Digital Garden

Table of Contents

Recently I’ve been thinking about “digital gardens”, which resemble a public, curated knowledge base or a wiki. Some best examples are gwern.net by Gwern Branwen, Everything I know by Nikita Voloboev and Andy’s working notes by Andy Matuschak. Their common denominator is that they grow over the time, similarily to gardens. With plants the growth is sometimes uncontrollable, but I like to think about myself as a good gardener who takes a lot of time to care about his plants.

It means that articles grow over the time and, hopefully, improve. This one will be the first one, let’s say, experimental.

Avoiding Knowledge Base

Digital gardens naturally lean towards the concept of wikis or knowledge bases. I already have one knowledge base though: my personal notes. Understandably, I don’t want to repeat myself or copy-paste my notes here. They can be great input for further, more refined articles though.

These are newborn branches of my digital garden, which must be looked after with a special care. Readers, however, must be also aware that they are not looking at the final form of the article. For that, they have a special status taxonomy1.

Status

  • draft - an early stage of most of articles, usually an outline or a
  • bunch of unfinished or poorly edited paragraphs. Articles might change drastically. Thoughts and ideas require additional verification. These pages are not included in the list of latest articles and in RSS feed.
  • in progress - more-less coherent page, which you’ll be able to actually read and understand something. This step is sometimes also called editing (I don’t have a money to hire a professional editor, so I must do it myself). It’s not the final form, but pretty close. This status also includes always-unfinished pages, like book reviews.
  • finished - finished piece. It doesn’t mean that it won’t receive any updates, but that I’m not actively working on it.
  • rework - articles once finished, which need a big rework for some reason. Sometimes they’re outdated, sometimes they’re written in Polish and I intend to translate them soon.

Removing content

Good gardeners know when to cut sloppy shoots. Removing and merging some of the older articles is necessary. Old news aren’t news anymore, some mini-series were discontinued, but look quite good when merged together (see: 1, 2). Or I’m inventing a new way to categorize things.

Unfortunately, moving/removing content breaks permalinks and bookmarks, assuming that someone have bookmarked my page.

The rationale for breaking permalinks is that I have lost hope in the web as a medium to preserve things. Everything on the web is ephemeral and should be treated as such. Projects such as Wayback Machine or archive.today do reasonably good job archiving web pages, but they are not silver bullets as well, merely because they belong to a third parties. Browsers should be doing a better job bookmarking web pages, but they don’t.

This leaves us in a place where we have to save everything ourselves or be ready for the loss. I simply acknowledge this fact. I’m trying to preserve some content, but I’m not making any promises. I’m still thinking how to backup data after my death.

Anyway, what’s the point of preserving permalinks when content of pages isn’t set in stone (see previous section)?


  1. I stole the idea from gwern