If you’re searching for localized gardening info on the Internet, or seeking a green thumb friend with similar passions, you now may be able to find both with one click of the mouse. A new social networking website – www.DigTheDirt.com – is designed to put gardeners in touch with other gardeners on an information-packed website dedicated to all aspects of the growing hobby of gardening. DigtheDirt.com goes beyond blogs and forums to create a virtual back fence over which gardeners (whether across the country or right next door) can share their experiences while together building the most comprehensive interactive source of horticultural ideas and information ever created.
The website is the brainchild of Seattle-based Web veteran and gardener Cliff Sharples, who calls his team’s creation “a gardener’s virtual playground for meeting, seeking, learning and obsessing over shared enthusiasms.”
A dynamic experience
DigtheDirt.com is built on a social networking and publishing platform uniquely tailored for home gardeners, connecting people with shared interests, garden conditions and geographic locations. The site offers the type of powerful social networking tools familiar to users of Facebook and Twitter and the combines those networking tools with a social database of plants for the home garden, garden how-to information and inspirational landscape and design ideas. These resources are dynamic, designed to gain depth, detail and relevance with user input, harnessing what Sharples calls, “the wisdom of the crowd.”
Sharples is one of the founding partners of the Web’s first gardening megasite, Garden.com. Launched in 1995, the original Garden.com – a combination of e-magazine, information hub and pioneering e-commerce emporium – was one of the largest and most ambitious websites ever dedicated to gardening. Born, as its URL name suggests, early in the dotcom boom of the 1990s, it fell victim to the dotcom stock meltdown. Sharples went on to start several venture-backed Internet-based companies and maintains a successful career as an Internet consultant. He says he is thrilled to be back in the gardening sector.
“I’m a gardener. This is coming home,” says Sharples, who is founder and “Chief Cultivator” of the site. “Gardeners love to share. We swap seeds, plants, stories, frustrations, successes, advice and ideas. A social networking site for gardeners just makes sense.
“We took our time putting DigtheDirt together. We wanted to tap into the freedom and power of social networking, but we also need to build in sophisticated foundations for security, privacy, interaction and sharing. With Facebook’s increasingly complex privacy concerns, not to mention its all-things, all-topics approach to feeding users a deluge of information that includes anything your friends and acquaintances can think of, I believe a specialized community built around an information resource that centers on the passion of home gardening has great appeal, and can be truly useful.
“A garden needs structure and care, and so does a good garden social networking site,” concludes Sharples. At DigtheDirt, gardeners benefit from democratic social interaction, enhanced by expert commentary, editing and information.
A compelling destination
From the beginning, says Sharples, the goal was to make use of the latest techniques and technologies to create a site that is a vital tool and customizable resource for gardeners, while also being an entertaining and compelling destination. DigtheDirt co-founder is Bruce Tate, a pioneering Web technologist based in Austin, Texas, who is a top consultant and author of nearly a dozen books on Web and website technology. Their goal: a user friendly, intuitive site that’s easy, powerful and fun.
“On the one hand I can have a look over morning coffee at how my east coast friend’s garden is coming along through my link to their profile,” explains Sharples. “While at the same time I can actively search or query fellow northwest gardeners to see if they’re getting the same white spots on their Chinese witch hazel. As a user, I’ve customized my experience. I follow the topics, plant categories and people that interest me. I contribute my successes, my failures and my knowledge.
“As gardeners in an online community we customize and improve our own experience.” says Sharples. “We enhance the experience of others. In turn, their input enhances our experience. Together we can create quantifiable pools of regional information that goes down to the microclimate level. This is a first. It’s ‘garden think’ on a macro/micro level. That to me is exciting.”
DigtheDirt.com enables people to input their personal experiences with their plants and gardens along with the plant's geographic location, building an overall consensus of a plant's behavior and characteristics based on its exact location. Site visitors can filter by proximity and other attributes to see how a plant will respond in their yard based on others who have planted in similar conditions. Gardeners can post photos and stories, and soon videos, to chronicle their gardens' progress and receive regular updates and advice on plants saved to their profiles.
Already the site offers users the ability to filter and search for plants based on over 100 attributes. DigtheDirt.com also offers gardeners links to find suppliers for the plants and other products they wish to purchase, another component that will grow.
With a fresh approach to social networking, DigtheDirt's database of plant data, care instructions, gardening how-to articles and landscape ideas are cross-referenced and dynamically assembled for a home gardener based on the type of gardening or garden topic that that person might be interested in. With more than 200 topic centers, gardeners can come together with other gardeners, horticulture experts, landscape designers and gardening professionals to share ideas, carry on conversations, ask questions, view photos and make friends.
The ultimate gardening community
"Our goal is to offer the ultimate virtual community garden," says Sharples. Gardening is one of America's No. 1 outdoor hobbies. According to the latest survey by the National Gardening Association (NGA) up to 72 percent of all American households participated in gardening in 2009. Many experts feel gardening is poised for a new period of growth industry due to interest in the environment, living "green", and edible gardening. NGA studies suggest that 43 million U.S. households planned to grow food in 2009, up almost 20 percent from the previous year. 2010 sees that trend growing stronger, motivated by people's desire to lower grocery bills due to the economy and the demand for better tasting, high quality produce that is locally grown.
According to NGA demographic studies, the Internet ranks high as an important source of information for gardeners. Gardeners look to websites for gardening information more than they do to books, magazines or newspapers and on a par with TV shows. The number one source of gardening information, however, remains other gardeners. DigtheDirt.com seems ideally suited to provide both a strong source of information and a vibrant social community for today’s gardeners.