Digital Gardening

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This site is a digital garden. Hopefully someday that term will need as little explanation as ‘blog’ does today, but at time of writing it’s still a relatively unfamiliar concept to most, so here are my thoughts on it.

Digital gardens are websites that treat content like a constantly-expanding network of knowledge, rather than a chronological list of logs. They have more in common with Wikipedia than HuffPost.

The problem with blogs

A blog structure places the highest emphasis on ‘what’s new’… but what’s new has had the least scrutiny and little authority. It also creates a pressure to publish something—anything—whether you have anything worth saying or not. It prioritises novelty over quality.

Every new post on a blog implicitly devalues other content on the blog, the same way today’s newspaper makes yesterday’s irrelevant. This is what’s new. That stuff is old.

The benefits of gardens

With digital gardens, every new piece of content in the network has the potential to add depth and context to every other part. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

By placing emphasis on ‘what’s updated’, digital gardens value more battle-hardened content that’s earned it’s authority through innumerable updates and iterations.

Paradoxically, content seems to become significantly easier to produce, freed from the burden of “completeness”, or even coherence. In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirkey tells the story of how the first approach to Wikipedia — hiring experts in various fields to write about their area of expertise — failed because going from a blank page to a ‘definitive article’ was too great a hurdle. Once they switched the model to anyone being able to add something, the experts suddenly got very active in correcting, improving and building on what was there. It’s far easier to correct something that’s wrong, than to create something from thin air.

It may become harder to consume, but the structure encourages editing and retrospective organisation, and threading thoughts together into a more accessible narrative is much easier when the thoughts are already written down somewhere.

Gardens are also a far better metaphor for websites. they’re continuously evolving and require constant care & attention. You can’t experience a garden exactly as it was last year, only a rough approximation of it. If you want to remember it as it is now, take a photo or video.

Further Reading

How the blog broke the web. Amy Hoy
A brief history & ethos of the digital garden Maggie Appleton
My blog is a digital garden, not a blog. Joel Hooks
Planting your digital garden. Conor Dewey