Rambling about digital gardens

I rediscovered “digital gardening” earlier today through a site on the XXIIVV webring–cultivating a sort of wiki for yourself, your notes, links, and whatnot. I’ve been seeing some really elaborate ones, and I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve been writing this on a somewhat-lazy December afternoon.

I tend to find something that’s been holding me back from really fleshing out my website with what I’ve dubbed Interest pages or posting a whole ton on my blog has been trying to fit things into a rigid structure, or feeling anxious over a blank page. Thoughts like:

  • “Am I phrasing this right?”
  • “Do I really know enough about this?”
  • Do I have enough to say?”, and
  • “Is this enough to justify an RSS feed ping or a changelog update?”

rush all throughout my head whenever I think about writing a self-dubbed Interests page–a section that, I thought, would solve this problem–or a blog post. In the case of a blog post, a lot of a time I coax myself into feeling “This is a blog post so I won’t ever be able to update it again, so it’d better be good and readable on its own or have a genuine point to make!” and then eventually never do it.

By contrast, from what I’ve read, a digital garden’s focus appears to be not only what you come out with in the end, but the process itself of learning and doing–collecting notes, building, growing things up organically.

The phrase “digital garden” is a metaphor for thinking about writing and creating that focuses less on the resulting “showpiece” and more on the processcare, and craft it takes to get there. While not everybody has or works in a dirt garden, we all share a familiarity with the idea of what a garden is. A garden is usually a place where things grow.

🌱 My blog is a digital garden, not a blog (joelhooks.com)

On occasion I come across something I think is neat, say a history of ASCII art, and I want to have some record of it but I don’t want to cluttering up my site’s navigation of copious amounts of pages or write a blog post about a subject I don’t really have authority or much knowledge on. Perhaps I want to keep lists of other interesting things and links I come across over time but don’t want to let making or updating them become a burden.

And as I speak, ideas are brewing in my head. I could use it for like, code snippets, even, little notes about AutoSite features while I work on them, whatever browser extensions I use, programs I use, hoo. And possibly thoughts on the little productivity things and tools I’ve been trying to apply to my workflow, like using a pomodoro timer and tools like Todoist and TickTick. This much content in the form of small notes would feel cluttering, maybe even spammy (several unupdated blog posts stamped in time) in other formats.

This is a really drawn out ramble, but essentially I feel like I’d be able to compile together a whole ton of assorted stuff over time if I could just go off on all sorts of topics that jump in my head without worrying about word count, polish, whether it’s “finished” or even if people are gonna look. And possibly that in its own is an essence of mumblecore.

I think a blog or microblog is like a stream, a standard structured website is like a hierarchial tree with usually one or two sublevels, and a digital garden in this fashion is like a sprawling web, living, breathing, organic. Something poetic like that.

So, yeah. Maybe I’ll give growing a digital garden a try sometime. Thinking about it.

Dropping some links on the subject so I can clear all these tabs..

Some gardens:


About dotcomboom

Software developer, photographer... blogger...?
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4 Responses to Rambling about digital gardens

  1. Cammy says:

    Sounds like a web version of what I use something like Simplenote for, honestly. I’ll drop links and bits of text into a note and leave it for when I need it and not have to worry about thousands of little text files on my computer, and this reminds me of a web version of that.

    Reminds me of what I liked about Arkm’s site too, if you remember that from Neocities. I always loved how he had all these little bits flying off everywhere in a big adventure with all these vivid descriptions, it really enhanced the “explorer” or “navigator” part of the web.

    Honestly, might be worth a crack when you do your next site redesign. Eschew the navigation and just have pages that link to other pages in a big, messy, fun to explore web, perhaps with some sketches on top of it and a sitemap to round everything up. Would definitely give your site a unique flair among all of ours.

    • dotcomboom says:

      Arkm’s site is really neat. There’s a lot of stuff under the surface that I just hadn’t seen before, and it kinda perfectly visualizes the feel I’d be going for.

      It’s funny how my perspective on the whole site thing’s changed within these days. I’ve felt more recently that the fewer barriers to entry, the better, and that’d mean throwing out the systematic process of making sure everything in the site is all in a set format and allll linked together. Even with AutoSite, when I make a new page it would be way less daunting updating the index page or a subsection than my default.html which even then sets up another hurdle (making a graphic for the page, or copy/pasting a conditional in the case of my interests pages).

      I’ve said before how I feel AutoSite’s somewhat stifled how willing I am to update my site with whatever comes to mind. From my thoughts on web gardens and how personal wikis work I’ve started to use Obsidian–a program very similar to Simplenote but is hosted locally, having some interesting mindmap visualizations and Markdown (only downside is it’s Electron, even then, it’s not too badly optimized fortunately and they’re all plain files if I need to jump ship). Although it’s not gonna be a public vault per se, I’m using it for personal notes, being able to pull things together and not let them jump ship out of my memory is gonna help a lot. (In my goal of populating it, I’ve come across a few of my projects that I’ve just forgotten about!)

      This afternoon I’ve been playing around writing HTML 3 and using those backgrounds Caby linked the other day (http://emma31.tripod.com/allbacks.html), nostalgiaminer-style (moreso loosely inspired by those pages we looked at yesterday as well). I think what I’m really after now is an old-fashioned personal site. Page at the top links some base sections, and those might lead into other sections, but the core difference is I wouldn’t need to worry about making sure it’s all linked together all at once. (And, as for the sitemap you’ve pointed out, I could possibly auto-generate one with a PHP script if people want to see the full hierarchy.) Whether it might become “v5” or replace my current site, no clue, but even as an alternate site where I can lax more I think it would be really nice. I might start genuinely having fun maintaining a web of my own again, growing it more organically. I’ll show you guys what I have in a bit.

      • Cammy says:

        I think that personal sites need to be really loose. I think when you’re trying to keep everything together with a set layout, yeah, it gets a little stifling. AutoSite’s really good for stuff that has a layout, but I dunno, lately, I see layouts as being the enemy of the handmade site. Good for formal sites like our top-level site, but not for stuff that’s a little more personal, where you kinda just wanna get stuff up as quickly as possible.

        I do remember using a site called WikidPad for personal wiki type stuff. Actually, there was a project Brianna and I had called the Encyclopedia Somnolum which was written using it. There’s your UI where you actually write and link your stuff, a tree view, and then you can build it into HTML pages that you can style however you like.

        There’s a lot of appeal to that idea. Frankly, I’ve always been a little jealous of Arkm’s site, because that kinda thing would let me play writer as well as site maintainer and get a little more creative with how I present my site. Maybe I can find my own way about that sorta thing. I’m also just fond of the second-person dealie anyway, hence all the quests and Colton’s Adventure and the like. No doubt there’ll be more from me in that vein.

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