How To Create A Digital Garden Quickly That Looks Beautiful

How To Create A Digital Garden Quickly That Looks Beautiful

Step #1: Select A Tool For Your Digital Garden

Tool Comparison

NameFree VersionPaid Version FeaturesMonthly PriceMy Analysis
* Unlimited pages & blocks * Share with 5 guests * Sync across devices * API
* Unlimited file uploads * Unlimited guests * 30 day version history
$4.00
This is my favorite
* Can't share notes publicly
$20.00
Free
$0.00
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Notion

Pros

  • Doesn't have a big learning curve
  • Easily turn it into a beautiful website
  • SEO ability
  • Password-protection
  • Embed video/links/mind maps
  • Supports markdown for faster typing
  • Import / export all data

Cons

  • Data isn't stored locally (although you can back it up any time)
  • Doesn't have a global find & replace option
  • Links to specific blocks on a page are slow
  • There is a loading delayed when searching for pages

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Obsidian

Pros

  • Really good at block management

Cons

  • Not good with SEO
  • Not venture-backed company
  • Must learn their markup language
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Roam

Pros

  • Really good at block management
  • A raving fan community

Cons

  • Not the best for public use
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Tiddly Wiki

Pros

  • Really good at block management

Cons

  • Requires programming knowledge to setup
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Google Docs

Pros

  • Share it with an individual
  • Assign different rights (editor, commenter, viewer)
  • URLs for each file
  • Good (Easy to search, Folders, Page Linking)
  • Automated table of contents
  • No learning curve (just like MS Word)

Step #2: Use The Principle Of Constant Completeness

At a fundamental level, digital gardens are in a constant state of becoming. On the other hand, articles are typically finished or unfinished.

Articles have the following qualities:

  • A lot of reflection on what articles are worth writing
  • An editing process that pushes them to completion
  • To stay on track, a content calendar is often used
  • A publishing and promotion stage after which the article is not improved

On the other hand, digital gardens have the following qualities:

  • New pages are created by default
  • The editing process happens naturally have over time without a deadline
  • The article's completeness is a continuum rather than a switch

The digital garden's strength is also its weakness. The digital garden is constantly in a stage of becoming:

Con: Constantly Unusable

Pro: Constant Completeness

  • Constantly unusable. Pages are half-written and hard to understand. Users follow links to empty pages. This creates a bad user experience where the individual does not want to come back.
  • The site is constantly usable despite the creator still constantly refining their thoughts.

So the question becomes, how can one move to a state of constant completeness rather than constant unusability. Below are a few ways on how to accomplish this...

A. Only link to posts on your public directory once they are good enough

Common properties of the front door include:

  • Introduction of yourself
  • Introduction of the notes
  • How to navigate the notes
  • What you're learning now
  • Best of

Examples Of Front Doors

  • Make posts super short so they are easier to get to a state of completeness. In other words, write longer post atomatically.
  • When creating a new page, get it to the point of being good enough right away. For example, if you link to a new person or a book, link to the page.

B. Make short, densely-connected notes

"The purpose of recording and organising information is so that it can be used again. The value of recorded information is directly proportional to the ease with which it can be re-used. The philosophy of tiddlers is that we maximise the possibilities for re-use by slicing information up into the smallest semantically meaningful units with rich modelling of relationships between them. Then we use aggregation and composition to weave the fragments together to present narrative stories." —Tiddly Wiki
"It’s best to create notes which are only about one thing—but which, as much as possible, capture the entirety of that thing. This way, it’s easier to form connections across topics and contexts. If your notes are too broad, you might not notice when you encounter some new idea about one of the notions contained within, and links to that note will be muddied. If your notes are too fragmented, you’ll also fragment your link network, which may make it harder to see certain connections. Evergreen notes should be densely linked. There’s no clear litmus test or correct answer here—just a bunch of tradeoffs. The notion is quite similar to the software engineering principle of separation of concerns, which suggests that modules should only be “about” one thing, so that they’re more easily reusable. But likewise, if you fragment modules too much, you’ll have a cohesion problem. In this way, Evergreen note titles are like APIs." —Andy Matuschak
"The most straightforward way to take notes is to start a new note for each book, each project, or each research topic. Because each note covers many concepts, it can be hard to find what you’ve written when a concept comes up again later: you have to remember the name of each book or project which dealt with the topic (by contrast: Evergreen notes should be atomic). When you read another book which discusses the same concept, you’ll write a new note on that book. With this approach, there’s no accumulation (contra Knowledge work should accrete). Your new thoughts on the concept don’t combine with the old ones to form a stronger whole: you just have a scattered set of notes on the concept, perhaps referring to it by different names, each embedded in some larger document." ——Andy Matuschak

Other benefits of short notes include:

  • SEO. You'll have have more pages on your website, which means more opportunities to get longtail search engine traffic.
  • Social Media. By thinking in small blocks, you'll naturally be able to think about turning those blocks into social media posts.
  • Recombination. You can combine quotes, books, people, keywords, concepts, and resources into longer list pages (eg, 7 Books On XYZ Topic, 8 Quotes On XYZ Topic, 8 Quote By XYZ Person)
  • They can stand alone

C: Determine Your Audience

Who you write for matters as it determines how much editing you do. Some options are:

  • Writing for current yourself
  • Writing for your future self
  • Writing for a friend
  • Writing for someone in your industry
  • Writing for someone outside of your industry
  • Writing for a beginner outside of your industry

The more different the other person is, the more detail you need to provide:

  • Qualifiers
  • Clarity
  • Self-Censoring
  • Edits
  • Context

The challenge with providing context is that it may slow down your learning process or even make the writing process less desirable.

I personally lean toward focusing on what makes you happy and stay consistent. If you are writing, you can always level it up later.

Andy Matuschak writes his digital garden for himself, and explains why:

When it’s a topic I understand well, I can write notes for both myself and an audience simultaneously. But that sometimes produces the false impression that I can pull this off all the time! To avoid that false impression, I’ll write notes for myself “by default,” and only “opt into” writing notes for an audience explicitly.

Step #3: Setup Your Directory Page

There are three types

Use Associative And Hierarchal Taxonomies

  • You can make the opening page of your site a directory

Create New Pages For People, Tools, Terms, And Resources

  • Rather than linking out, create a new page in your tool.
  • There are three main benefits to doing this:
    • First, you'll be able to see all of the pages on your site that link to this page (the backlinks). That information can be helpful for navigation.
    • As you get more information on that person, tool, term, or resource, you can continue building this page.
    • In the mean time, you can still link to the external site from your new page.
  • In the short-term, this approach could be seen as negative. Rather than linking the user directly to an external page that would give them the info they're looking for, you're linking to a mostly empty page with the link. The positive happens over time as the quality of all the pages increases cumulatively.