February 23, 2024 - One Year of TIL (Today I Learned)

A tree with branches and leaves grows up out of a brain

A year ago I wrote my first post on this - my relaunched personal vanity website - and some of its tent pole content: TIL (Today I learned). I wasn't wholly sure what the purpose was, but at the time it just seemed like an interesting experience made easy with a tool chain that made it fun. Now, I can reflect on what I thought it might be, what it currently is, and what I think it might be moving forward.

What I learned about TIL - my public digital garden

The impetus for TIL was the concept of the Digital Garden, which I was made aware of by immersing myself in the community and ecosystem surrounding Obsidian.md, the note-taking "PKM" tool. Initially I thought the idea of having a public Digital Garden would be a fun way to collect interesting and useful knowledge and have a convenient repository to synthesize my thoughts on various topics. There are many great examples of public digital gardens - or just "wikis" - if you prefer the original term.

However, I found there was a tension between what I needed or wanted to keep in my "personal" digital garden (in Obsidian terms: a "Vault"), and what I was willing to put on my public digital garden: I don't want to duplicate notes and I don't want the structure of my folders and files to be dictated by how they should be presented on the website. Keeping notes in sync between a public and private one seems like a layer of management that could be problematic to manage as well. So, for now, I've opted to simply make TIL my public digital garden that is more about public synthesis of a narrow band of passion topics like Aviation, Coding, etc.

The type of posts I make seems to have congealed into a somewhat consistent content format. In addition to going deep on a few narrow topics, I also wanted a way to share micro-topics I sometimes get nerd-sniped by. For example the very first post was about Affine Texture Mapping. I also publish posts that I want to make easily sharable in future conversations like 2023-06-06's post about "Cursed Knowledge". This is especially helpful for sharing on social media where a topic is more expansive than the character-length of a Mastodon Post. I've periodically shared my Goal Setting Framework links so that I don't have to try to construct an entire multi-part thread on those social platforms. There has been a few times where in conversation I was able to share a link during a conversation over dinner, too. Helpful just before a break to the washroom. Some of my posts are more pictures than posts like 2023-07-09 - which was actually an experiment in posting from my mobile phone.

Eventually I settled into a cadence of near-weekly posting. Having a cadence has added a bit of pressure to come up with something to write weekly. Even if I don't have much to write about and even (especially!) when the writing isn't very good, I find the practice of writing to be helpful.

I have a few longer 1,000+ word posts, each of which I've informally classified as an "Article" as opposed to "Blog Post" like my Hierarchy of Fulfillment. My intention is to make these stand-alone documents under a topic with simply a blog "post" to introduce the article. In addition to Topics, Posts, and Articles, I've started building out Apps - pages that have embedded WASM applications I've built and deployed like this DungeonCrawler game. So most of the content can generally can be mapped like this:

Nothing but new Posts show up in the RSS feed. I didn't want the Topic, Node/Leaf, or Apps to get pushed to user's feeds as if there was any substantial content there.

Speaking of RSS, the general infrastructure and plumbing of the site has been something I've enjoyed working on. I've hacked the website's CSS, templating language ("Nunjucks"), etc. to try and make a responsive site that is legible on a variety of devices. I've also experimented with some analytics tools to understand what devices and resolutions folks are using, and unfortunately Google Analytics is the best for the feedback loop I need. I won't be offended if you use a blocker, as long as you let me know if the website isn't working for you. 😁.

In the next 12 months

Over the next 12 months I expect the site and its content will continue to evolve and be refined:

The layout of the website still needs some work, I need to fix up the format and tags for some of my older posts, I'd love to implement a dark-mode switch, implement a commenting system, among several other tweaks and optimizations. However I am happy with the transformation of the site over the past year. Most importantly, I've learned an incredible amount of about static site builders, CSS, templating languages, responsive screen resolutions, and become a -slightly- better writer. It's been a very rewarding hobby project and look forward to further refinement over another year.

Content wise, I'd like to get a few more Articles out about my Hierarchy of Fulfillment. I also want to write more about Aviation, Motorcycling, and Mountaineering. I expect to have one, maybe two Apps deployed to the website. And of course I expect to continue writing nearly-weekly Posts.

I still don't have an over-arching or specific goal or outcome I'm expecting from this experiment - but I also don't have to. There are some side-effect benefits of the somewhat performative nature of having public web-space, however minimal and unexpected they may be.