What the heck is a digital garden?

So you’ve landed on my site (or not, that’s okay you can check it out here), and you’re curious about this “digital garden” thing. Or perhaps you’ve heard of digital gardens and you’re wondering if my site really qualifies as one. Well, either way, allow me to explain.

I first chanced upon the notion of digital gardening on an episode of Swyx’s podcast where he was chatting with Maggie Appleton. At that point in time, I had just developed a newfound appreciation of houseplants and was starting to grow a few of my own, so when I heard this gardening metaphor for the web, I was obsessed. But back to the topic, what is a digital garden? Here’s how Maggie defines it:

A garden is something in-between a personal blog and a wiki. It’s a collection of evolving notes, essays, and ideas that aren’t strictly organised by their publication date. They’re inherently exploratory – posts are linked through contextual associations. They aren’t refined or complete – posts can be published as half-finished thoughts that will grow and evolve over time. They’re less rigid, less performative, and less perfect than the personal “blogs” we’re used to encountering on the web.

Digging a little deeper, it seems that many gardeners, including Maggie, regard Mike Caulfield’s “The Garden and the Stream” as the original source of the concept of digital gardening. It’s a long essay, but in it, he compares two different approaches to the web. Firstly, the Stream. The Stream is something we’re quite familiar with today, simply put it is content presented in a single canonical path.

You see this most clearly in things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. But it’s also the notifications panel of your smartphone, it’s also email, it’s also to a large extent blogging. Frankly, it’s everything now.

The Garden, on the other hand, is so much more.

Things in the Garden don’t collapse to a single set of relations or canonical sequence, and that’s part of what we mean when we say “the web as topology” or the “web as space”. Every walk through the garden creates new paths, new meanings, and when we add things to the garden we add them in a way that allows many future, unpredicted relationships.

I love this explanation, and from what we have so far, there are two principles of a digital garden that I absolutely love:

  1. A garden allows you to pick your own paths. There is no canonical sequence, no fixed stream to walk along.
  2. A garden is dynamic and ever-changing. It grows and evolves over time.

And it was with these principles in mind that I set out to build my own digital garden. It was an ambitious project with a few broad overarching goals:

  1. It should show who I am, not just what I do. I love my work, but that’s not all I am. I’d like to share the other aspects of my life too.
  2. It should be fun and encourage visitors to explore different paths.
  3. It should be easily updatable, to reflect a growing and evolving garden.

Did my digital garden achieve these goals? I’d say yes but I’m definitely biased, so I’ll let you be the judge of that 😉 Have a peek and let me know!