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Digital gardens let you cultivate your own little bit of the internet

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Sara Garner had a nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right.

A software engineer, she was revamping her personal site, but it just didn’t feel like her. Sure, it had the requisite links to her social media and her professional work, but it didn’t really reflect her personality. So she created a page focused on museums, which she is obsessed with. It’s still under construction, but she envisions a page that includes thoughts on her favorite museums, describes the emotions they evoked, and invites others to share their favorite museums and what they’ve learned.

“I’m going for a feeling of wonderment, a connection across time,” she says.

Welcome to the world of “digital gardens.” These creative reimaginings of blogs have quietly taken nerdier corners of the internet by storm. A growing movement of people are tooling with back-end code to create sites that are more collage-like and artsy, in the vein of Myspace and Tumblr—less predictable and formatted than Facebook and Twitter. Digital gardens explore a wide variety of topics and are frequently adjusted and changed to show growth and learning, particularly among people with niche interests. Through them, people are creating an internet that is less about connections and feedback, and more about quiet spaces they can call their own.

“Everyone does their own weird thing”

The movement might be gaining steam now, but its roots date back to 1998, when Mark Bernstein introduced the idea of the “hypertext garden,” arguing for spaces on the internet that let a person wade into the unknown. “Gardens … lie between farmland and wilderness,” he wrote. “The garden is farmland that delights the senses, designed for delight rather than commodity.” (His digital garden includes a recent review of a Bay Area carbonara dish and reflections on his favorite essays.)

The new wave of digital gardens discuss books and movies, with introspective journal entries; others offer thoughts on philosophy and politics. Some are works of art in themselves, visual masterpieces that invite the viewer to explore; others are simpler and more utilitarian, using Google Docs or WordPress templates to share intensely personal lists. Avid readers in particular have embraced the concept, sharing creative, beautiful digital bookshelves that illustrate their reading journey.

Beneath the umbrella term, however, digital gardens don’t follow rules. They’re not blogs, short for “weblogs,” a term that suggests a time-stamped record of thought. They’re not a social-media platform—connections are made, but often it’s through linking to other digital gardens, or gathering in forums like Reddit and Telegram to nerd out over code.

Tom Critchlow, a consultant who has been cultivating his digital garden for years, spells out the main difference between old-school blogging and digital gardening. “With blogging, you’re talking to a large audience,” he says. “With digital gardening, you’re talking to yourself. You focus on what you want to cultivate over time.”

What they have in common is that they can be edited at any time to reflect evolution and change. The idea is similar to editing a Wikipedia entry, though digital gardens are not meant to be the ultimate word on a topic. As a slower, clunkier way to explore the internet, they revel in not being the definitive source, just a source, says Mike Caulfield, a digital literacy expert at Washington State University.

In fact, the whole point of digital gardens is that they can grow and change, and that various pages on the same topic can coexist. “It’s less about iterative learning and more about public learning,” says Maggie Appleton, a designer. Appleton’s digital garden, for example, includes thoughts on plant-based meat, book reviews, and digressions on Javascript and magical capitalism. It is “an open collection of notes, resources, sketches, and explorations I’m currently cultivating,” its introduction declares. “Some notes are Seedlings, some are budding, and some are fully grown Evergreen[s].”

Appleton, who trained as an anthropologist, says she was drawn to digital gardens because of their depth. “The content is not on Twitter, and it’s never deleted,” she says. “Everyone does their own weird thing. The sky’s the limit.”

That ethos of creativity and individuality was echoed by several people I spoke to. Some suggested that the digital garden was a backlash to the internet we’ve become grudgingly accustomed to, where things go viral, change is looked down upon, and sites are one-dimensional. Facebook and Twitter profiles have neat slots for photos and posts, but enthusiasts of digital gardens reject those fixed design elements. The sense of time and space to explore is key.

Caulfield, who has researched misinformation and disinformation, wrote a blog post in 2015 on the “technopastoral,” in which he described the federated wiki structure promoted by computer programmer Ward Cunningham, who thought the internet should support a “chorus of voices” rather than the few rewarded on social media today.

“The stream has dominated our lives since the mid-2000s,” Caulfield says. But it means people are either posting content or consuming it. And, Caulfield says, the internet as it stands rewards shock value and dumbing things down. “By engaging in digital gardening, you are constantly finding new connections, more depth and nuance,” he says. “What you write about is not a fossilized bit of commentary for a blog post. When you learn more, you add to it. It’s less about shock and rage; it’s more connective.” In an age of doom-scrolling and Zoom fatigue, some digital-garden enthusiasts say the internet they live in is, as Caulfield puts it, “optimistically hopeful.”

While many people are searching for more intimate communities on the internet, not everyone can spin up a digital garden: you need to be able to do at least some rudimentary coding. Making a page from scratch affords more creative freedom than social-media and web-hosting sites that let you drag and drop elements onto your page, but it can be daunting and time-consuming.

Chris Biscardi is trying to get rid of that barrier to entry with a text editor for digital gardens that’s still in its alpha stage. Called Toast, it’s “something you might experience with WordPress,” he says.

Ultimately, whether digital gardens will be an escapist remnant of 2020’s hellscape or wither in the face of easier social media remains to be seen. “I’m interested in seeing how it plays out,” Appleton says. 

“For some people it’s a reaction to social media, and for others it’s a trend,” Critchlow says. “Whether or not it will hit critical mass … that’s to be seen.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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China’s electric carmaker WM Motor pulls in $1.47 billion Series D

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Chinese electric vehicle startup WM Motor just pocketed an outsize investment to fuel growth in a competitive landscape increasingly coveted by foreign rival Tesla. The five-year-old company raised 10 billion yuan ($1.47 billion) in a Series D round, it announced on Tuesday, which will pay for research and development, branding, marketing and expansion of sales channel.

WM Motor, backed by Baidu and Tencent, is one of the highest funded EV startups in China alongside NIO, Xpeng and Li Auto, all of which have gone public in New York. With its latest capital boost, WM Motor could be gearing up for an initial public offering. As Bloomberg’s sources in July said, the company was weighing a listing on China’s Nasdaq-style STAR board as soon as this year.

Days before its funding news, WM Motor unveiled its key partners and suppliers: Qualcomm Snapdragon’s cockpit chips will power the startup’s in-cabin experience; Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system will give WM vehicles self-parking capability; Unisplendour, rooted in China’s Tsinghua University, will take care of the hardware side of autonomous driving; and lastly, integrated circuit company Sino IC Leasing will work on “car connectivity” for WM Motor, whatever that term entails.

It’s not uncommon to see the new generation of EV makers seeking external partnerships given their limited experience in manufacturing. WM Motor’s rival Xpeng similarly works with Blackberry, Desay EV and Nvidia to deliver its smart EVs.

WM Motor was founded by automotive veteran Freeman Shen, who previously held executive positions at Volvo, Fiat and Geely in China.

The startup recently announced an ambitious plan for the next 3-5 years to allocate 20 billion yuan ($2.95 billion) and 3,000 engineers to work on 5G-powered smart cockpits, Level-4 driving and other futuristic auto technologies. That’s a big chunk of the startup’s total raise, which is estimated to be north of $3 billion, based on Crunchbase data and its latest funding figure.

Regional governments are often seen rooting for companies partaking in China’s strategic industries such as semiconductors and electric cars. WM Motor’s latest round, for instance, is led by a state-owned investment platform and state-owned carmaker SAIC Motor, both based in Shanghai where the startup’s headquarters resides. The city is also home to Tesla’s Gigafactory where the American giant churns out made-in-China vehicles.

In July, the Chinese EV upstart delivered its 30,000th EX5 SUV vehicle, which comes at about $22,000 with state subsidy and features the likes of in-car video streaming and air purification. The company claimed that parents of young children account for nearly 70% of its customers.

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Feds issue emergency order for agencies to patch critical Windows flaw

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Close-up photograph of computer networking components.

Enlarge (credit: Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The US Department of Homeland Security is giving federal agencies until midnight on Tuesday to patch a critical Windows vulnerability that can make it easy for attackers to become all-powerful administrators with free rein to create accounts, infect an entire network with malware, and carry out similarly disastrous actions.

Zerologon, as researchers have dubbed the vulnerability, allows malicious hackers to instantly gain unauthorized control of the Active Directory. An Active Directory stores data relating to users and computers that are authorized to use email, file sharing, and other sensitive services inside large organizations. Zerologon is tracked as CVE-2020-1472. Microsoft published a patch last Tuesday.

An unacceptable risk

The flaw, which is present in all supported Windows server versions, carries a critical severity rating from Microsoft as well as a maximum of 10 under the Common Vulnerability Scoring System. Further raising that stakes was the release by multiple researchers of proof-of-concept exploit code that could provide a roadmap for malicious hackers to create working attacks.

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Impossible Foods nabs some Canadian fast food franchises as it expands in North America

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After rolling out in some of Canada’s most high-falutin burger bistros, Impossible Foods is hitting Canada’s fast casual market with new menu items at national chains like White Spot and Triple O’s, Cactus Club Cafe and Burger Priest.

While none of those names mean anything to yours truly, they may mean something to our friendly readers to the North. However, I have heard of Qdoba, Wahlburgers and Red Robin. And Canadian customers can also pick up Impossible Foods -based menu items at those chains too.

Since its debut at Momofuku Nishi in New York in 2016, the Impossible Burger is now served in 30,000 restaurants across the U.S. and is available in 11,000 grocery stores across America.

The Silicon Valley manufacturer of meat substitutes expects that Canada, the company’s first market outside of Asia, may become its largest market — second only to the U.S.

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