What is a Digital Garden?

These notes were taken during and in preparation for a livestream. You can watch a recording of that livestream here: https://youtu.be/KtHZ5wR4Ni8

You may have heard the term Digital Garden around the web. Maybe on Twitter, a site you've visited, or word of mouth.

So what is a Digital Garden? Where did they come from and why would you want one? What tools are available for building a hypertext greenhouse?

These are the questions I want to discuss with you all today.

So where should we start? Like any good developer, let's start with Google.

The phrase "digital garden" is a metaphor for thinking about writing and creating that focuses less on the resulting "showpiece" and more on the process, care, and craft it takes to get there. — Joel Hooks

we all share a familiarity with the idea of what a garden is

— Caufield

Is that really true? What is a garden, in the literal term?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden

A garden is a planned space, usually outdoors, set aside for the display, cultivation, or enjoyment of plants and other forms of nature, as an ideal setting for social or solitary human life. The single feature identifying even the wildest wild garden is control. — Wikipedia

The term "garden" in British English refers to a small enclosed area of land, usually adjoining a building. — Etymology

"Digital Yarden"

Back to Joel's article.

We are all constantly bombarded with information, a lot of it is really good information too, but the challenge is absorbing it and applying it to the context of our lives and careers.

Chronologically sorted pages of posts aren't how people actually use the internet.

Very true. We don't search for all the articles written in 2020 to get the information or answers we seek. We search for topics. Just like we did a few moments ago.

Another layer of discovery is curation.

If you visit the root of this site you'll notice that you are welcomed with a small "best of" selection and a few other topics that I wanted to surface for you because they are interesting to me and I'd like to share them with you.

I imediately think of a small town vegetable stand on the side of the road. The farmers, who have acres of land with lots of plants, pick the best fruits and vegetables to display for sale. Similaraly, Joel, and myself, curate a list of topics to highlight.

https://tomcritchlow.com/2019/02/17/building-digital-garden/

A blog without a publish button

Back to Google.

https://maggieappleton.com/garden-history

Twitter thread

https://notes.andymatuschak.org/z4SDCZQeRo4xFEQ8H4qrSqd68ucpgE6LU155C

Open Transclude

https://www.christopherbiscardi.com/ — Idea of curation exemplified https://lannonbr.com/garden — How developed an article is (Maggie Appleton does this too)

https://github.com/MaggieAppleton/digital-gardeners

https://www.mentalnodes.com/a-gardening-guide-for-your-mind

  • The concepts of fruits on trees
  • "go from collector to creator."

https://www.swyx.io/writing

  • Webmentions

https://aengusmcmillin.com/brain

  • Bidirectional linking

Add to features list

Back to Maggie's article

4:23 — "Where it gets different is we look now for things to link it to. We don't want to just say something, we want to connect what we are saying, what we're learning to things we've learned in the past and to things that other people have learned."

Caufield's essay:

And over time the wiki became a representation of things you knew, connected to other people’s wikis about things they knew.

Features

  • layered, bi-directionally linked system
  • Open Transclude
  • low friction
  • Search and filter, not pagination
  • How developed a topic is
  • Webmentions
  • Interactivity with MDX

Tools

React — I'm going to emphasize React because it's what I know. There are lots of options though, like Jekyll, 11ty, Vue, etc. all with their own pros, cons, and tradeoffs.

Static Site Generation

Sources

Conf Talk

I will be giving a conference talk at React Global on 2020 September, 15.

Hypertext Thinking — Building personal knowledge bases in public

Writing down what you know helps you learn and retain knowledge. Building your own model of a domain can generate new meaning and new understanding yielding insights that you may not of had otherwise. React enables Digital Gardening by removing friction, giving us tools for interactivity, and much more. Let's talk about the defining features of a Digital Garden and how React plays a role in our writing and knowledge building.