The Garden and the Stream

Streams are a metaphor for the majority of the Internet we interact with today characterized by time-ordered events that require context to understand.

For example, try going back to a tweet from a few years ago and try to glean it’s full meaning. It requires context—when did it happen, what do we know about the author, what was it in response to, etc.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are the pinnacle of the stream. Content is an argument (not even a dialogue, typically a nameless ‘them’), real-time reactions, and primarily ephemeral.

Gardens are different. There is no singular relationship of elements (i.e. a heterarchy) in a garden, no strict hierarchy or chronology. It emphasizes the reader (or creator) to find their own connections between objects in and draw their own path.

For example, content in a digital garden is evergreen and evolves over time. There are many links between content the creator places to connect meaning and generate context over time. Adding content and connections extends the meaning of what already exists without needing to rewrite it.

As a counter example, consider a blog post. It’s a snapshot in time of a collection of ideas strung together. It’s unlikely to be updated and extended as the author acquires new information. They could write a ‘part 2’ sequel, but this introduces a new strict hierarchy of ideas and requires reading the previous parts to fully understand the context.

Read the essay.

See also:

  • On the Modern Web, the Absence of Recent Activity Greatly Diminishes Value

    Due to the consumerist nature of the modern web, we expect a perpetual stream of activity from web content. For example, going to someone’s personal blog and seeing the last post was 2 years ago leaves the impression that it is not relevant and abandoned so it must not have been that good. Another example is open source software. The dreaded ‘Still alive?’ issue implies that the value we assign to something we can consume on the internet is proportional to the frequency it is updated.

  • Reflections on Writing 500 Notes

    I’ve now written 500 notes and roughly 84,000 words since May 25, 2020 in my Zettelkasten. Here are a few thoughts and observations.

  • Reverse Chronological Content Took over the Web

    The majority of websites of the ‘old web’ (1990’s) were hand crafted, highly customized places where creators acted more as librarians—carefully maintaining a table of contents and some evergreen content. This all changed with the introduction of Moveable Type, a CMS that took the labor out of publishing content and democratized a minimal, organized, aesthetic.

  • Adding Dates to Content Provides Contextual Value Only When the Content Is Not Evergreen

    Adding dates to content like a blog post provides value when the content can best be understood by the relationship with when the content was created. Otherwise having a ‘Posted on: yyyy-mm-dd’ does little more than to signal there is activity here and that you are the kind of person that writes regularly.

  • Stock and Flow

    Stock and flow is an economics concept referring to static value (stock) and transactions over a period of time (flow). This is a useful metaphor for producing content on the internet.