Digital Gardens

If you deal with a lot of knowledge “stuff,” articles, books, feeds, and need (or really like) to be able to not only find things again but also collect them somehow and ideally built from there to advance your thinking, make sense, and understand, most people would agree you need some kind of system, some set of practices. The oft cited idea of “information overload” is actually, a lot of the time, some form of filter failure. There is a lot of information out there but by focusing on stronger signals in the noise, keeping track of things, and having some structure in how you work, you can parse quite a bit of information without sliding into overload.

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I’ve already covered some of that thinking in the second Dispatch, Ideas & tools from my process. Here I’d like to look at a type of tool I’m not using yet, although there is some overlap with things I use. It’s the idea of the Digital Garden. I originally happened on it through Tom Critchlow’s piece Building a digital garden which you should read but for now let pull this bit out:

It’s a less-performative version of blogging – more of a captain’s log than a broadcast blog. The distinction will come down to how you blog – some people blog in much the same way. For me however blogging is mostly performative thinking and less captain’s log. So I am looking for a space to nurture, edit in real time and evolve my thinking.


When talking about having a system for Personal Knowledge Management I usually use two metaphors. It’s easier to “find a needle in a smaller haystack,” which reflects my experience that when you think you’ll “just find it again on Google” it’s often not the case because “that guy who wrote that thing around that time talking about metamodernism” will give you nothing. However, simply searching for the word “metamodernism” through the full text of what you’ve bookmarked on Pinboard usually does give results pretty quickly. The second metaphor is “composting” (fermenting is more exact but whatever), the idea that things you read and hear pile up in your brain, simmer, ferment, and might turn into something else. For that to work though, you need to randomly “bump into” those articles, quotes, notes, thoughts and have a practice of reviewing, revisiting, and ideally writing about the links you are making. That’s where the garden comes in.

Tom talks about streams (Twitter), campfires (his blog), and garden which was the missing part he started working on. Anne-Laure Le Cunff writes about seeds, trees, and fruits (further down I’ll be linking to a couple of her posts but you should browse her site, loads of stuff on this and other adjacent practices). Let me add to these metaphors, just in case this one makes things click for you.

In short: inputs; a place to save things for later; a place to start making sense and drawing links; a time to write and share for fun (this is almost not optional, it’s such a useful way of thinking); and, if you want to, a time to write and share more seriously.

What is it, really?

Getting back to the digital garden itself, what is it? Everyone’s definition is a bit different and it’s still an emerging practice—even though it’s built on similar older ideas—but I’d say most share a few of the following characteristics:

In short: brief notes from your own thinking, heavily linked back and forth, continually added to and edited.

The goal is to have a library of notes of your own thinking so you can build upon what you read and write, creating your own ideas, advancing your knowledge.

Lets stop here with the explaining and link to some thinking and examples. Hit reply for all comments and questions of course!