What makes something a digital garden?
Lately I have been thinking quite a lot about digital gardens.
For me a digital garden is a beautiful publicly available somewhat-curated partial snapshot of your brain.
I'll try to go over my definition in parts to help myself and whoever reads this follow my train of thought.
There are many ways to keep knowledge.
At the core, you keep knowledge inside, in your brain. There are a lot of problems with brain storage. The main ones being that your brain is very finite, access and retrieval processes are problematic and it's private. Sharing is only done via other mechanisms and is very explicit (unless your are hypnotized).
Another common way to keep knowledge is note taking. You can do it manually with a pen and paper ♥️, you can make illustrations or write text, take photos, shoot videos, record yourself or even make art in a way that is clearly understandable to you, and reminds you of facts or events or thoughts.
Note taking can be digital. You can use a computer to document things. You will need some software to do it. A word processor is a good start, or alternatively, any note taking program, painting software, photo software, video, etc.
The software can also be online. You can use Google Docs, ZOHO or any one of gazillion SAAS products that allow you to upload "stuff" and save it for later retrieval. Some good ones that I like include Notion, Zenkit and (still) Evernote. Other (very smart) people like software by Roam Research, Bear and Ulysses.
All of these methods (other than just keeping stuff in your brain) can be at least somehow public. Paper notes can be sent to others, files can be emailed, online spreadsheets can be collaborated.
The same logic applies to gardens.
Gardens aren't gardens without anyone looking at them. That's how they become neglect. Sure, there must be some people who tend beautiful gardens and keep them to themselves, but on a philosophical level, I can't be sure they exist.
Digital gardens are meant to be seen by others. You carefully tend them, their content, designs and pathways. You put in a new flower, plant another tree, install a little lily-pond, but you are not doing it just for yourself.
You want your family to see it. Your friends. Strangers to observe your patch and be intrigued by what brought you to build it the way you did.
Unlike an immense knowledge base that you keep in your mind, in a notebook or in a web service, digital gardens are external. They are a creation brought forward for the world to see.
Digital gardens are not blogs. Blogs, very much like the news, are diarrhea. A constant, chronologically ordered, flood of information and, well, stuff.
Knowledge sources that are time sensitive are displayed in some sort of chronological order.
Digital gardens, or anything of beauty, do not.
Gardening is how I relax. It’s another form of creating and playing with colors.
-- Oscar de la Rentawn --
Think of Japanese zen gardens. Think of works of art by the great masters of the Renaissance, think of the beautiful websites by some of the brilliant web-designers of our day. They are all pixel-perfect.
Digital gardens are content perfect. They are at least, at some level, curated.
You don't want to display anything that you wrote, anything that you worked on, anything that you stumbled upon online and thought for a second was interesting.
Digital gardens are all about showing the best of your crops. The peaks of your works. Your masterpieces, your magnum opus.
Sure, you may want to display the rest too. Maybe something you wrote a few years ago that isn't that important but may interest someone. An illustration that isn't perfect but demonstrates a good point. A link that you need to keep somewhere.
Second tier flora goes in the fields surrounding your garden. It goes in the woods further afield. But you need to cross your garden to get there. It makes no sense that just because you created something yesterday, it becomes the highlight of your garden.
That's why the best digital gardens, like the most beautiful gardens in the world are created by content architects. You structure your garden, tell a story, pick the best content roses and meaningful dahlias for your garden's entrance. You decorate the pathways with your content sunflowers, and give shade with some of your best oak trees.
The best gardens hand out a map when you enter, or just after you bought tickets. Digital gardens do the same. They guide you where to go. They send right away to the best parts, explain why is the garden laid out the way it is.
Partial snapshot of your brain
What's inside the most beautiful gardens? Flowers, trees, fountains, stones, grassy patches, bushes, sand, little wooden bridges, lighting fixtures, benches, signs and more.
Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris, one of humanity's most amazing creations includes lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and picturesque Medici Fountain. The zen garden in Kyoto's Ryoan-ji Temple consists of stones and sand. Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain puts the exquisite houses and sculptures of Antoni Gaudí front and center.
You can't really define what goes inside a digital garden, but the outcome is always some sort of reflection of its maker's mind.
I saw people put book reviews on digital gardens. Also links, illustrations, digital courses, recipes, articles, videos, crazy Tik Toks, memes, 8bit pixel art, you name it.
Digital gardens contain some sort of internal logic in the way they are organized, in they way content is selected, in the way the magic is being put forward. It's a sum larger than its parts, and it's, at the very least, a partial x-ray of the creator's passions and ideas.
Touring the pathways of a digital garden is like a guided visit in it's maker's maze of perceptions. It can be huge or tiny, clear or abstract, but digital gardens are revealers of truth.
A garden which is not beautiful is not a garden.
Digital gardens are meant to be tended, watered, cherished. It's a labor of love and the ones that aren't, reveal it immediately.
You need to put in some work in your garden or it becomes ugly neglect. You have to carefully select your best content, structure it, design it, remove the bad weeds or they will grow thick and thrive at the expense of your tulips and orchids.
It's constant work but it's rewarding.
My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.
-- Claude Monet --
At the end of the day, when you sit down with you glass of wine or tea or a bowl of biscuits and look at your beautiful garden, you are well rewarded.
Because your garden is public you may get some feedback.
Because your garden is a somewhat snapshot of your brain, it may remind you of things you forgot and make you think about the things that matter.
Because your garden is curated, it makes you constantly analyze, prioritize and organize your thoughts, making it a first class productivity tool.
Because we are all at some level content creators we are worthy to have a garden. Digital, physical or even just mental.