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 and Everything I know by Nikita Voloboev. Their common denominator is that they grow over the time, similarily to gardens. Sometimes the growth is 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

I don’t want this website to become a knowledge base. It would be the second one for me and I hate redundancy.

So now I’m calling digital gardens kind of knowledge bases and at the same time I want to not create one. Contradiction? Not at all.

Typical knowledge base consists of many small and chaotic notes, totally unpublishable. Mine isn’t very different1, but sometimes these notes form longer pieces. These still aren’t ready to be shown to the greater audience, because they lack editing and sometimes are plain wrong (people make mistakes and I am no different. Sometimes these mistakes are saved to the files on your computer). These notes, however, are great input for further refinement, which can be posted on this website.

They are newly grown branches in my digital garden, which must be looked after with a special care. Readers should be also aware that they are not looking at the final form of article. To never oversee such articles, they are labeled with a special status taxonomy2

Status

  • drafts - an early stage of most of articles. Articles are often unfinished and have some ideas which require more thought or verification. They shouldn’t be chaotic though. These pages are not included in the list of latest articles and in RSS feed.
  • in progress - usually when the initial draft is done, this is the step which indicates that refining rough edges, or ruthless editing, you name it, is ongoing.
  • finished - finished piece. It doesn’t mean that it won’t receive any updates, but that I’m not actively working on it.
  • rework - time passes and world changes, including me. I’m not the same person as I was 10 years ago, so some of my older articles might need some bigger changes. I also mark with this status articles written in Polish, which I intend to translate soon.

Removing content

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

There are many reasons, but the point is that it is necessary if the website is to be coherent. The mere act breaks permalinks and bookmarks, assuming that someone 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.

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

Categorization

For reasonably-sized webpages I believe in showing all of their contents on a single page, but to avoid the river of links, it must be split into sections, or categories. Not tags though, because they would needlessly list the same page multiple times.


  1. See my previous post about it. 

  2. I stole the idea from gwern