What is a digital garden?

Danielle Messler
March 7, 2021

What is a digital garden?

A digital garden is basically a combination of an online notebook and a personal wikipedia. It’s your personal collection of ideas.

Though they aren’t new, digital gardens are having their moment, growing in popularity across particular corners of the internet.

These are the key things you need to know about planting one of your own.

Collect the dots

Our brains are pretty powerful things, but even they have limits in how much information they can hold at once. 

A digital garden is where you can keep these ideas (or plant them, if you will) so you’re able to benefit from that information over time.

You likely consume a ton of content: blogs, newsletters, masterclasses, video series, podcasts, tweets, TikTok, longform articles, books, audiobooks, etc— the list goes on forever.

But passively consuming it means risking it being forgotten, as Anne-Laure le Cunff of Ness Labs describes in a great post on mind gardens:

"Ultimately, the goal is to make sure all the information you consume (your input) can lead to increased productivity and creativity (your output) instead of festering and getting forgotten in your mind backyard."

Instead, you collect insights and plant them in your digital garden sharing your current understanding. When you write these ideas in your own words, you better remember it (this is called the generation effect).

Work in progress

A digital garden is a perpetual work in progress— notes can be short or contain questions without answers.

In Building a Digital Garden, Tom Critchlow describes approaching it like a captains log:

“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.”

In short, feel free to get messy. Don’t cross your t’s or dot your i’s. It’s part of what makes keeping a digital garden so much fun.

Know your audience

A digital garden is your corner of the internet— a place for you to explore and write about what interests you, just because it interests you.

Without worrying about if it’s in your niche.

Without worrying whether or not your audience will like it.

Without the pressure of having all the answers wrapped up in one neat post.

On your own time

Digital gardens are, in a way, a return to the early days of the internet— before chronological blogs and social media streams took over.

In How the Blog Broke the Internet, Amy Hoy talks about those early days:

“Dates didn’t matter all that much. Content lasted longer; there was less of it. Older content remained in view, too, because the dominant metaphor was table of contents rather than diary entry. Everyone with a homepage became a de facto amateur reference librarian.”

Instead of organizing your notes in chronological order, you organize them by topic, connecting ideas together and weaving a web of your personal knowledge.

Digital gardens bring back a way of exploring content based on interest, not timeliness.

Maggie Appleton describes it like this:

“Digital gardening is the Domestic Cozy version of the personal blog. It's less performative than a blog, but more intentional and thoughtful than our Twitter feed. It wants to build personal knowledge over time, rather than engage in banter and quippy conversations.”

More Digital Gardening Resources: