johno

The World Wide Web has connected us to information and content in a way that's unprecedented. Literally anything you'd ever want to learn about is a search and click away.

You can stay up to date on the news, read tutorials, or see what your friends are up to. It's incredible.

However, we've seen a massive shift in how this information is hosted, published, and interlinked. No longer are they quirky corners of the web. They're centralized. They're siloed. They're cloud-first.

It's pretty common these days for someone's entire presence on the web to consist of a few handles on popular social networks. This can leave folks stranded when the vogue social network loses favor in addition to other problems.

  • Our content is subject to algorithmic feeds and the whims of massive companies looking to monetize its users
  • We lose control of organizing our own information and publishing it under our own domains
  • Personality is lost amongst a sea of bordered text feeds with circular avatars

There's a particular VC-backed blog that instantly comes to mind. Many users have published huge collections of content only to get taken hostage by dark patterns in search of monetization.

The digital garden

When we create content and share information we should be in control in how it's hosted, when it's published, and even how it's organized.

To me, there's something special about the term, too. A garden is tended to. A garden is reorganized. A garden is personal.

Publish early, publish often

I've broken my digital garden into three primary sections which has helped me get things out there earlier rather than later:

  • Writing: Evergreen essays, thoughts, and tutorials.
  • Notes: Collections of links, technical information, images, quotes, etc.
  • Journal: A reverse chronological feed of problems I encounter and sometimes solve.

Writing

This section is filled with more traditional blog posts of any topic. I'll also typically at least attempt to edit them. They're intended to be evergreen and I'll update them from time to time if they've gotten out of date.

I manually order the posts how I want them, and link to a /writing/all page which lists all posts in reverse chronological order.

Notes

Of the three sections this has incited the most change in my content production. I feel less pressure to perfect what I write here and it serves as a valuable resource for myself in two weeks when I forgot how I did something.

Journal

This has been a recent addition which intends to fit between writing and notes. It's often a stream of consciousness post which follows along with what I might be doing that day. I'll often use this to link with other folks to more coherently illustrate something in place of a long Slack message.

Fragmentation of personal content

I often find myself wondering where I saved an article. Did I bookmark it? Did I share it with someone? Can I find it in my browsing history or perhaps Google it?

Or where I wrote something down. Is it in a GitHub repo or Gist? Is it in Dropbox? Was it on Slack?

Owning your content

This is so fundamentally important because every piece of content you write is your asset. Everyone has their own motivation for writing.

For me, it's about creativity and honing a craft. For others it can be content marketing, it can be an intellectual pursuit, or a business. It can be about becoming a domain expert.

There are a multitude of reasons and they're all valid. Though, they become less effective when you don't have total ownership.

Right now, Medium might result in more "engagement", but content syndication is difficult and their tactics for monetization are turning users away.

Simplistic publishing

It's pretty obvious why platforms like Medium saw such a meteoric rise. They did make it easy and elegant to write and publish articles. They were pretty, too.

When you compare that to the de facto local-first, self-hosted alternative at the time, Jekyll, it made sense that someone would scrap that and run for that sleek Medium editor and typography.

Are things changing now?

Granted I exist in a bit of an echo-chamber of technology, but when I zoom out it's pretty apparent that we're seeing a shift. There's some healthy distrust the exsting platforms and folks are realizing how much valuable knowledge is locked away in Slack history.

Technology is becoming more human

In the past few years it has gotten "easier" to host your own website or digital garden with the new tooling that's proliferating. The barrier to entry isn't where it needs to be, but it's undoubtedly lowering, and lowering rapidly.

There are fewer steps involved to publish something, we're less locked-in than ever, and technology is becoming more approachable.

This will empower folks to create their own digital gardens where they can order their posts how they see fit and share images, memes, or text snippets at any url they so choose.

When you own your content and your domain, you own your destiny.

The future

I'm pretty excited about the near future of website publishing and design tooling. We're reaching a point where "No Code" is as good as code because the data format underneath is code.

Now, one can't be locked-in, you simply eject and move to something new. This also allows folks to peel back each layer for more customization and flexibility.


Related

The following posts are what got me thinking about digital gardens. I'd highly recommend giving them all a read.