Table of Contents
While I was writing a post documenting my adventures into organising stuff, I became sidetracked and began to delve into the world of digital gardens. The content is enough to warrant a post of its own, as well as needed to reduce that post’s length!
Here I will walkthrough my journey with Obsidian, Logseq, personal knowledge systems, wikis, and digital gardens, as well as brief forays into Jekyll.
Obsidian - Attempt #01
For a while now, I’d heard people online talking about the best new programme no one knew about - Obsidian. It looked fascinating. A local storage alternative to Notion, built on fast Markdown files, and endlessly customisable. Again, a programme where you can assemble anything onto it, and make it be anything you wanted. Excited, I installed straight away, and then became confused with the interface, it all seemed much less intuitive than Notion, with a steep learning curve too. I wasn’t daunted, and decided to browse the Reddit, watch tutorial videos, and read a bunch of how to guides. But something just wasn’t clicking with me, and I didn’t know why. I would, over the course of a couple of months, try to sit down one day in study mode and really tackle wrapping my head around it and what I could use it for, nothing really worked, I gave up, and then tried again in a few day’s time.
Eventually, I concluded that maybe it’s just not for me? I kept the apps installed on my Mac and Android, as well as the syncing process between them, just in case I had a burst of inspiration one day, but nothing came.
I won’t go into too much detail here on Bookstack as the other post will discuss my time with it. However, I will say by that using Bookstack, with its use of shelves, books and pages in such a visual way, it helped my thinking around systems like Obsidian as I more easily saw how to create interconnecting links between documentation. Looking into this and Obsidian again, as well as Zettelkasten, had me stumble across the idea of Digital Gardens.
This concept fascinated me, the concept of small posts, almost the size of Tweets, scattered across a system, all interconnecting so ideas are never lost, and can be built on to form larger and more substantial trains of thought, which may, in turn, develop into something even bigger, forming the basis of a blog post or piece of academia. I was also intrigued by the notion of this all being out in the public. Getting to this point mentally had been difficult enough for me, a safe and curated place. Envisioning a public place full of my half-written notes and spontaneous ideas sounded very uncomfortable. But maybe it was what I needed to keep pushing myself?
I also considered if I was being distracted here. I was trying to find ways to organise interesting stuff, not create a new note keeping system. But to be fair, what about creating notes based off the interesting stuff I was storing and accessing? Maybe they need to be in the same place to be all interconnected? Plus, if they’re all interconnected and growing as a garden does, they won’t get forgotten, and I could see them through the visual graphs often associated with digital gardens.
Dead or Alive
I decided then on a distinction of content I had:
- Dead. Interesting stuff where no ideas can come from them. They are guides, tools, software links and so on. Stuff I can’t take notes from.
- Alive. Interesting stuff which can spark ideas off. They are the news articles, long-form journalism and think-pieces of the world. Stuff I can take notes from.
Most of my ‘Dead’ content was already in Raindrop.io, whereas my ‘Alive’ stuff was actually dying a slow death in Pocket, being lost to the ages. I needed two systems to address these two types of interesting stuff, but I was now bending the concept of a digital garden quite far for my ‘Alive’ content. I was now more talking about a wiki of sorts, somewhere to store the interesting stuff alongside the ability to take notes about it. My only successful use of Obsidian so far was a post I had found (and lost due to poor memory) about note taking, and I had applied to successfully to an article I read. I liked the idea of that note now living in the same interconnected space as the original article, which in turn would be interconnected and linked to others.
I decided I wanted a wiki/digital garden hybrid to store all my ‘Alive’ interesting stuff.
Needing somewhere to try out the idea of a digital garden and see if it would work for me, I began looking for applications which could be used for digital gardens. Yes, there was Obsidian, but I was still struggling with the interface, and I didn’t want to contend with that at the same time was working through the process of setting up a digital garden.
I came across TiddlyWiki likely through this post. I couldn’t get it working on a server, so initially gave up before returning to it following the discovery of Syncthing, which I will discuss in a later post in more detail. Now having a means of accessing a TiddlyWiki on all my devices, I could actually try it out.
TiddlyWiki is quite unique in a few ways. First, the entirety of the wiki is contained within a .html file, which can be opened via any web browser. Saving is a different issue though, as saves are written to the file if if those permissions are lacking, there can be issues - some of which I experienced when trying to access a TiddlyWiki via WebDAV rather than local storage. I landed up using TiddlyDesktop (cross-platform on desktops) and Tiddloid for Android, both pointed to their respective local storages, as means of reading and writing to that .html file. As such, TiddlyWiki doesn’t have any databases or a plethora of files (which I eventually discover both Obsidian and Logseq create). It’s simple to transfer and simple to backup.
The next unique aspect is how you navigate it. Rather than a structured system of nested folders, or even creating interconnecting pages, TiddlyWiki functions via ‘Tiddles’, which remind me of a series of cards. You interlink these cards together yourself, and navigate through them as such. I was very intrigued by the idea, but came across a hurdle I found it hard to overcome. By this point with writing and trying out various applications, I had become accustomed to using Markdown, which isn’t supported by TiddlyWiki. I would later discover this plugin adding Markdown, but at the time, I didn’t think it existed, and decided it wouldn’t work for this purpose. Even on reflection, while I do greatly like TiddlyWiki, I currently struggle to find a use and purpose for it, but as I like it, I still have it installed in case something springs to mind.
But Did I Already Have What I Was Looking For?
Obsidian - Attempt #02
My experiences at using both Bookstack and TiddlyWiki made me want to try Obsidian again, now with more knowledge on how such a system might function - finally.
I was immediately more successful, and able to tweak Obsidian to function as a digital garden for my Alive stuff, and my notes stemming from such content. I kept the setup quite simple, using Dracula Slim for my theme, and only five plugins: Better Word Count, Calendar, Style Settings, Tag Wrangler, and Templater.
A key aspect of a digital garden is how it operates in public where strangers can wander by, poke their head in, and have a look. Keeping it strictly inside Obsidian doesn’t achieve that.
Obsidian Publish is an option of publishing your information online, and while it looks great, I wanted something I could host myself as I am already paying for web hosting.
Looking for a free option, I began to browse themes for Hugo, seeing if there was one suitable for digital gardens, as I am already familiar with it. I didn’t have much success, but stumbled across a fantastic theme for Jekyll.
I had not used Jekyll before, and initially had a bad time setting it up, finding the process more difficult than Hugo. However, after I eventually managed to get it all running, I set up a site, loaded up the theme, and copied my existing Obsidian files into it. It looked fantastic, I was so happy with how it functioned and navigating was a breeze with the graph view at the bottom of each page.
But Logseq Looks Interesting
I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to try out Logseq, a similar programme to Obsidian, just when things were starting to click with it. I believe my thinking was that now I had wrapped my head around it all, before going any further with Obsidian, I ought to check out Logseq and see if it works better for my use.
Although similar, it is different, notably with its use of blocks more than pages. Additionally, Logseq seemed to lean further into a digital garden system as it moved away from folders or some sort of hierarchical organisational system. I thought about these changes for a while. I am one to favour hierarchical organisation, but the whole point of a digital garden was to try and move away from that and be more interconnected.
Giving it a go, I had issues though trying to convert some of my Obsidian pages into Logseq due to slight differences in formatting, but I could see the benefits. I liked the layout more, keeping almost all the content out of view until accessed, similar to TiddlyWiki, but still included the ability to add Favourites for easy access to a couple of key pages. I also like the All Page button, and think the Linked References at the bottom of the page help me know where I am amongst the pages. Creating blocks to be put inside pages is fantastic as these individual blocks can be embedded elsewhere and update automatically when a change it made, making it very dynamic.
However, I found the blocks with the bullet points a bit odd. They didn’t seem to play nice in Markdown, as opening the files anywhere else renders a list with bullet points before the headers. When placing my Obsidian Markdown files into the digital garden, everything renders perfectly, for example:
There are also random coding bits which appear on the digital garden in Jekyll, with these being invisible inside Logseq, which makes it harder to know they are there and to correct. I am often finding myself opening CotEditor and the offending Markdown file to find and fix the erroneous text which creeped in. Furthermore, to make the files visible inside the digital garden, the following frontmatter needs to be added to the top of each document:
It shows as a random block appears at the top of each page, which looks strange. However, if I make it useful, like so:
Then I don’t mind it being there now it actually contains some information rather than a lone dot.
Another oddity was how Logseq loved making endless duplicate files in a ‘bak’ folder because I initially ran Logseq inside a cloud, and it created these files due to conflict issues. At the time, while I knew why this is an issue, and the obvious solution was to just not place the Logseq folder in the cloud’s folder, I wanted my Logseq in the clouds everything would be backed up as soon as it’s written, and able to access from anywhere. These issues disappeared when I switched to using Syncthing instead, but at the time, it made me rethink things.
For now at least, I am using Obsidian to write notes, and that Jekyll theme as a means to make it all public. Well, it will, I have yet to actually upload the site, but I had to get through all this first before making a final decision!
Nonetheless, Logseq is a very good competitor to Obsidian, and I am slightly baffled why it doesn’t get as much ’love’ from the community as Obsidian does. It is with a heavy heart I had to choose Obsidian over Logseq for my digital garden due to my install issues with the bak files.