More about this digital garden
My notetaking methods
As a researcher, I use the zettlekasten method of taking notes. Essentially, zettlekasten is an atomized, non-linear notetaking style that encourages you to develop original thoughts and make novel connections. For more information, I recommend the book How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens.
I keep my personal knowledge database in Obsidian, a free notetaking software that works from locally-stored markdown files, which means that your notes aren’t locked into proprietary software and you can take ‘em with you if you ever decide to leave. If you’re looking to build a second brain, Obsidian is a great place to do that.
I’ve been following zettlekasten practices since August 2022, though I often find myself slacking off.
For zettlekasten, you’re supposed to put concepts into your own words and synthesize your thoughts based on what you’ve read. That’s the real secret sauce of the method. By the time you’re done taking notes, you’ve already done the research and a lot of the writing for whatever you create, be they blog posts, articles, podcast episodes, or books.
But, especially when you’re taking notes on the fly, it’s easy to paste a quote of what you’re reading into your notes and move on. It’s better than not making a note of what you’ve read, but it prevents your notes from being as useful as they could be.
That’s where this digital garden comes in.
My goal is to have a regular (weekly or weekly-ish) workflow of revising and refining notes, and then uploading them into this digital garden. I want this to be an impetus for me to clean up my notes and stop being lazy.
I could have launched this digital garden using Obsidian Publish, but that costs $8/month. I already pay monthly hosting fees for my website and podcast, so I wasn’t exactly eager to add to that. Also, I wanted a more manual solution. Though you can apparently pick and choose which notes you want to make public, that just felt like . . . too much room for error . . . for me, since I have plenty of personal notes in my vault.
Instead, I went with this approach (more info about the technical aspects in the next section):
1) I made a folder in my Obsidian vault called “evergreen-to share”
2) When I’ve cleaned a note up enough to feel good about sharing them, I move the markdown file there.
3) I sort that folder by date modified, identify which notes I’ve changed or added since the last update, and then copy them into the local github folder.
4) I update the garden using the github desktop app.
If you’re considering making your own digital garden, it’s very easy to do—you don’t even need to know how to code. This digital garden was created using a template; check out this step-by-step guide explaining how to set this up from scratch. I followed the instructions in this YouTube video to set it up.
It took me under an hour and it was free. This is hosted on github, so I’m not even paying a hosting fee.
Technically I paid $8 to get the domain name of chrisdigitalgarden.com. I didn’t have to do that. I coulda just stayed with the netlify subdomain, but I love collecting domain names, apparently. (Alright, that’s not actually why I bought the domain. I purchased it as a hedge against link rot. If I ever move to a different solution for hosting this garden, I want to be able to keep the same domain name. That way, I can link to this from my blog without worrying about creating a trail of dead links. You know, as long as I keep paying the annual subscription for the domain.)