What are digital gardens?

At work a few months ago, I mentioned the concept of digital gardens on a call. Not everyone knew what digital gardens were, and the term means different things to different people using it, so I put together a P2 about what I think a “digital garden” is.

What is a digital garden?

  • A collection of thoughts, ideas, highlights, annotations, quotes, summaries, and notes that are richer than a tweet, but lack the timestamped nature of a blog post or published essay.
  • Digital gardens are tended to and evolve over time. Sometimes they grow, sometimes they get trimmed back. Though they change, they have the four-dimensional permanence of a river or Theseus’s Ship.
  • A digital garden embodies the nature of working in public and learning out loud: Sharing your current understanding and allowing others to learn from it.
  • Like entangled roots and interwoven vines, the individual plants of digital gardens form a latticework of bi-directionally linked content that supports and encourages bridging and pollination to further understanding.

to link, annotate, change, summarize, copy, and share — these are the verbs of gardening

Mike Caulfield in The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral

Where is this term from?

I first started noticing people I follow talking about it in April of this year: Maggie AppletonTom CritchlowAnne-Laure Le CunffVenkatesh RaoAndy MatuschakAnna Gát, and Joel Hooks.

Maggie Appleton found the earliest use of the term, which harkens back to the old school web: Mark Bernstein’s 1998 essay Hypertext Gardens.

It is similar to a commonplace book, another popular term on the IndieWeb. A Zettlekasten comes to mind, too.

Essays to check out

Commonly used tools

Some thoughts, digital garden-style

  • Web technology enables some cool things:
    • Version control allows users ability to see how digital artifacts change over time.
    • Bi-directional linking brings the Wikipedia-style wormhole exploration to other websites, increasing the scope of knowledge exploration.
      • WordPress’s trackbacks and pingbacks are a great start to bi-directional linking. Webmentions are another. Category-style taxonomy pages need to get added to the mix, too.
    • Live preview of links (transclusion) on hover or focus
    • Linked footnotes and sidenotes with references
    • Highlighting and sharing/reblogging/regardening of other content and notification with trackbacks, webmentions, and pingbacks.
    • Hierarchical post types for hierarchical content, tagging for non-hierarchical content
    • Links to relevant related content by search indexing
    • Real-time glossaries for slang and jargon
  • P2tenberg (the block-based comment editor built into P2) is awesome for front-end editing and is likely crucial to any digital garden built on WordPress.
  • Public wikis are digital gardens of sorts, but build to be highly collaborative, whereas digital gardening is more of a personal endeavor, or at least relatively small groups.
  • Imagine if we applied Edward Tufte’s principles in a web-first way, rather than just porting his style guide to CSS.

5 responses to “What are digital gardens?”

  1. 🌏 I have traveled back and forth to Japan for about 20 years now– been fascinated with this place since I was a child, and if you ask me why– honestly, I couldn’t really explain. I’ve also done brief stints in Taiwan and Singapore too.
    🏢 Professionally I am a part time journalist primarily covering East Asia and the tech sectors, and have worked in TV, film, print, radio, and multimedia/web since…well before DSL and WiFi! I love working with video and multimedia as a producer the most, but I’m happy doing anything in the New Media realm. I was a teacher of English and Mass Communication at a large private school in Tokyo, A full-time International News Editor for a large Asian media conglomerate and worked as a freelancer based in Tokyo from time to time.
    🏡These days I’m no longer full time in Asia; I moved back back to Atlanta, GA where my current day job is as a cloud support engineer for a big software company that is probably running the OS in your computer. …The PCs that don’t have a fruit or cold weather loving flightless bird repping them anyway. 😉
    ℹ️ This site is currently my digital garden; a space where I keep note of other sites on the web I’ve liked, bookmarked, and replied to. Of course I also have some of my articles and other long form posts here too. This site is connected to other websites by way of webmentions and ActivityPub forming a decentralized, federated social network of sorts. In fact, the only way I allow interaction with the content on this site is via these two methods. But it’s really easy to do and chances are you already are here because of your social media account anyway!
    🗽 I also am using Indieweb techniques like POSSE and PESO to make sure all the content I create winds up here; so if you see something by me on Instagram or Twitter, you can be sure its also here on this site first.

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