Digital gardens let you cultivate your own little bit of the internet

Beneath the umbrella term, however, digital gardens don’t follow rules. They’re not blogs, short for “weblogs,” a term that suggests a time-stamped record of thought. They’re not a social-media platform—connections are made, but often it’s through linking to other digital gardens, or gathering in forums like Reddit and Telegram to nerd out over code.

Tom Critchlow, a consultant who has been cultivating his digital garden for years, spells out the main difference between old-school blogging and digital gardening. “With blogging, you’re talking to a large audience,” he says. “With digital gardening, you’re talking to yourself. You focus on what you want to cultivate over time.”

What they have in common is that they can be edited at any time to reflect evolution and change. The idea is similar to editing a Wikipedia entry, though digital gardens are not meant to be the ultimate word on a topic. As a slower, clunkier way to explore the internet, they revel in not being the definitive source, just a source, says Mike Caulfield, a digital literacy expert at Washington State University.

In fact, the whole point of digital gardens is that they can grow and change, and that various pages on the same topic can coexist. “It’s less about iterative learning and more about public learning,” says Maggie Appleton, a designer. Appleton’s digital garden, for example, includes thoughts on plant-based meat, book reviews, and digressions on Javascript and magical capitalism. It is “an open collection of notes, resources, sketches, and explorations I’m currently cultivating,” its introduction declares. “Some notes are Seedlings, some are budding, and some are fully grown Evergreen[s].”

Appleton, who trained as an anthropologist, says she was drawn to digital gardens because of their depth. “The content is not on Twitter, and it’s never deleted,” she says. “Everyone does their own weird thing. The sky’s the limit.”

That ethos of creativity and individuality was echoed by several people I spoke to. Some suggested that the digital garden was a backlash to the internet we’ve become grudgingly accustomed to, where things go viral, change is looked down upon, and sites are one-dimensional. Facebook and Twitter profiles have neat slots for photos and posts, but enthusiasts of digital gardens reject those fixed design elements. The sense of time and space to explore is key.

Caulfield, who has researched misinformation and disinformation, wrote a blog post in 2015 on the “technopastoral,” in which he described the federated wiki structure promoted by computer programmer Ward Cunningham, who thought the internet should support a “chorus of voices” rather than the few rewarded on social media today.

“The stream has dominated our lives since the mid-2000s,” Caulfield says. But it means people are either posting content or consuming it. And, Caulfield says, the internet as it stands rewards…


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