@nickmilo Thanks, as always, for bringing up an interesting problem with an interesting set of views. And @ryanjamurphy — bravo, the comment is beautifully written and contains a lot of insights.
I wholeheartedly agree that flat structures with metadata are better for organisation, at least in principle.
Why is flat better than structured?
This point is even not that hard to argue: Given the choice of sticking to one organisational principle (folders, categories, or whatever else) or being able to summon any of the aforementioned organisational mental tools (or different views, as I prefer to call them) and even combine them to suit the problem at hand — who in their right mind would choose the first option?
You might ask, why do people keep choosing the first option then? In my opinion, the problem is that the flatter (and the nonexistent-er) the structure, the better the metadata need to be in order for you to be able to find your way through the notes and make some sense of them. Saved searches, MOCs and all the other views work if and only if the metadata are good.
What does it mean for metadata to be “good”?
You need to have as much information in them as possible (i.e. including the book author, name, topics, year, publisher etc), but crucially you also need the metadata to be structured in a predictable way so that the app can work with them (i.e. not having #habit and #custom).
I also slightly disagree with the following quote:
Only organize [sic] your notes according to an actual, current need.
I believe that “organising” is a bad mindset, even if you’re thinking in the context of metadata. When adding metadata, don’t think about your “actual, current need” — think about the content of the note, about the raw information that’s included in there. Add the metadata based on that and you can be sure you aren’t hiding your primal categorising instincts behind a veil of metadata.
How to write good metadata
Anyway, we’ve settled that the most important part is having quality metadata. Fortunately, an easy solution seems to be at hand (to take another friendly stab at @ryanjamurphy):
In other other words: when you’re note-taking, capture rich notes, use useful tags, and keep good metadata (e.g., always list a book’s title in the same form along with a quote from the book).
I.e. “just write good metadata, people!”. Of course, that doesn’t work that well — think about how hard it is to assign a note to a single folder. If you think that providing more choices (tags and other kind of metadata) simplifies things, think twice.
The original topic of this thread, as I see it, is: what views can you employ to gain insight from your notes? And it turns out we already have different tools at our disposal for viewing a properly metadata-ed note in a variety of contexts: see the bottom of the comment above for three examples.
The real problem (or rather, the one left unsolved) is filling in the relevant metadata in such a way that so that the views are useable. We need a system for adding metadata, but we need to do it carefully, in order not to end up with “folders 2.0”.
Fools and tools
If you remember, I split the problem of metadata in two categories (I love me some good categories): content and form.
While the burden of doing the content-part right lies mostly on the writer, I think that the form-part could be solved by our tools for us.
If you tag a note #habit and another one #common, the app can list them both if you search for #habit. This alone would solve a big problem that a lot of people are having with zk: it requires a mighty discipline to keep them useable.
Also, did I say that the content burden lies on the writer? Why not have the app generate the metadata for you, based on the contents of the note, on the context it was written in and on the links that lead from it?
Flat structures are great for information store, but not for information retrieval. In order to view your notes using different tools, you need to provide good metadata for them: that is metadata with enough information and in the right form.
We need to devise some system that we’ll use for metadata in the short run (deciding both on what the content should be and what the form should look like), and I’m happy to discuss about it.
However, there’s big untapped potential for some tool to step in and help us solve both of those issues — I, for one, am looking forward to that day.