"What's your contribution on the Internet?"

Somebody on Dreamwidth asked (as part of a research project):

How do you make yourself useful to other people on the internet? What's your contribution to the internet?

That's not how I generally think about my activity online, but I said a few things in the moment:


Since the early days of Usenet I've been using the net to learn (self-enrichment), teach or share my knowledge and experience (I hope this helps others), and get to know people who are not like me and who I would never have met otherwise. I like to think that I have similarly contributed to others meeting diverse people from different cultures and contexts. The reasons were originally self-focused, but that's changed over time and with experience.

More actively, after close to a decade contributing to another Q&A network (asking, answering, curating, helping newcomers, moderating), I'm now working on an open-source, transparent, community-driven platform for knowledge-sharing. We're small and trying to grow and only time will tell if we truly helped others, but it's where I invest my community-building and platform-building efforts now.

I guess I served as a canary when that other place turned evil. No one ever signs up to be a canary.

I have used email, and restricted email lists, to both give and get counsel on personal matters. I think I've helped a bunch of people who were considering conversion to Judaism. I consider it a success that some of them did and some of them decided not to; it's not about recruiting but about helping people evaluate the fit.

One of those people was a seeker in Iran, where it was very dangerous to be out about that sort of thing. I think we (one other person and I, in a private chat room with this person) might have saved some lives that day, but I'll never know.

I had a remote intern a few years ago (pre-pandemic); I met her once, about halfway through the internship when I traveled to her location, but otherwise it was all done remotely. I've had in-person interns and junior hires before and I enjoy mentoring them; this was my first time doing it remotely. (I've since done it a couple more times.) Kind of relatedly, I received email last night from an SCA contact who's looking for a mentor for a student for a Girl Scout project. I don't know where this student lives.

I was contacted by a schoolteacher in Myanmar several years ago; her students were building a yurt based on an article I had allowed someone to publish online (it was originally in a paper SCA newsletter), and she had a question. Myanmar. My jaw dropped. Another time, I got email from somebody in Scotland asking me if it would stand up to force-12 winds (which I had to look up). This article was kind of a one-off; it's just a thing I wrote up, after learning from someone else (credited of course) and building one, because I needed something to live in at Pennsic. It wasn't a focus area for me; I've never been part of online yurt communities and stuff; I never promoted it anywhere. I don't even have direct access to edit it. A chance "sure, go ahead and put it on your site if you want" was pretty much my entire contribution to it being online. It makes me wonder how much the stuff that I've intentionally published and maintained has helped people that I'll never know about.

I'll never know most of the impact I have on others. I do the best I can to help it be positive impact.