Background

I have referred to my personal knowledge management system as a Digital garden for several years now and it makes sense this online presence reflects that. Originally I used the term to mean tending the noise of digital records, but have now moved towards a place for the growing of ideas.

My evolution is not uncommon as explained in this Maggie Appleton article, A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden. I was feeling at an impasse with the future structure of this site so went looking for inspiration.

The situation as it stands today

I have been a user of Obsidian for the past couple of years1 and prior to a year’s flirtation with Roam Research, had been a heavy user of TheBrain2.

My vault consists of truly personal notes and information (journal entries, remembrances of past events), reference material, blog entries and I recently began tracking books read, movies watched etc. More on that later. Until September 2023, I was also hosting blogs on a Wordpress site until I moved from Wordpress to Quartz. And that’s before the PDF reference material stored in Zotero.

I can’t share everything because of the personal/public nature of some of the information, nor can I be wasting time converting from one format to another. Past interactions have taught me there is value in sharing my knowledge on the web, but it can be hard when there are multiple audiences involved (me and you).

I now have a working system where I am able to create notes such as this within Obsidian and publish to the web via Quartz 4. A major point of friction is then removed, that of converting from one format to another. It’s write-once, publish once. Though, as digital gardening suggests, that is more write-many, publish many.

My thinking has evolved to green thumb level

Maggie’s article perturbed me when I read it. The Sun came out and I could see different ways to approach my digital gardening.

The concept of “publishing” to the web had bound me in ways I hadn’t realised. Something like a blog post would be “published” on a date, never to change again apart from any corrections I may need to do. The status was always considered done, and the date was the date.

The impact of this was a split in my notes. A note that I may make about the game A Plague Tale: Innocence would look very different if it was for me compared to a target blog reading audience. Rather than generate ideas and explore, I felt the need to have something already finished.

Letting go of “published” and all that comes with it frees me to write what I’m thinking, knowing that I can change it later if I need to, and I won’t get in trouble for it.

”Gardens present information in a richly linked landscape that grows slowly over time. … The garden helps us move away from time-bound streams and into contextual knowledge spaces.3

In contrast, this note is being written as I think and I fully expect it to change as I firm up the design of The Quantum Garden.

I feel liberated in not having to think about time anymore.

But it can’t be that easy

It’s not. I have to rethink how existing content is presented and work my way through the necessary changes.

The joy and wonder are in now understanding, that’s perfectly ok. I don’t have to get the garden website perfect the first time. It never will be and like a garden the visual aspect will change over time. Both plants (notes) and structure (landscaping) are all up for grabs to maximise the benefit of the knowledge shared.

Blogging and RSS feeds

The move from blogging to digital gardening means I have made My Decision to Stop Blogging. My mind has been rearranging content and I’ll begin doing so for real once I finalise where everything will land. It’s not 100% simple as the writing style of a blog post is different from that which is moving towards an Evergreen note.

Changing Obsidian’s structure

My Obsidian Vault’s internal structure does not need to change too much. Anything that is published here sits within a “Quartz” folder off the root. This is the only folder that Quartz 4 considers when publishing and eliminates the risk of my suddenly publishing 30 years of private journal entries.

Last night I was thinking about all the books, movies, video games I’ve been tracking. I had begun to Replacing Goodreads With Obsidian and am now not so sure. It is taking a lot of time to transfer the backlog which is time better spent on developing my knowledge (in gardening terms I’m constantly weeding rather than growing).

I asked myself why am I even recording all this. It’s because I don’t feel known. Someone who discovers my journals after I die could look at the list of my media consumption and somehow understand me. How I Apply Ratings would give them perfect insight into who I was. But, of course, it wouldn’t. I’m wondering if I’d be better dumping all that overhead and simply listing my favourites and WHY4.

The design as it stands

Nothing is sacred

This is a garden. Ideas flourish and others will die. I make no promises that a note, topic or anything else will be present tomorrow if it’s there today. Letters with Jason was originally six blog posts, and RSS Remains an Important Technology was four posts spanning 19 years. If combining content makes a better story I’ll not hesitate. Notes that are clearly no longer relevant will be updated or deleted.

No site menu

Flowing from the idea that Backlinks are important the site is highly interconnected so the “standard” website menu is not required. Landing anywhere will allow easy navigation from one related note to another. And there is always search.

Individual notes with structure will show a ToC.

Map of content are used extensively and are marked with the MOC topic. Some topic pages are themselves maps of content.

Note metadata

Each note has a growth status that indicates how “finished” it is. The growth values are Seedling, Budding and Evergreen. As a note matures, the growth marker will be changed.

One or more topic flags will be added to each note. Even topic pages can have their own topics. This is all to aid navigation.

There are no dates. Dates are used internally by me in Obsidian and are not displayed with notes. Dates tend to suggest blogging more than digital gardening. There is a risk that recent notes are seen as more important than their older siblings.

Footnotes

  1. Since January 2021.

  2. Known as PersonalBrain back then.

  3. A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden, retrieved 17 September 2023.

  4. From my emotional reaction to the sentence, we can assume I have decided that. It feels more right to do it that way but I will do so in a controlled way.