Backlinks are the Core of my Digital Garden

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I built my own system. Every decision is my own. However, it is a topic with which I am familiarizing myself.

When I built this website , I knew I wanted to have backlinks, which are also known as bidirectional links. There was all this rave around Roam and how it helped connect ideas, that I had to give it a try. I didn't want to go to the lengths of linking to specific paragraphs, but to entire notes. When I started, it was just an experiment to see what would happen and now they became a core asset on how a write.

The first thing that was apparent is that I didn't need to specify a taxonomy since the beginning. If every time a write about Python, for example, I make a link to it I know that I could see all the related articles by simply going to that page. In a way, the first effect I was expecting was the emergence of a taxonomic tree without explicitly declaring categories, tags, labels, etc. This was a great approach to lower the barrier to writing because I only cared about writing, not about organizing.

After a while, a realized that the power of bidirectional links lies much beyond a pure pragmatic result. In this digital garden , backlinks allow me (and any other visitor) to traverse the graph of notes regardless of where they started, and regardless of the order in which I write the notes. When I link from a new note to an old note, the backward direction also emerges. It feels like increasing the internal energy of my ideas creating double-bonds at every instance.

Links to Empty Pages

Another feature I added since the beginning is the possibility to link to empty pages that would be transformed to nodes on the website. If two pages link to a non existing page, they would be linked to each other, regardless of whether I explicitly work on that note or not. This was triggered to the idea of an emergent taxonomy tree, but it also proved to be much more powerful.

Sometimes I create links to empty notes as a possible reminder to think about the topic. I can see all the empty nodes and use them as triggers to develop new content. Sometimes, those empty notes work as a central node to group thoughts beyond my original plans.

What I find more interesting about backlinks is the ability of and endless navigation cycle. If you move forward following links, you will never reach a dead end, you will always be allowed to, at least, click your way back and keep exploring other possible paths.

Backlinks are pings to myself

Backlinks also feel like a way of pinging myself. If make a link from this page to another one, I know I will find this article back when going through a different chain of thoughts. That feeling is both powerful and inspiring. It is a ping that does not require nor immediate action, nor any form of commitment. I may get back to it, or not. But it is there, both for me and for others to see.

The original Zettelkasten method needed to maintain indexes of notes and tags to overcome the impossibility of pinging, of backlinking. Each note was not a closed act, it also required filing and choosing proper keywords for it to be discoverable again. That was a technical limitation of the time, but one that we can easily overcome today.

External Backlinks

The following step is to be able to create backlinks through writings of different people. This is something Roam is craving for, and they are playing on the space of centralizing knowledge. However, the web already has its standards in place to achieve the same, for example, implementing webmentions . The discussion is lengthy, but in essence it would enable to dynamically create bidirectional links across domains .

This is only the beginning

I am only starting to understand what possibilities backlinks open in the long run. Moreover, the possibilities that they open when dealing with decentralized knowledge bases may be of phenomenal importance. This is something that wiki-spaces (such as Wikipedia) had in place for a very long time, but I'm not sure whether they reached conclusions regarding their impact.


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Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
This note you are reading is part of my digital garden. Follow the links to learn more, and remember that these notes evolve over time. After all, this website is not a blog.
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