Nick Ang profile picture

Nick Ang

Labeling things properly in a digital garden

Maggie Appleton had just revamped her website that she refers to as a digital garden and two clicks later, I’ve read her essay entitled A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden and took notes. And, I’m inspired.

But instead of letting myself get overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that I’m thinking of doing or changing, I’m just choosing one to focus on for now. Time has been tight as a parent.

In May 2020 I’d already caught on to the idea of a digital garden and I even started to use it to describe this site, as I wrote in this post. But shortly after that, the idea faded into the background and I probably went back to calling this a blog.

So, why implement post statuses in this digital garden?

Maggie Appleton has compiled a growing list of digital gardens in this GitHub repo. After I sampled a few of them, I realised that I have already inadvertently embraced some of the common principles:

  1. I still write casual live journal entries, in the sense that I’ve grown to be comfortable with being wrong, being “freed from the pressure to get everything right immediately”

… and there are some principles that I have not yet embraced:

  1. I’m still presenting what I’ve written in reverse chronological order, instead of choose-your-own-adventure paths. I think the recently added topics page is just a baby step in that direction.
  2. I have yet to make clear the status of each post (i.e. is it an almost fully-formed opinion, or closer to a seedling of a thought?).
  3. Apart from linear writing, I have not intercropped this digital garden with other media like YouTube videos, Twitter threads, or even diagrams (there are just a few).

Those are non-exhaustive lists.

Anyway, let’s talk about what I mean by “post statuses”:

  • Use gardening metaphors to label certain metadata that indicate to readers the doneness of a post
  • Possible maturity statuses: Seedling, sapling, evergreen (these coincide exactly with the maturity statuses I use in the notes in my Personal Knowledge Management system)
  • Published date => “planted 5 months ago”
  • Last deliberately-modified date => “last tended 3 weeks ago”

Here’s what I imagine would happen once I’ve implemented post statuses.

First, there’d be a forcing function at play every time I sit down to write and publish something (once weekly since mid-2020). I already store metadata in each post, like the post title, excerpt, and publish date. Now I’m forced to remember that anything I write is a work-in-progress, just like plants (or trees!) in a garden. It’s a reminder of how little I know and how much more I can learn.

More importantly, with this new metadata, every time before I publish something, I’d be forced to think about how finished the idea is and label it carefully, so that readers know when they’re reading something closer to speculation or conviction.

Finally, I imagine that with these simple changes, I’d rewire my brain to finally think of this blog as a digital garden — a place, as Maggie puts it, that consists of ideas that are never finished but constantly growing, evolving, and changing.

If I take on to the idea more, then I’ll perhaps implement others in the list of “not yet embraced”.


Nick Ang profile picture
Senior software engineer, dad, writer-thinker type. Big on learning something everyday and trying to have fun before the lights go out.
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