My Second Brain - Zettelkasten
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For as long as I have been learning web development (over 7 years) I have been taking notes. Partly notes to help clarify my understanding of something and partly for future me.
That’s why I have my digital garden, an online collection of my learning over the years.
What is in my garden is not the full extent of the notes I have taken however, there’s partly formed musings and one-liners that will help me if I ever come across this one particular thing which took a while to fix/resolve in the past.
Stuff like that doesn’t really warrant going into a post so I have Cheat Sheets where that will get added to and grouped with the relevant information.
It’s not been until recently that I have come to learn of the Zettelkasten method, which translates from German to note box.
With tools like RoamResearch and Notion gaining popularity and me using many of them I’ve decided to make some notes on my opinions of what I have been using over the years.
I’m using a mixture of Foam and Obsidian with my data exported from RoamResearch and Notion which I now use in a private GitHub repo that I’m in full control of.
GitHub is where it all began for me, with git being a particular sticking point with a lot of commands that were all pretty alien at the time so I started adding the commands to a gist which has a history going back to the start of 2017.
As this list started to grow I also had other areas that I needed to keep these little one-liners to hand, git being the largest but other things like how to screen snip on macOS and kill a process with bash, all started adding up.
Back when Notion was the new hotness and I jumped onto it as soon as a discovered how flexible it was and more importantly cross platform, so I could take notes on my phone, work laptop and personal computer yay 🎉
I used it for stashing ideas for later, todo lists, shopping lists, kanban boards and the 100s of links that I thought looked interesting but didn’t have time to read it there and then so stashed them in the Notion links database (never to be seen again 🤣).
Downsides, the search wasn’t great, that’s been improved in recent iterations but was quite annoying when you wanted to find something quickly.
The Android version just straight up stopped working, I couldn’t use it and the general feeling from Notion was meh!
I learned the hard way about differing Markdown versions with this too after making a 8k word post in Notion then copy pasting into VS Code to find all the artifacts for code snippets and word formatting throughout.
Getting my data out of Notion was straightforward enough but what I was left with was a but of a mess. Because of the nesting you were able to do with pages in pages the export was a mess of files with hashes appended to them which is going to take a while to untangle.
Roam RoamResearch was a different way of logging notes, the default
was to open you on a daily notes view where you’d add your notes and
you could then move these into more long form documents with the help
of the graph behind it which helped you link information with
[[example backlink]]) with the intention of helping you
collate information from differing sources.
The odd bit was that you could only add in a bullet fashion, so if you want to add a code block it always looked weird inline of a unordered list.
It got a bit weird and culty, I always get a bit wary when companies start referring to their users/employees as tribes, “Roamers”, “Googlers”, no thanks.
That along with starting it and staring at the rotating logo for an age waiting for it to start, not helpful when you want to take a note quickly.
Getting my data out of there was a straightforward button click though.
Obsidian, the free (or one off licence payment) offering that is a standalone app, much like Notion (which I know is web based too) available on macOS, Windows and Linux.
The idea is that the notes you take are hosted locally on your machine, no central storage location like with Notion and RoamResearch.
With Obsidian you are in direct control of the Markdown, store it wherever you like.
This brings up questions about how and where you store your data, I’ve now added all the exports from Notion and RoamResearch to a git repository which is on a private GitHub repo.
This is nice, there’s an import option for Roam exports, you can configure your daily notes location and it has a super nice graph view.
This experience felt a lot like working in VS Code, but it wasn’t VS Code! 😬
I’m very comfortable with editing Markdown in VS Code and felt a bit cheated when I couldn’t select a tab or move lines around.
So, Foam! Foam is a VS Code extension that enables the features of Obsidian but with the editing power of VS Code, so no brainier, right?
Foam are the first to admit that things may be a little rough as it’s still in preview. But I really like working with my Markdown in VS Code so I’m prepared for the teething issues.
There’s a super welcoming Discord to join and talk to other users and the developers.
With my new liberated data from Notion and RoamResearch I’m in the process of working through all this data which is easy to visualise with the VS Code file explorer and built in graph view of Foam.
The Foam graph view is still a WIP so I’m referring to Obsidian to check that out for now.
I’m super excited following the progress of this!
There's a reactions leaderboard you can check out too.