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A Beginners Guide to Digital Gardens

What if you could curate your own little space on the internet? A space dedicated to your thoughts, ideas and collections of knowledge without chronological limitations. That’s essentially what is currently known as a ‘digital garden’. These gardens are used to build knowledge overtime, and contribute to creating new work. In this guide, we’ll look at exactly what a digital garden is and how you can start planting your own. 

Digital gardens are unique to each individual, a crafted space for personal thoughts and interests to reside without limits, which makes them slightly different for everyone. While the concept appeared to take off in 2020, this brief history reveals the concept has been around for at least 20-years and can be narrowed down to three key aspects. First, it is a collection of notes, thoughts, ideas, summaries, quotes and more. Similar to a commonplace book, you’re collecting and sorting various information into one place. 

Second, it is an evergreen space where your notes are interlinked, edited and refined overtime. You might tend to your garden by summarising, annotating or linking new and old content together. Finally, it is public and community-focused, the idea is to start discussions and engage with others based on the ideas you’re cultivating within your digital garden. Unlike a blog, there’s no chronological order or specific niche to stick to. You’re learning in public, which is valuable for other learners but also for connecting with those who specialise in your interests.

Digital Garden Platforms

There are a number of no-code platforms that can be used to build a public digital garden. Notion and Obsidian are two free note-taking tools that allow bi-directional linking and public sharing. Obsidian features an interactive graph of the connections between your notes, you can check out this digital garden as an example. Similarly, Roam Research is another popular option that uses graph databases. For more guidance and code based options, check out this article

Plant the Seeds

Start with your current interests, and break these down into topics. These seeds should cultivate your curiosity. As academics, writers and content creators, these seeds might be obvious and are a good place to start. Plant the first seeds by taking personal notes, these do not need to be publishable or make sense to an audience, they are your own curations. For example, you might have some raw and personal notes in other tools such as genei, or Notion. Raw notes are not converted into our own words but when planting seeds, it’s ideal to convert raw notes into personal notes that mean something to you. This will lead to evergreen notes in your garden. 

Grow the Trees in Public 

You need to connect the dots between seeds for your garden to grow. Each seed should be specific, so one note should only focus on a single idea. This makes it easier and more intuitive for linking new seeds of thoughts, and back-linking as your garden grows. However, don’t forget to also connect with communities of interest. You’ll need somewhere to share your ideas and have discussions. Ideally, focus on one platform, where you know your community of interest exists already. For example, Twitter is a good place for academic researchers to connect and discuss. Find a place you’re comfortable with. 

Collect Your Fruits

Ideally, this digital garden of interconnected ideas should make it easier for you to create. Your fruits are the new work you produce as a consequence of this process, of collecting, connecting and allowing for networked thinking within your community. This work might be an essay, academic paper, book, or video. Something that is well-curated and will remain evergreen. The idea isn’t to hold onto buckets of knowledge but to proactively create and consolidate our understanding of our subject areas. You can grow by sharing this work and receiving feedback from the community. 

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