Structure of a digital garden

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When you start playing with the idea of building a digital garden, a lot of questions arise regarding how to give some structure to what you are creating. Other platforms, such as normal blogs, require us to think about categories and tags. Even with e-mails we are forced to put each message into a box.

Luhmann method for organizing notes removes the restriction of assigning pre-determined categories to a note, but requires us to think actively about the relationships of the note we are creating with the ones already in the system. In a digital garden we don't place a note before or after another, but we can build links. And this is what generates the emergence of patterns.

Emerging patterns in digital gardens

Once the garden is well kept, we will find that we have notes that irradiate links, and notes that attract links. For example, when I write literature notes I keep a central note out of which I link to each chapter or concept discussed within that specific book. These notes irradiate links, they are a way of starting a crawl.

Other notes attract links, even if sometimes the note itself does not exist. When I research about topics, some common elements will emerge, some topics, some ideas. The notes on those central points become nodes with plenty of inbound links. In a way, there is a high chance that these central nodes could be thought as categories in different management systems.

The biggest difference in this case is that there is no hierarchical structure. A note becomes a node only after other notes point to it. Even if we didn't anticipate it, we didn't plan it. This is what I mean by emerging patterns. We just need to give it time, patience, and we must be systematic.

Visualizing the notes in a graph such as the one at the beginning can be very helpful to understand the relationship between notes, but it is not a requirement. What may be very helpful is seeing which notes are in the vicinity of the one we are exploring. For example, to which notes can I reach in just 2 jumps, or 3 jumps. That can gives us a pretty decent notion of what paths we can explore.

How to get started

Most of the information I read seemed very abstract for someone who is starting with a digital garden. Patterns won't emerge if you have 10 notes, or took literature notes on a handful of books. What I found crucial to understand the workflow is to be able to create links to non-existent notes. For example, I can be writing about a topic that triggers an idea I never had before. I make a link even if I know there's nothing on the other end.

If it happens that while writing abou t a different topic I have the same idea (remembering it or not), I simply make a link. And that's it. Now I have two notes connected through a central node. At the beginning we will fall for the default of assigning what we believe are categories to our ideas. I still add a link to Literature Notes when I am doing a note on something I read. It is useless, because it is not an idea, two notes linked through a category as vague as that one will not give me better insight into almost anything.


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Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
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