Explorations in Storytelling

On Writing

Writing about writing

An idea for a new digital community


Here’s the idea:

An online community of thinkers — visual artists, journalists, educators, musicians, photographers, digital explorers, innovators — built on the premise that all of us need a space to make deeper connection, to learn from and support others, to exchange feedback, conversation and knowledge.

The site would be private, though anyone could choose to make their posts public. A core group of community leaders would select participants based on simple criteria, skill/experience, motivation, commitment. Participants would be free to invite people they know and respect to join. Why not make it wide open? We’re looking for quality, not quantity.

The site would allow us to:

  • post writing, art, media;

  • engage in written or audio commenting;

  • hold near-live written conversations;

  • create/lead and/or participate in informal learning workshops; and

  • create groups centered on specific interests or projects.

For those who know me, this may sound familiar: youngwritersproject.org is a civil, respectful site I created in 2006 for young people to develop voice and skills in writing, photography and spoken word. It has been remarkably powerful for thousands of kids.

What about a civil, respectful space for “youngish” writers, artists and thinkers?

Here’s some background on why I would want it (and be willing to get it started).

I began my engagement with the Web in 1993 when I talked one of my reporters at the Akron Beacon Journal to write a column about the Internet which was only 4 years old at the time. Soon we syndicated the column through Knight-Ridder (R.I.P.). It was, we believe, the first syndicated column on the Web in professional news media.

In 1994, I headed a rag-tag committee to look into what we might do with the Web and, instead, the group created, in a little under two weeks, the 13th news organization Web site. (We could only find 12 others at the time.) We focused it on the Cleveland Indians coverage (they were winning for the first time in 41 years) and there were no Major League Baseball sites so when the Indians battled the Braves in the World Series, the site got upwards of 24,000 hits an hour.

While I had other projects in between, in 2006 I started Young Writers Project and the site that became its focus.

Since then we’ve seen a transformation. Social media was invented. Smartphones were invented. Algorithms and corporatization were invented. Most importantly, though, our behaviors changed. And our needs didn’t.

So at a time when we focus most of our attention online on the major (and minor) social media sites, we read less (and shorter), we comment less. Our conversations, as they are, consist mostly of reactions and short phrases or sentences; we don’t engage often in long conversations.

And I say that’s too bad.

And from the perspective of an artist on his third lifetime — that is I write in the mornings (usually) and take pictures in the afternoon (usually) — I want a way to connect to people, to get feedback, to gain perspective and, and, and … to learn from others. It was how newsrooms worked. It was how journalism worked. And it was how the Web did, could and still can work.

I tire of the relentless push to get followers or reactions or some sort of response on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even Mastodon. Overall, a sincere waste of time offset by some of the links that I have followed to see work and ideas and writing and visual art and ideas that have been astounding. Uplifting.

But how does it relate to what I struggle with?

I suspect I am not alone. I suspect that, given that making art is a relatively solitary enterprise (even for actors and musicians and performance poets) having a community to connect with is a good and positive thing. It helps climb out of our own skin, to gain perspective, to see other ways of doing things, of resolving problems, of trying something we do not know how to do.

So my questions are these:

Are there enough like-minded artistic souls out there to warrant a not-for-profit Web community that is safe, civil, private and uplifting?

Are there enough people who would commit to participating, to expending a little time and energy for the nebulous reward of connecting with others? Are there enough people out there who would be willing to share their misgivings about their own ideas or who would be willing to share the knowledge gained from their successes?

I think so.

I am working on a strategy to reach out to people. But first it would be nice to get reactions to this, a start, a germ of an idea.

Please comment. Please share your reaction. Thanks. Comment box below.

peace, geoff