the black-bound excerpts are to be saved first."
—instructions from Jean Paul to his wife before setting off on a trip in 1812 
- French theorist, philosopher, and writer Roland Barthes (1915 – 1980) kept a fichier boîte or card index file beginning in 1943 until his death. Curator Nathalie Léger has indicated that there are 12,250 slips in Roland Barthes' bequest at the Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC). Louis-Jean Calvet explains that in writing Michelet, Barthes used his notes on index cards to try out various combinations of cards to both organize them as well as "to find correspondences between them." In addition to using his card index for producing his published works, Barthes also used his note taking system for teaching as well. His final course on the topic of the Neutral, which he taught as a seminar at Collège de France, was contained in four bundles consisting of 800 cards which contained everything from notes, summaries, figures, and bibliographic entries. In his autobiographical Roland Barthes par (by) Roland Barthes, Barthes reproduces three of his index cards in facsimile. Published posthumously in 2010, Barthes' Mourning Diary was created from a collection of 330 of his index cards focusing on his mourning following the death of his mother. The book jacket of the book prominently features one of his index cards from the collection. In a well known photo of Barthes in his office taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1963, the author is pictured with his card indexes on the shelf behind him.
- Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998), a German sociologist and philosopher, was famous for his use of the Zettelkasten (or "slip box") note-taking method. He created a zettelkasten of 90,000+ index cards, and credited it with making his prolific writing possible. His collection was digitized and made available online in 2019.
- W. Ross Ashby (1903-1972) started a commonplace book/zettelkasten in a journal in May 1928 as a medical student. He kept it for 44 years until his death at which point it occupied 25 volumes comprising 7,189 pages and was indexed with 1,600 index cards. The British Library created a digital archive of his system which has been published online with extensive cross linking based on his original index. http://www.rossashby.info/index.html. While somewhat more commonplace in form, Ashby's system also functioned as a zettelkasten in practice.
- Vladimir Nabokov wrote several of his novels on index cards using a similar method: https://www.openculture.com/2014/02/the-notecards-on-which-vladimir-nabokov-wrote-lolita.html
- commonplace book
- digital garden
- Wikipedia: Zettelkasten
- bi-directional links
- Not to be confused with Käsespätzle, a dish that past IndieWebCamp Berlin participants have enjoyed after the end of the camp (e.g. 2018/Berlin#Photos)
- Dave Gauer has nascent digital zettelkasten on his website though he calls them a virtual box of cards "(as opposed to 'zettelkasten' or 'wiki' or 'notes')".
- Slippy, a WordPress plugin for creating a digital zettelkasten https://wordpress.org/plugins/slippy/
Slippy allows you to take slipbox or zettelkasten style notes from within WordPress.
Notes are stored separately from your posts and pages, but otherwise use all of the features of WordPress.
The best way to use Slippy is to add short, related notes as they come to you. Be sure to include any images or reference links that are relevant, and tag extensively.
After saving a note, or when editing existing notes, related notes will be displayed underneath, allowing you to discover previously unknown relationships between your thoughts. Notes can also be directly connected via the related notes feature.
Notes are able to be searched, or filtered by tag and category. The Full View shows all notes in full, allowing you to skim over recent or related notes to discover deeper connections.
Slip Notes Listing - Default ViewCreating a Slip Note - Related NotesCreating a Slip Note - Linked NotesCreating a Slip Note - Tags CloudInstallation
Upload the plugin files to the /wp-content/plugins/slippy directory, or install the plugin through the WordPress plugins screen directly.
Activate the plugin through the ‘Plugins’ screen in WordPress.
Start adding notes using via ‘Slip Notes’ section of the main menu.
What are Zettelkasten / Slip Box Notes?
Zettelkasten or Slip Box Notes are notes ordered by subject, with each note having it’s own ID that can be used as a reference. Related notes follow on from the ID of the previous related note.
Slippy makes taking zettelkasten style notes easy by replacing the complex indexing system with the powerful tag system built into WordPress.
You can read more about slip box notes on our blog.
Does Slippy adhere directly to the Zettelkasten System?
Slippy makes use of the powerful tag system built into WordPress, so there’s no complex indexing system as would be required by analog slip box notes.
To make things easier, Slippy uses categories and hash tags to automatically detect relationships between notes. Where required, manual connections can be made using the Linked Notes feature.
How private are Slippy Notes?
All data, including Slip Notes, are stored in the WordPress database being used by your WordPress instance.
Slippy does not send your notes, or any other data to any third party.
Slippy does not collect any usage information, and does not report back to LMNHQ or any other party.
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Contributors & Developers
“Slippy” is open source software. The following people have contributed to this plugin.Contributors
Translate “Slippy” into your language.Interested in development?Browse the code, check out the SVN repository, or subscribe to the development log by RSS.
Added Dashboard Widget
First Public Version" @LMNHQ
- Heinrich Kummerle example at https://iiics.org/h ostensibly built using Detlef Stern's https://zettelstore.de/