Using UIDs vs Titles alone - Some reflections

tl;dr: I started using just descriptive titles in my Obsidian ZK. I like how readable it is, but when I want to write a new thought on the same topic (that might have the same title), it is difficult to distinguish. The UID helps obviate the issue of identical titles, even if it makes note titles ugly.

There are several ways to title notes in a zettelkasten

  1. Regular descriptive title
  2. Unique ID
  3. Randomly generated ID

Many zettelkasten adherents use a unique ID. I have done this. It works nicely because a note is always unique. The downside is that it doesn’t say anything about the content of the note.

One can combine a regular title with a unique ID to make a hybrid, and indeed, this is what most zettelkasten users do.

[[Obsidian]] by default uses just regular titles without a timestamp-based unique ID.

The problem that I am running into is that often I will have a thought about a topic, and then at a later time, have new thoughts on the same topic. For example, this note itself is titled ‘Creating Titles for Notes in a Zettelkasten’

Perhaps a few months from now, I want to address this same topic. What is the right course of action? Should I:

  • Search for an existing note (this one) and add to it OR
  • Create a new note

If I create a new note, I can’t use the same exact title. So how to differentiate?

  • I could add the date to the title, in which case I’m basically making a UID
  • I could add some other verbiage to the title to make it unique, for example “More thoughs on Creating Titles…”

This problem compels me to return to the UID-content type title.

@lizardmenfromspace

1 Like

In addition to the advantages you mentioned, the use of IDs (with or without descriptive titles) also has these benefits:

Linking to your notes from external applications is easier with stable ID links

An ID gives you a short & stable means of identifying a note from a third-party application. In case you want to rename a note, your note-taking app may be able to rename all your links within the app. But renaming links in external apps is usually trickier. A stable ID makes this a non-issue.

ID links are short & don’t break the text flow

I think that it’s good habit to use rather descriptive note titles (which act like a core statement, i.e., an accurate summary of the note’s content). However, IMO long titles can cause problems when being used as links. When used as in-line links, they tend to break the text flow. So it’s nice if one can alternatively link to the note by just using its ID. This can be done with apps whose links just perform a search (like The Archive), or with apps that allow to specify aliases (like DEVONthink).

IDs let you create a note (and start linking to it from everywhere) even if you don’t have a title yet

Sometimes, you want to create a note and start linking to it although you don’t have a proper title yet. When using IDs, you can simply create an ID-only note, and fill in the title later.

Fultext searches for an ID don’t produce any false hits

Searching for a descriptive note title may produce unrelated search results whereas a search for an unique ID always yields the correct results and nothing else. This is also helpful when using scripts to further process your notes.

@msteffens
Thanks for the reply!

Do you use just UID alone though? That also seems challenging because how do you link to a note if you don’t know it’s contents? You would need a search that looks inside the note, not just at the title.

As I mentioned a few months back at zettelkasten.de, this is one area where Roam shines, with the transclusion and block reference. You don’t need to know the title. And not all information needs a title.

Do you use just UID alone though? That also seems challenging because how do you link to a note if you don’t know it’s contents?

With my setup (which, as you know, may feel a bit different compared to others), I’m including the note’s ID within the note’s metadata (as well as within the note’s file name). The note’s main heading, however, just contains the descriptive title (and not the ID), as in this example:


When linking to another note, I just use its ID (since its short & won’t change). However, when autocompleting such a link, I’d want to be able to search for the note’s descriptive title (this isn’t possible yet).

Alternatively, I open a second window to perform a search, and drag the target note from there into my source note to create the link. Mousing over the link with the ID gives me the note’s title in a tooltip (a popup with a preview of the full note might be even better).

You don’t need to know the title.

I agree that, when autocompleting a link, a full-text search may be useful at times. OTOH, I’m not sure how often this would cause too many results to be useful. So, in that case, opening a new window (with full search capabilities) and using drag+drop seems like a good compromise for me.

And not all information needs a title.

Yes, that may be true! OTOH, as you know, I’m a bit sceptical about the long-term usefulness of blocks. Personally, I think that being forced to create a full-blown note with a concise title in the long run will help me to achieve better structure & clarity in my notes archive.