What is a digital garden anyway?

TL;DR

A digital garden is a place for writings, currently most-often from a single author (mainly because good collaborative digital gardening systems haven’t become available yet), that are explicitly framed as a “work in progress”, and so any given piece of writing is presumed to not necessarily have any particular level of quality, finality, “polish”, etc. Thus it is a way of framing and relating to publishing “content” (ideas, thoughts, notes, etc.) that lowers friction for the author to make their work openly available. This creates a space to publish and evolve one’s writing and other content in any desired stage of the creation process so that visitors may explore and engage with the ideas in a free-form, dynamic way.

Digital gardens embrace imperfection, shifting away from expectations of notability, quality, polish, etc., and toward the beneficial dynamics of growth and evolution. For the author it is freeing, and for the visitor it is potentially exciting, seeing and engaging with new, nascent ideas, concepts, and other content that one might not otherwise have access to.

OK, but what is it really?

Preamble

I first became aware of the term “digital garden” perhaps 6 months ago and was fascinated by it conceptually, but didn’t yet realize its power for the writer, the thinker, the creator. It is not an entirely new concept, and the term itself has meandering origins as well. Even now as it is starting to gain a more cohesive identity and momentum, there are many overlapping but disparate definitions. What follows is mine, ever-evolving like this place, but if you are interested in interested in learning more about the history of the concept, this article is a great overview.

Digital Gardening: A Personal View

There are a few key ideas that to me embody the concept and the power of “digital gardening”.

  • Evolving vs. static or “polished” content
    • “Learning in public”
  • Navigation oriented toward exploration rather than original publication date
  • Interconnection of content and ideas
  • Interaction and dialog with visitors

:construction::construction::construction::construction::grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:
(is that Geocities 2000 enough for you?)

Evolving Content

It is, first and foremost, focused on growth and development of content and ideas, rather than presenting “finished” versions of those things. This is perhaps its most powerful attribute, and it has several important consequences. Because there is no expectation of something being “finished”, it lowers the barrier to sharing - to publishing - for the author. This means things will likely be shared sooner than they otherwise would, and in some cases, that they will be shared at all, where they might have remained private and “unpolished” before.

This is very true for me: as I’ve described elsewhere, prior to creating this garden, I had some 15-20 unpublished drafts just sitting in the back-end of my Wordpress blog. Some had been there for literally years! Now all of that is here, published, in whatever form I found it, some mere ideas, a sentence or two, while others are many pages of rambling and overly detailed (but also maybe “meditative”?) writing on mundane or obscure topics.

What is profound about this frame - for both the author and the public relating to the content - is that it doesn’t matter if a topic is obscure, or the idea or content unfinished. It allows everyone to participate in the thought process of the author, ultimately multiplying the potential for insight, creativity, and improvement through collective interaction. Rather than a writer saying “Here is my clearly communicated and specific opinion, take it or leave it”, it is an invitation, often more a question asked or an idea proposed, rather than statement made or opinion rendered.

How navigation models influence experience

Ideas in relationship

The value of public interaction

Critically, the benefit of interaction at earlier stages of ideation and creation, is arguably much greater than - or at least different from and additive to - engagement with “finished” writing. You can get feedback on your core ideas and assertions sooner, thus helping you craft stronger arguments and clearer writing. New related ideas can be introduced early enough to be incorporated into later evolutions of the work. And entirely novel inspirations for offshoot content, ideas, etc. can arise from these interactions.

Photo by Luca Florio on Unsplash