Episode 118 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with product designer Maggie Appleton. Maggie advocates publishing personal knowledge online. Her website includes one of the best digital gardens I’ve seen.
So, what is a digital garden? This is how Maggie explained it:
it essentially is a personal website, just like a blog. But instead of publishing fully finished posts in a chronological order, it instead has more of a wiki-like structure.
If you think of like Wikipedia, every page isn’t necessarily tied to a certain date. It’s not chronologically stacked on top of one another. And pages are deeply interlinked. So, the qualities are: it’s non chronological, all the pages are deeply interlinked, and it’s very imperfect – you grow it slowly over time.
In short, a personal hypertext that’s shared with the world. Why would somebody want to put time and effort into such a project? Because it introduces rigor into your thinking. Again, here’s Maggie’s take:
I’ve just found that writing in public in a way that doesn’t feel too high pressure has made me a much more critical thinker. It’s made me really do my research. It’s really made me learn my history and then that’s paid off in spades when I actually do have to solve a real problem at work. It’s like, “Oh! I’ve researched this. I know this stuff. I can come to this discussion quite confident in what I want to advocate for because I’ve done my homework.”
As I said, I wanted to discuss digital gardening with Maggie because hers is one of the best such websites I’ve seen. This is partly due to the quality of the content, but also because she’s thought about how to make the content accessible, navigable, and understandable.
Which is to say, there’s an important information architecture question here: how do you set up conditions for emergent writing while also being accessible to new users? Maggie’s garden provides an elegant answer. I’m glad she was open to sharing it with us on the show.