Digital Gardening: A Renaissance of Open Thinking and Curated Writing on the Web

In the Zettelkasten sub-universe I hang out, people begin to bring up more and more public thinking places, personal wikis, shared Zettelkästen, and what people seem to now call digital gardens.

I recall the metaphor of the garden and the stream by Mike Caulfield from 2015, where “stream” is ephemeral stuff, like timelines on Twitter and Facebook or blogs (!), and “garden” is curated, cared-for stuff, like a wiki perhaps, where things grow and stay.

I think the digital gardeners of today are living in a direct succession of this, though I cannot track back any true “beginning” of this movement.

One of the digital gardeners people refer is Joel Hooks, who wrote “🌱 My blog is a digital garden, not a blog”. There, he’s talking about the indie biz coach/consultant Amy Hoy:

[How the Blog Broke the Web] is a direct discussion of this idea of sorting posts by dates and how it effectively ruined the best parts of the internet. We’ve moved away from hand crafted home pages that required us to curate and present our best content in the best light.

The summary of Hoy’s post makes a point similar to Caulfield’s piece, but more pronounced: the wide-spread adoption of the blog format killed gardens. The dichotomy is the same; here, we also have a causality of demise.

I link to these resources because I think they all have something important in common: in order to make a website project useful in the long term, a blog alone won’t cut it. A blog makes atomic pieces of content findable and linkable, but there’s no inherent structure. You can go back and edit old blog posts to cross-reference new things, but I find the process to be awkward.

My own attempts to remedy the problem of important pieces getting lost in the stream of newer posts are very humble: I create overviews outside the blog’s timeline. For example the one about TextKit or all the stuff I know about using FastSpring.

I experimented with a wiki in the distant past, but found it wasn’t producing as much value for readers as I had hoped. It’s not enough to just sort and link to all your blog posts. You need additional, curated, long-lived content to make wiki pages work. I shifted my focus to push actual app development of my indie business over expanding my presence as an online writer, and re-integrated the wiki drafts into the rest of this page. (See this one on MVVM.)

The wiki is the ultimate form of a garden. It’s the best fit for a hypertext that is meant to be read as a hypertext. Most blogs consist of isolated items with a high recency, but low (long-term) relevancy that are consumed on their own, like news pieces. That’s why Shawn Blanc advised us all to favor relevancy and reduce clutter in the post I just linked to. That can make a blog archive more useful in the future. But it’s still a blog, where the date and time of publication dominate the structure of things. It’s a flat structure, it’s a timeline, and not a deeply nested web.

So maybe the recent discussion about digital gardens spark your imagination to re-think your own approach to maintaining a website! If I had continued my abysmal first wiki drafts from 2017, things would surely have grown thus far :)