Digital Gardens


“A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden”, beautifully written by Maggie Appleton, is an article I’ve only discovered several days ago, despite it being planted almost 4 years ago.

For her article, Maggie came up with …

[…] a number of sites that are taking a new approach to the way we publish personal knowledge on the web.

They’re not following the conventions of the “personal blog,” as we’ve come to know it. Rather than presenting a set of polished articles, displayed in reverse chronological order, these sites act more like free form, work-in-progress wikis.

This got me thinking. For my personal blog I do follow the old convention. Reverse chronological order: Check. Polished articles: Check. So much so that for some posts it takes way too long before they go live. And some may even never see the light of day.

Could I become a gardener?

Could I turn my blog into a collection of evolving ideas that aren’t strictly organised by their publication date?

Well, let me get the facts straight. I blog primarily about CSS. The things I write already start to age before I even publish them. In the fast-paced world of web development, if an article of mine is not completely irrelevant after two years, I got lucky.

That said, I could write a blog post that evolves over time. Imagine an article that explains how to center content in CSS. Whenever a new best way to do that gets added to the CSS toolbelt, I’ll update the article, and also its revision date. However, looking back at what I’ve written in the last 13+ years, and the way I write, I figured my content really isn’t suited for that.

Before I’ve first heard about Digital Gardens, I came up with the Revisitation strategy. Whenever a blog post is in desperate need of an update—instead of updating the post—I write a follow-up, and make sure the original post links to it. Given that the URL path of every blog post on my site starts with the publication year, this strategy suits me better.

The current state

What types of content do I have on my site? Essentially three types:

  1. First we have the already mentioned blog posts. I write them, they get released, and maybe even read. People may add comments, but at some point they end up on the pile of history.
  2. Then there are indexes. Their content is rather static, but whenever a blog post gets added, the corresponding indexes will make sure to link to it. In other words, they are updated automatically. Their primary purpose is to enable navigation.
  3. At last we have pages. This site cannot deny its WordPress roots. Unlike blog posts, regular pages do not have the publication year in the URL path. They do not even show a publication date, they only let you know when they have been last revised.

While the last one, i.e. the page type, seems to be better in line with the concept of a digital garden, the thing with pages is, they are either rather dull (like Imprint and Elsewhere), or they are there to enhance the site (like RSS and Settings). Let’s take the Imprint page as an example: It kinda looks like a polished blog post, and it too has to be complete at launch. So unlike a page in a digital garden, it doesn’t really grow over time.

Fine. The digital garden, a nice idea, but not for me? Hold on.

I’ve added quite a few (hopefully not so dull) pages recently. Pages, not blog posts, so no year in the URL path. I’m talking about the pages that explain the Easter eggs on this site. Writing them down has been on my to do list for a long time, and in 2024 I finally got to it.

The new current state

Now that I’ve become a fan of the digital garden concept, I took the opportunity to apply it on this new Easter eggs corner on my site. Easter eggs will evolve over time, and so their documentation will do too.

On April 1, releasing this blog post was not the only thing that has happened on this site. I’ve introduced the concept of stub pages, similar to the ones you find on Wikipedia. And I’ve already created three stub pages.

To be continued. You may expect writings about »Markup«, »Site Designs«, »Comment Zero«, and more.

The trailing paragraph on the Easter egg index already announces upcoming Easter eggs, and more importantly even links to them, as they already exist as stub pages.

Without stumbling over Maggie’s article, I would’ve introduced each Easter egg as soon as I had a new polished page ready. But now I’m doing things differently, I’m getting my pages out there while they’re still "seedlings”.

An opportunity to grow

I’m aware that the philosophy behind Digital Gardens is much more nuanced. Then again, my Easter egg pages may just be the beginning. I can imaging adding a dedicated ‘Garden’ entry to my main navigation. Eventually, I’ll end up having more pages …

[…] published as half-finished thoughts that will grow and evolve over time.