On Blogs and Digital Gardens

I came across this post on Mastodon this morning shared by foreverliketh.is that mention two recent posts, Blogs, Gardens, And Thinking Aloud In Public by Bix and Kev’s reply RE: Blogs, Gardens, And Thinking Aloud In Public.

Both posts end up responding to thoughts that Joel Hook published back in 2019 and 2020, Stop Giving af and Start Writing More, and My blog is a digital garden, not a blog. I read both of these posts back then after I ended up down a rabbit hole of digital gardens after reading Maggie Appleton’s original essay, A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden.

In Bix’s post, they called out this statement from Joel:

Seriously. The idea of a “blog” needs to get over itself. Everybody is treating writing as a “content marketing strategy” and using it to “build a personal brand” which leads to the fundamental flawed idea that everything you post has to be polished to perfection and ready to be consumed.

That resonated with me back then in 2020 as it does now. I like to imagine that when Joel wrote this, he was referring to the state of blogging during the 2010s, where there was a shift from blogging for fun to blogging for profit. I imagine these are the types of blogs and blog spam websites Whiona talks about in their recent post, What happened to blogging for the hell of it?.

Bix goes on to talk about Joel declaring his site is a digital garden rather than a blog, and that this concept confuses them. I can kind of relate to that, as underneath Joel’s homepage, there is a chronological list of posts much like you would find in a traditional blog.

Kev also doesn’t seem to get it:

  • “Yeah, don’t get it. I write a post, publish it, then rarely edit it again. Reading about what a digital garden is makes me feel like those who have embraced the concept have simply moved the onus of content curation from the computer/database to their brain.”
  • “Also, this idea that ‘a blog should be highly polished’ isn’t a thing, in my opinion. That’s a desire that’s instigated by the site owner - they have 100% control over that.”
  • “I’ve mentioned many times that I think a personal blog should be rough around the edges, just like this one. 🙃”

Which is interesting, as I don’t think Joel is directing the “everything you post has to be polished to perfection” comment at sites/blogs like mine, Kev’s, Whiona’s, or Bix’s, but rather at the hyper-monetized blogs that took hold of the concept of a blog. I think that both Joel and Kev agree that our personal blogs don’t have to be highly polished and should be rough around the edges.

When I look back at Maggie’s post A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden, this point sticks with me:

A garden is a collection of evolving ideas that aren’t strictly organised by their publication date. They’re inherently exploratory – notes are linked through contextual associations. They aren’t refined or complete - notes are published as half-finished thoughts that will grow and evolve over time. They’re less rigid, less performative, and less perfect than the personal websites we’re used to seeing.

“They aren’t strictly organized by their publication date.” But I hazard that in most cases and on most websites they are. My take on a digital garden versus a standard personal blog is that you might use your homepage to curate a selection of posts that you’re proud of.

For example, Max Böck runs what I consider a standard personal website with a blog but uses their home page to list eight featured posts before encouraging surfers to head to the posts archive.

Another example of this can be found on Matthias Ott’s home page where they feature just two selected posts from their archive as well.

Heck, I’m even trying to do the same with my home page!

My understanding of the digital garden concept is that I can easily publish a draft post with initial thoughts, revisit it weeks later, and gradually transform a few bullet points into a compelling essay that resonates across the open web.

In the end, both blogs and digital gardens offer valuable spaces for self-expression on the web. Instead of getting lost in the details, let’s celebrate the diversity of online spaces and continue creating and sharing our thoughts and spaces on the web.

Maggie recently talked with Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert from Shop Talk. They did talk about digital gardens near the end and Maggie shares some great thoughts about them. Check out episode 583: Language Models, AI, and Digital Gardens with Maggie Appleton.

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