A System for Publishing Evergreen Notes

May 28, 2020 • #

In Sönke Ahrens’s book How to Take Smart Notes he describes the “zettelkasten” system (the “slip box”) developed by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. Luhmann created the system to help himself organize notes and thoughts in a networked model rather than a structured hierarchy of folders. The zettelkasten system has a few elements to it to help model different types of notes, how and when you should write them, and how you associate ideas together.

Evergreen notes

The fundamental piece is the “permanent note,” one in which you develop your own model of an idea, linking it through associations to other information like quotes, citations, and clippings from other works — but with the base attribute that you formulate it yourself in your own words (not a bunch of quotes pasted together).

Andy Matuschak calls these “evergreen notes,” which I think is a better term to describe how they work. The intent with evergreen notes is that they aren’t ever declared finished, that you continue to flesh out and expand on the ideas therein as you learn more. Maybe you even learn revelatory things that change your deep thinking on the foundation of the idea. Evergreen is a better term, to me, than permanent because it implies a living document. Permanence implies completion.

I’ve been kicking around an idea on how I can convert and publish my evergreen notes from Roam as a public site somehow. Once ideas are substantive enough, I could publish them to the web. Any internal links to other evergreen ideas could link to those pages, and links to ideas not yet published could indicate future ideas I’m working on, but not yet ready for public consumption.

At the moment I’m thinking about how I could build this with minimal friction and augment this site with it. Some way that I can publish alongside the blog, but perhaps interlink content between the temporal stream of the blog format and the non-time-bound evergreen notes. As new ideas or additions are worked out to existing ideas, I want a small breadcrumb to appear in the blog feed showing what was updated and the nature of the change, making visible the evolution of ideas over time.