digital garden

Digital gardens are a relatively new way of publishing and tending to one’s ideas, knowledge, and thoughts.

They’re frequently made up of works-in-progress in the form of notes—often unpolished and unfinished, like this one—that are deeply interconnected and linked with one another. Most importantly, they are created for you, the creator.

“With blogging, you’re talking to a large audience,” he says. “With digital gardening, you’re talking to yourself. You focus on what you want to cultivate over time.”

I think it’s a cute term for a renewed-yet-evolved interest in sharing personal knowledge through personal web pages. We’re not selling things. We’re not promoting ourselves. There’s not much positioning of ourselves. We’re writing for the fun of it as we learn new things and explore new ideas. There’s no pressure. It’s just you and your words. Online. In public. For others to read, remix, and respond.

This note is part of a small series highlighting my digital ecosystem.

The gardening language is a beautiful analogy for how we plant, tend, and grow our ideas publicly. Some bloom faster than others. Some are evergreen. Some of the seeds just don’t take. Such is gardening. And if we extend the metaphor: so is creativity 🌱.

Mind gardening is a proactive way of cultivating knowledge, ideas and thinking in general. It's very different from passive consumption – it's like a proactive creation.

Seeds need to be germinated properly and many don’t root despite best intentions. The seeds of my ideas are planted in the quick capture part of my digital ecosystem: Drafts. Once moved from my capture inbox, the seeds are then germinated in another tool designed to help link notes and concepts with one another: Craft. Once they sprout into seedlings—something most notes never grow in to—they are moved to the garden to be tended and matured.

This process is composed of three specific, purpose-built digital products of choice:

Many digital gardens adhere to some basic tenets which help cultivate the digital soil (🤮…😆) in a healthy and effective way:

  • Link note to one another bidirectionally (to create a web of thinking)
  • Each note focuses on one atomic concept
  • Most pages are somewhere between low fidelity notes and semi-polished essays, articles, or creative writing
  • The garden is a system of networked thought designed to cross-pollinate and facilitate the linking and remixing of ideas (Ideas improve by writing about them not by thinking about them)
  • Digital gardens tend to be experiments to learn how to think out loud and in public—or as some in the community say: work with the garage door open
  • Many strive to be collaborative and inviting of comments and responses from readers

When exploring the garden, links are clicked through without any linearity, making every path through the garden unique to the wanderer.Non-linear writing’s ability to jump from sentence to sentence, idea to idea, changes the way the mind thinks through ideas, and digital gardens are a representation of that non-linear thinking in a public fashion.

When you learn in public, you build connection between ideas and people. Every time you tend to an idea you create an opportunity to share original work with others. It also helps that public notes build authority and trust.

Tending to digital gardens helps make sure you always have something to write about, consistently build a body of work, and frequently have the opportunity to share your web of thinking with others as a beacon for like-minded people.

Finding topics to write about is easier when a body of notes already exists upon which ideas can grow, so digital gardens aim to facilitate curiosity, creativity, and creation.

Inspiration and Examples of Digital Gardens

Ness Labs — You and your mind garden
Tom Critchlow — Digital Gardens
Andy Matuschak — About these notes

How to setup your own digital garden

The tool I use for tending the garden is native to MacOS, so my workflow is MacOS-specific. That said, you can most likely replace the word Obsidian with whatever digital writing tool you prefer, and use the backend in this walkthrough the same way I do. Obsidian works well with markdown and linking of thinking, but any text editor will technically be able to edit your markdown files.

If you would like to setup a garden like this one, I made this for you: Obsidian Jekyll workflow.

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