Welcome to the Jungle: thoughts on Hyperdraft

A friend recommended Hyperdraft just after it launched last fall. It seemed intriguing but I had trouble figuring out how the third-party hosting model (using remoteStorage or Fission) worked and was confused by the backlinking workflow. Maybe it was because at the time I only dimly understood what backlinks were; or because I was feeling pretty jaded with blog and wiki tools, having spent much of the previous six months exploring them and trying to find one that didn't just get in the way. I'd also recently taken refuge in Gemini, which seemed - and still seems - a welcome escape from the webdev theme park. In any event, I didn't take to Hyperdraft and it seemed destined to join the long line of what I've called elsewhere Shiny Happy Templates.

I found my way back to it in a roundabout way, via a Merveilles post by its creator, Rosano, about Joybox, a pinboard for audiovisual media. I'd been a fan of Maciej Cegłowski's excellent Pinboard bookmarking site for a while but had been looking for some kind of cross-platform media bookmarker as an alternative to YouTube's laughable playlist manager. Joybox fitted the bill and I immediately began using it. Somehow I discovered that the developer was the same person who made Hyperdraft so I decided to give it a second look. After some wrangling of the remoteStorage platform, I figured out how to make a home page and started - gasp! - actually writing some content. Getting to this point has been the major bugbear of the past year: most tools and apps, while invariably proclaiming themselves to be simple, turn out on closer examination to be anything but, either in terms of just getting them to work or distracting choices with interface design.

Once set up, Hyperdraft takes care of all that. In common with the retro-futurist return in recent years to stripped-down (note my avoidance of the "minimalist" cliché) design inspired by pre-web services like Gopher and early web browsers like Lynx, it delivers clean, crisp, pages of text and links unencumbered by flashy Javascript or the cruft of Wordpress and countless other bloated sites. After working with it for an hour or so, assembling and re-organizing a small wiki as I went along, it quickly began to feel very intuitive and organic. As with Joybox, it felt like the kind of tool that I'd been looking for over the past year. Here are three things I like about Hyperdraft.

frictionless tools

As stated earlier, a lot of supposedly "simple" wiki and/or blog platforms and frameworks Just Get In The Way. I spent months just trying to get the static site generator Jekyll even properly installed on my Mac, let alone selecting and configuring themes, and until quite recently actually authoring content has remained only a distant possibility. In varying degrees this has also been true of the many other frameworks I've looked at over the past year: Hugo, Eleventy, Gatsby, Bludit, Pelican, Racket, to name but a few. Hyperdraft doesn't get in the way: after the initial set-up, if you know Markdown you're pretty much good to go. Once set up, it's the closest to anything I've found to a frictionless authoring tool.

the medium is

Because Hyperdraft is a web app, authoring is entirely browser-based and editing is immediately published: no Ruby, no Gemfiles, no GitHub push-me-pull-you, no desktop app, no failed builds, no deployment headaches, no Netlify, no Docker. Once the mountain of infrastructure is removed, you're suddenly freed up to write again. Content is no longer just an afterthought.

the message

Hyperdraft is an ideal platform for a digital garden: user sites can be registered under the hmm.garden domain name, and a hosting service called Garden is reportedly coming soon. With its text-based pages, backlinking support, and instant publication, Hyperdraft is a welcome addition to the digital garden toolshed. With that being said, there's no reason why you have to stick with the digital garden metaphor, which appears to be approaching the end of its shelf life. While the metaphor of the garden conjures up pastoral images of Arcadia, gardens are in most cases about rigorous organization and control, from the geometric layouts of eighteenth-century French gardens to the manicured emptiness of Japanese zen gardens. American golf courses and suburban lawns are a form of social oppression. I'm not sure I want my wiki to be a "digital garden" in those terms; if it has to be a garden at all, I'd prefer it to be like the sprawling, abandoned estate of Heligan in Cornwall - but in its wild, overgrown form, before its rediscovery after a century and transformation into a tourist attraction and yet another of the U.K.'s countless "garden centres."

If we have to use metaphors at all, I prefer the image of the jungle rather than the garden. It's interesting in this regard that Rosano's own Hyperdraft site greets visitors with the words "Welcome to the jungle," a shout-out to the classic Guns N' Roses album (1987). Gardens are by their very nature narcissistic: they're about their owners and their personal tastes and idiosyncrasies rather than the world at large, inward rather than outward looking. The overwhelming majority of digital gardens out are no different: they're about personal tastes, hobbies, and ideas, platforms for the self. "Hello, my name is X, and this is my digital garden" is the typical format. "Here's some info about my projects, what I'm reading, listening to right now, my favorite movies," and so on.

Gardens are meticulously organized spaces for displaying personal taste, which is exactly why they're so boring. Jungles are the opposite: wild, exciting, teeming with all sorts of crazy lifeforms, often dangerous - think of the scene with the tiger in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. It's no wonder that humanity devotes so much of its time to chopping them down and replacing arcadia with suburbia. In the early 1990s, Jungle music was developed by DJs broadcasting pirate radio from satellite mini-dishes on abandoned tower-blocks in East London. All in all, in terms of digital ecologies, I prefer the metaphor of the jungle to that of the garden. The web needs less twee digital gardens and more jungles. Hyperdraft is a good place to start, but as Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five famously put it in their hip-hop classic "The Message":

It's like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder
how I keep from going under