Chris Aldrich on a history of digital note taking tools and platforms

From: Differentiating online variations of the Commonplace Book: Digital Gardens, Wikis, Zettlekasten, Waste Books, Florilegia, and Second Brains

Many of these products are selling themselves based on ideas or philosophies which sound and even feel solid, but they’re completely ignoring their predecessors to the tune of feeling like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. As a result, some of the pitches for these products sound like they’re selling snake oil rather than tried and true methods that go back over 2,000 years of intellectual history. I can only presume that modern education is failing us all dramatically. People are “taught” (maybe told is the better verb) to take notes in school, but they’re never told why, what to do with them, or how to leverage them for maximum efficiency. Perhaps the idea has been so heavily imbued into our culture we’ve honestly forgotten the basic parts and reasoning behind it?

The post covers some of the characterstics of different models, frameworks and platforms for note-taking/making, with a nod towards historical precedents. Worth a read, particularly if you’ve heard of Roam and its competitors/comparables and wondered what all the fuss is about.


If you want a real deep dive in this stuff, check out this (now defunct) blog:


When it went down (and before I found it on I archived that whole blog as a series of PDFs that I’ve been meaning to dedicate some time to working through… thanks for reminding me!

Feel free to put those PDFs in a .zip file and share a Dropbox link with your MPU forum friends :smiley:


Man, these words are so true. I found myself back in college after the 2008 housing market crash, and needing to relearn how to be a student. The first thing I did was figure out what the heck I was supposed to do with all the notes I was talking in class. Some students rewrote their notes, some condensed them into outlines, some used them to make piles of flash cards (which became my go-to method for most of my STEM classes).

I vaguely remember a teacher telling me in high school how to TAKE notes, but there was never a follow up discussion about what were where supposed to do with them once we HAD them. It seemed like everyone just used them to re-read over and over, as if the repetition of reading them was supposed to make everything stick.

More needs to be done to teach the value of note taking as part of a whole system and not a means of an end unto themselves.

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