How do you do that online thing?

This question is a tough one. (A little secret… I don’t have the answers to most of the questions I ask.) Here’s some context: In one of the classes I teach, my students make a website as their semester’s project. We discuss all sorts of things about online content, layout, purpose, accessibility, and then there’s the question about how this can all be used. In the past there were all sorts of terms that have gone in and out of fashion having to do with digital literacy or being tech savvy, and whatever buzzword there is, the important thing is that tech is a useful tool for many people in many professions.

My students are primarily musicians: performers & teachers. I’d like to think they will be future leaders in education. Part of what allows people to be successful in an ever-changing tech-infused profession, is at least dipping your toe into the river, even if there’s a lot of water flowing faster than you’d like to swim in. That’s sometimes how I feel about tech. I know a bit, and I can figure stuff out, but I am not a professional sound engineer, nor am I a professional web-designer, but I can record my cello and make a website. What then?

I know that connection is important. For me it’s a quest. A passion even. Connection through learning is just about as good as it gets – to know that someone else ‘got it’ and you might have helped give or point them to some important piece, or perspective, at the right time.

But how to connect with the wider community across the globe? Those waters are fast and I don’t like getting my face wet. I decided to phone a friend. I did literally phone a friend, and I also asked online. I got four very useful replies, and this wonderful 10 minute segment from my friend and colleague Jonathan.

“Everyone has a story, you just have to enable them to speak.” – Jonathan Worth


The online replies to my question:

I asked, ‘How do you leverage your writing and your professional profile with your networks online?’ and these replies came from around the world. (leverage was not a very good word choice, I would like to have said ‘share’) Each response adds useful insight and a valuable perspective. I am grateful to each for taking the time to write and reply.

  • From Marc Jones, an English teacher in Tokyo: “I don’t think there’s much actual intentional leverage on my part. I know I do get offered chances to do things by being enthusiastic and, if not knowledgeable, curious enough to get answers.”



  • “It’s something I rarely ever think about. I write for myself, for a way to understand, to articulate ideas, to explore new thing, to curate what I am doing (my blog, I have come to realize, is my best curation space). That said, sometimes my writing has led to offers to present/keynote conferences, and to be invited into projects/networks. Maybe for your students, consider it as a choice: is this my professional identity? or is this my writing identity?” – Kevin Hodgson, an incredibly creative 6th Grade Teacher, USA


  • ‘My networks are for sharing. That’s their full purpose. If people have questions, need advice, want to listen, whatever.. True, some good things have come to me from networks, but not as a result of me planning to use them for that purpose. It’s a Taoist approach – don’t seek power, wealth, fame, etc. – I never want to ask for any of these. … [and] networks are for sharing.’ – Stephen Downes, an educational pioneer, Canada


I had planned to link to this post by Alan Levine, ‘On Sharing, Teaching: Network Amplifying / Blog Signal‘, because of how relevant it is, but I hadn’t realised he told a story about Stephen amplifying one of his (Alan’s) posts until I re-read it. (I do highly recommend reading that post.) Funny how things connect sometimes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And let’s take Jonathan up on his offer. Listen, watch, and comment – here, on Twitter, Mastodon, or wherever you do your online thing.


  1. Geoffrey Gevalt

    I really appreciate this post and the response from @cogdog and @charlenedoland57. I loved the interview with Jonathan — his thoughts were spot on. And, of course, I appreciate the attitude and spirit Jason Kottke has exhibited in some 280 years of blogging. I agree with what seems a basic sentiment of blog sites: write for yourself. Period.

    I find myself, though, wanting to connect more. Now that I am no longer gainfully employed and am, instead, wrestling a very large (oh, how it grows) fiction project and then getting outside my brain in the afternoons by doing some projects with a camera, I find the isolation difficult. I want to connect. I want to get some feedback. I want to see what other people are doing. What they are thinking. What they are creating. What they are playing. And I also want some outside perspective on my own work.

    Social media is decidedly unsatisfactory. Alan, you are a master of the chaotic network connections, but I have always gravitated to the curated model. Perhaps it comes from all my years on newspapers. And I also find the responses that I get (usually a like here or a repost there) is decidedly unsatisfactory. It’s not enough.

    As I posted on Mastodon and a few other spots, (god, did I really do it on Facebook?) I have an idea to create a new, small private space for like-minded creators to hang out, a kind of for adults (though I have not yet reached that exalted status). Here’s the link, again, for a bit more on the idea:

    Part of my idea would be to seek out critical mass in two areas: one as a core group of leader/maintainers and two, enough participants to guarantee activity. I think part of my idea that I did not express, but may add to the post, is the idea that my hope that this would be a space that people might share unfinished work — all posts and comments would be private by default but could be made public — or something they have created and really really like, but are seeking substantive feedback.

    Because, to me, the whole connection/feedback/learning/teaching thing is the magic of the Web. I care less about how many views that I get than the substance of the comments I get (currently I get none on my own site for reasons that slightly baffle me if I really thought about it.) But comments and feedback in general make the artist feel alive AND help them, sometimes, see if their ideas are on the mark. Or, even, discover from others that there might be some other things they could do with the idea.

    Anyway, I ramble. Looking back, as I do more often these days, I remember that the early Web was an explosion of connection. It was, after all, designed to do just that — to share knowledge, to foster collaboration, debate and engagement and to stimulate conversation. When we launched YWP it was all that. And then social media came along. And then smartphones. And things have changed. The Web is fractured — big sites and billions of tiny sites. We see more but read less. Skim more and finish less. We click the like button more and comment less.

    I yearn for something deeper.

    I appreciate this blog post, Laura. Sorry to have fallen off the cliff as a commenter. I will try to do more.

    Be well all of you and, Charlene, it’s so funny that when you visited Vermont way back when you had this marvelous encounter in Winooski, where Young Writers Project was hatched. So many stories.

    peace, all.

  2. Cog.Dog

    The thing I enjoy and respect so much about Jonathan, and you, is how genuinely human, humble, ironic, joyful you are in all places you are online. Just listening to Jonathan makes me realize how I value his intensity, commitment, and humour, because every time I hear or read him, it sounds like his personality.

    And it take a longish while for people to find that way of writing in a blog, or in social media, as themselves, rather than as who they think they should be.

    A key part of this is participating in the spaces of others; be it commenting, be it mentioning other people’s work in your own or in social media, of doing more than retweeting, but adding context with it, and connecting people that may not be previously connected.

    As much as we might want to expand our reach, connect, get rich, from what we share online, it’s best done without expectation, so when it happens, it can be a nice surprise. It’s gotta be for yourself first, IMHO. This is why I reach for old classics like Cory Doctorow’s My Blog My Outboard Brain (sadly only available on Internet Archive), Jon Udell’s concept of “Narrating the Work” we do and recently Jason Kotke’s reflection of 21 years blogging:

    “I had a personal realization recently: isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity.”

    The people who find these ways do so after staying at it for some sustained time; that itself seems more rare these days, but I’m still optimistic for the self-owned publishing space being the prime place we attend to online.

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