To publish or not to publish?


“When a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no animal is near by to hear it, does it make a sound? Why?” Mann and Twiss (1910) image source: Wikimedia commons

On the latest episode of our DS106 Good Spell we talked about ways to navigate our personal struggles when making choices to publish and share our work. We wanted to go beyond platitude and acknowledge that pit in the stomach that most of us feel when we hit publish.

It occurred to me that these ideas may be of use to CT101 as it is my understanding that some students are only just considering their strategy to working in the open web and not everyone is sure if this way of being is for them.

We started the show with a summary bullet from one of my old posts reflecting on my learning in DS106 a year ago,

“Doing DS106 is like becoming an actor, amazing when the crowd claps and ruthless when nobody notices your performance”

When it works well and there is a learning community around the students there is a magical quality to publishing your work. Strangers come to visit your blog, take time to read and comment on what you have produced. In DS106 my experience has mostly been a positive one. But not always. This is Jonathan Worth talking about his #Phonar (Photography and Narrative) course,

“When I talk about things like this to my students I describe them making a transition from being an edu-customer to a supplier – no one is contractually obligated to engage with their “work” – though I know they find it frustrating that no peers are throwing their weight in – its not an easy one.”

In DS106 we have the Inspire web site as a way of us recognising the work of fellow students that inspire us. My sad confession is that I have rarely used it.  Current UMW students are ‘having’ to use it as it is part of their credits to submit 3 items that have inspired them to the site. The site was designed by past students and it is lovely to find your work there.  In my case, much later than when it was submitted, as I do not often visit the site. Yet it is open to all of us to use.

DS106 seems to have a set of social norms that normalise failure as part of the creative process: we talk about ‘futzing’ on the radio as things go wrong technically whilst we learn to broadcast, we talk about #big fail, laugh when stuff does not go our way and publish anyway asking for advise on how to make ‘it’ work.

I have recently created an Art Critique project to force me to attend to my fellow DS106ers work. I am calling it DS106 art on the Couch and hoping others will jump in and learn art critique with me. It turns out that art critique is a domain of its own and that there is much to learn to do this well beyond just telling people we like/dislike their work. I am learning a great deal about art by paying undivided attention to one piece of art and writing about what I notice beyond an initial emotional response towards or away from it. I hope it will also teach me to speak to other people’s work beyond  the rushed    that seems to be so much of our online interactions.

Yet when it dos not work, that is when you publish and nobody is there to hold a learning space, it is ruthless. It is like the actor finishing what they perceive as the performance of a lifetime and nobody clapping.

My early experience of this was really tough. Whilst I can see the huge potential of a global virtual community, I do remember how it felt the first time I threw my party and nobody came. I also remember how grateful I was to the few people who did turn up. I make an effort to keep up with what people publish but there is so much more than I can spend time with.

One strategy human beings use to cope with that pit in the stomach feeling is rationalisation. We say to anyone who will listen “I really am only publishing for myself and I am okay if nobody comments”  or some version of that.  We believe our words consciously and as a psychologist I know well that ‘The Nile is not just a river in Egypt’ as the meme goes.

Remixed from Tumblr
Animated gif remixed by Gifadog  Source: Tumblr 

We say that we create for an audience or, failing that, the potential of an audience and that this offers a different kind of learning potential than sitting in a classroom or writing on my hard disk. I can speak a lot to the wisdom of that generalisation, but for now let me just say that there is a big difference to our psyche between writing on a private journal and writing publicly with the potential of an audience large, small, or non-existent. It is not trivial to learn resilience vis a vis all three of those options.

We formulate our ideas more clearly when we think of an audience, we shape our ideas as we speak on the radio and it is a performance. All this feels true and useful.

Yet, we do not say as much about the vulnerability this exposes us all to. The ‘Zero Comment’ dynamic Lovink discusses so eloquently. In the case of my first radio programme  last year, it was the ‘Zero Listeners’ dynamic compounded with Zero guests. I was very  grateful that 2 members of our community took time to listen and offer feedback.

Given that feeling that we get when nobody turns up. Is it surprising that we will go to any length to get attention?  Unlike its proponents, Lovink sees blogging as just another form of vanity publishing,

“Blogs have become more of a rat race for maximum attention, measured in links and friends.”

Here are some others expressing the angst of zero comments, not just within DS106 but web wide,

“So I put out a tweet asking if anyone in the course was from a scientific, math, or engineering discipline rather than a humanities, arts, or even social sciences discipline. I got zero response.”  Bill Benzon

“I know exactly the empty pit feeling you describe, and it has been the course of my career littered with dormant discussion forums, ghost town wikis, unedited open docs. And I will try to say to let go of the disappointment, and in doing so will be a hypocrite, knowing what it does to my motivation to do a hangout where no one shows up or a live #ds106radio show where no one listens”  Alan Levine

And there are others who seem to believe they do not have a need for external validation. They just publish for themselves, yet admit to being grateful when seen by others,

“When I throw out a tweet or a blog, it’s more for me to sort through the ideas than for anyone else to take them up. I’m always grateful when someone responds and pushes my thinking, but I see the act itself as pushing myself to get clearer about something…get the idea out of my head.” Kim Jaxon

Others seek explanation for why sometimes our work goes unnoticed,

“Stuff gets lost, or submerged, or just put to one side because many of the folks involved are already doing many other such experiences. I’ve been trying to bring newbies into the fold by having periodic meetups at my school, but only a handful are engaging with blogs, and even fewer with tweets.” Gardner Campbell

Gardner also recognises what a tough thing it is to feel excluded and like nobody wants to come to your party. Yet he says that should never be used as an excuse to be a snark,

“Feeling excluded is a nasty feeling. Being a Snark is another matter. I don’t think it’s ever helpful, except as a conversation stopper” Gardner Campbell

Then there is what happens when we are noticed but the attention we receive is not wanted. I wrote about that in a previous post on this blog when I tried show that often troll or friend is a matter of perspective.

In that post I talked about how shocked I had been by stories like that of Kathy Sierra. The idea that has stuck with me in reading her work is her idea of the ‘Koolaid point’. She identifies this as the point when unwanted attention escalates. The point at which followers ‘are thought to have drunk the Koolaid’ is when a person starts to actually have an audience. Those who oppose their perspective feel the attention is not deserved and then start trolling more,

“From their angry, frustrated point of view, the idea that others listen to you is insanity. From their emotion-fueled view you don’t have readers you have cult followers. That just can’t be allowed.” Kathy Sierra

So when you are about to hit the publish button you think about the options. Lovely people engaging with your ideas, nobody engaging with your ideas and people who dislike you (or who you dislike) engaging with your ideas.

When I started using the open web to learn and publish I learnt a huge amount about expectations. Here is what I wrote in my blog after that failed radio programme,

“What was brought home to me was that I had expectations about how others would behave and these were not met. This led me to reflect on what is the psychological contract we have in hashtag classrooms. It is not clear and it can be tough to navigate the uncertainty and lack of guidelines.”

It is like my quote from Jonathan Worth earlier, nobody is obligated to engage with your work. Once you learn the resilience needed to work with this no obligation contract, learn that being a snark helps nobody, or a victim begging for attention, or that humans will avoid toxic people online as well as offline, then you are ready to join the global village and welcome the freedom it offers. But this literacy is not self evident and  some people never find it.

Developing in this way requires a level of honesty about our own behaviour, a willingness to look at the ill will we feel when our expectations are not met. I do not find much written online about this. One great exception is Pernille Ripp in a post aimed at open educators she talks about how it is just not all ‘cupcakes and rainbows’. I highly recommend reading it as a way in to the darker side of our human motivation: ill-will, jealousy, perfectionism, arrogance and more.

The point I do not want to lose here is that I have made a choice to engage with the open web even as I am aware of its darker side…. for now. I think it matters that we do not Pollyanna-like gloss over the difficulties. Particularly when we hope to educate new people to join this open web learning world. It is not all rainbow and cupcakes, yet is it still the most inspirational learning environment I have ever been in.

What helped me is to have great mentors and down to earth advise. I feel I owe that same thing to others who may be considering this option.

And the best advise for me has always come from DS106.

Here is Alan Levine offering kind advise recently,

“I don’t accept a lack of response as an invalidation of the effort. Quite often people come to an understanding or appreciation on a different time scale than you are moving. A lot more people look at the stuff than respond or participate, and often you have the impact you hope to have but you never see it. So f******** the low numbers of responses or lack of comments. That is not a measure of anything but a desire for some validation.”

My wish for anyone coming to learn on the open web is that they work with themselves in such a way that they can see the wisdom of the words above, instead of feeling they have to pander to a majority or find ever more sensationalist post titles to get somebody, anybody, to click on their post and comment. And that is all of us on a bad day not just ‘them’.





  1. Stefanie says:

    This is a great post, Mariana! and makes me think a lot.

    It is true that we feel hurt when ignored or forgotten or not considered interesting enough and we can do nearly nothing about that. Still, I decided one day if I could choose to get rid of my vulnerability I would say no. It is just part of me and delivers a good information about who I am in the context where I have posted and “failed”.

    There are so many issues you have to consider and I am still exploring what it is what people attract to my posts. The most important thing is if they know me somehow. Being completely new makes people reacting shy to my work. The next thing is that I get ‘likes’ whenever I have liked someone else’s work. The third if my network is interested in the kind of art I post. I think now after these three points the quality of my work becomes important and I think this is great. That is why you can get feedback for work that is still a kind of “prototype”. If people would only react to perfection this would not be possible.

    Also an important point for me is, who likes my work. Sometimes ten people could tell me I am great, but I am not interested in their feedback. I wanted the feedback of certain people and feel hurt if these important people seem to have forgotten me.

    I will continue exploring the topic like you will certainly, too. Never give up getting more and more good feedback 🙂 but you are right, not for the price to give up yourself and what you consider good posts and artwork.

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Stefanie. And so sweet of you to visit me here in my experimental domain of my own 🙂

      I am using this blog to play with Michael and Ryan as they do DS106 at York College. I am really enjoying this space, it is interesting how impactful to one’s creativity a simple WordPress theme change can be. It is making learn a lot about affordances of the tool to support one’s art. I am seeing the site as the art in this case.

      And you will also be glad to hear I have a big learning goal to call myself an artist by the time I finish CT101 🙂 and mean it!

      The difficulties of the dynamics of online interaction do fascinate me. Interesting that you say reciprocity seems to work to get interest and also that it matters who offers you the feedback. I joined a while back and the quality of feedback I received from professional artists was so good. I have not been there for a while as I feel obliged to apply the feedback before posting more.

      What is really interesting, is that the community/platform is set up to encourage good quality feedback….much to reflect on…

      • Stefanie says:

        I have already wondered about you being at York college. Your project sounds interesting and you have my admiration for being involved in guiding students. I would be too shy and feel too troubled with this. You have a lot of courage, Mariana.

        You are right, I have enjoyed reading that you will call yourself an artist 🙂

    • admin says:

      Yes, I keep forgetting to join the hangout. I somehow do not get an invite through G+. I will make a note so that we can catch up soon. I hope the post encourages some of your students to join the open DS106 community but also helps them think through the challenges.

  2. Mariana, words cannot express how much I enjoyed reading your insightful, well-written, and engaging blog, and the impact it had on me on many different levels on first read. Honestly, as a somewhat still digital newbie (and mostly private person by nature) participating in the openness of the world-wide web, I’ve often felt reluctant to reply to many of the wonderfully inspiring blogs I’ve combed through in Connected Courses because of the fear of not sounding intelligent/articulate enough (yes, those old low self-esteem ghosts I continue to work on still exist) and because I’ve been afraid of being way off base in my commentary (which this response is turning out to be, perhaps), but mostly because everything is SO open. Not only am I afraid to say something stupid for all the world to see (or God forbid make typos and grammar errors!) in what I imagine to be a permanent archive managed by who knows Who or What of the Internet, but most of the time my ruminations feel too nascent to share. Hence, I tread lightly, the mental footprint often invisible to the writer, yet the impact of the writer’s words powerfully felt.

    I find that inspiring and thoughtful works often affect me at such deep levels that I need time to reflect and digest, and then by the time I’ve formed my thoughts and come to terms with my realizations, it feels too late to post/share my comments in what seems to be a race to leap through a limited window of time. The flash of ideas/thoughts via the multitudes of connected technology available moves way too fast for me, in a the state of immediacy we all seem to be encapsulated in; and at times, I wish time could just stand still, if even more a few quiet, undistracted moments, so that I can stop and savor what I am reading and learning and participating in. Then again, I’m now finding myself logging onto Twitter and Connected Courses before even taking that morning sip of chilled water, eager to read/share/participate in what’s new in way of others’ shared ideas/connections/breakthroughs of thought. My wired mind excited and wildly addicted to the new information/links, and sometimes frustrated, impatient by the amount of time it takes itself to absorb said information.

    Please excuse my long digression. I believe I needed to say those things before I could get here to this place, to find the courage and the words to express my revelations upon reading what you kindly shared, your shared insights giving voice to the many strands of fluctuating thoughts flowing in and out of my brain, in sometimes lightning speed, that I’ve been struggling to grasp and gather together. . . . As I mentioned earlier, I felt many things at once because of the multi-layered effect and texture of your narration. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, I felt very much validated for a lot of the things I’ve been giving much thought to lately in terms of “hitting the publish button” and the sharing of my responses/writings, but mostly for different reasons than the ones you mentioned–though what you did address resonated with me as well, and are ones I will mull over in the coming days. (By the way, I loved the way you knitted in the various points of view from other Connected Courses colleagues, not just because you created a beautifully woven tapestry of collected thoughts and ideas, but because seeing each person’s shared thoughts/ideas/ruminations in the context of the whole helped me to make even more meaning, in addition to providing a reference point.)

    I also liked that you weaved Ripp’s piece into your discussion, for at the moment, some of the things she points out are things I’ve been pondering since considering the idea of being a “connected educator.” The main issues for me being Ripp’s mention, in my words, of one losing one’s privacy, and as is no surprise in my case, her mention of one feeling highly concerned about being the perfect educator in the face of a very public online sphere. I’m also concerned about spending too much time in front of a connected device and missing out on life lived offline, as Ripp alludes to. However, I believe what most plagues me about hitting the publish button, or interacting in online spaces is the fact that I’m putting myself out there, and that sense of vulnerability and rawness makes me feel horribly uneasy. It doesn’t help when the things I fear the most about having a web presence have actually manifested themselves into online horror stories I’ve read and heard about happening to those unfortunate individuals who’ve been victimized, harassed, had their identities stolen, etc., just by having an online presence. And how I feel for them. Somehow, in spite of the horrors (real and imagined) I see happening or the dark underbelly of the web I believe exists, I continue to let my toes linger over the edge of the proverbial cliff, pushing and pushing myself beyond my own limits–only because there are so many good things about the wide open web; for instance, the shared learning, the connection, the collaboration, to name a few. Reading your blog (and others in Connected Courses and in Dr. Kim Jaxon’s 692 course) and responding to your shared writing is a good example of these concepts being put into practice for me.

    One of your points, “I highly recommend reading [Ripp] as a way in to the darker side of our human motivation: ill-will, jealousy, perfectionism, arrogance and more” also gives me pause, and I’m grateful you included the ideas in your discussion. I don’t see those issues as concerns for me (Ha! Denial!?) as a future online educator, but who knows, we’re all human–and all equally susceptible to the darker sides of our humanity. Another thought triggered in me after reading your piece is the idea of just what is our expectations as bloggers of a readership, or our purpose for wanting to blog in the first place. I get there is definitely an inner-conflict when readying to hit the publish button, and I’m so thankful you addressed this issue, as it helps me not to feel so alone in my apprehension to engage/interact with open online spaces/world-wide web. Further, I believe it’s important to do an internal check on our motivations (found it’s been a good mental exercise for me, one that once kept me saying/doing something I would’ve regretted in a relationship that was already full of misunderstanding and strife ) before embarking on a venture. At this point, I’m not sure what expectations I have as far as my online writing being received, since I am still in the process of trying to come to terms with having an online identity. But what I will say is that my gut instinct is that yes, it’s enjoyable and nice to have readers respond to what I decide to publish (although, maybe my expectations of how my work would be received might be different if it’s in the context of my fiction writing???), as is a normal desire since as humans we all desire acknowledgement and validation; yet, what’s even more enjoyable and fulfilling is—whether or not someone responds—is the possibility that my words may have moved another or helped to give voice to his or her ideas/thoughts/associations that they hadn’t yet been able to process for themselves. That, especially, is an area I’m passionate about when it comes to creating and sharing my creative-writing stories…hopefully ones I’ll someday get the nerve to attempt to publish.

    I stop myself here, lest I end up writing a novel. Thanks, Mariana for your honesty and transparency and insightful discussion. I also look forward to investigating deeper the other links you included.

    So, here it goes: hitting the publish button.

  3. admin says:


    What a thoughtful response and I am so glad you hit publish this time 🙂

    Much I could say if we were sat opposite each other over a cup of coffee. I imagine we could spend a long time exploring these ideas. And of course, as you show so eloquently, these are not just abstract ideas but emotional responses we deal with in the comfort of our own experience as we make choices of how/who to be online (if at all).

    Here in this public forum I just want to say: I understand that sense of faster and faster streams that one can never catch up with. Perhaps catching up is not the point and being selective and purposeful is more so. But it is hard to let go of our FOMO and I would say we rationalise it away rather than let go of it at best.

    You seem to be taking you time to make some purposeful choices, rather than be pressured into cupcakes and rainbows, this seems sensible to me. I am glad if this post has somehow helped your reflections.

    Finally, what stands out to me from your comment is the whole issue of expectations when we make a choice to blog or are ‘strongly encouraged’ to by well intentioned educators. Is blogging just another form of vanity publishing and is this something I want for myself? Can I keep open, in a non-judgemental way, the door that reads ‘not for me’? Not easy when you hear over and over that wanting to keep your privacy or wanting to work through your thinking before you publish makes you something ‘less than’ those who who are willing to just free-flow to the world….this is not the place for me to take a stand on this.

    It is a place for me to say: You have the right to choose. You have the right to change your mind. And I have read the work of some reputable open educators who explore the whole issue of giving anonymity to students who want it and also teach them how to delete themselves from the web ‘after the course’ if this is their choice.

    My wish for everyone is that they find a way to be online that helps us all grow the positive aspects. Yet this can never happen if people are not also given the option to say ‘not for me’ without feeling judged. Of course, we can do nothing about those people who lose themselves to quantity rather than quality just for the sake of one more click….this concerns me.

    I look forward to getting to know you better if you choose to stay online and if not, there is always the private backchannel for more conversation.

  4. Thanks, Mariana, for replying to my reply! How fun. Thx for taking the time. There really is a beauty in connecting online in a community such as Connected Courses; we’re able to connect and share ideas with like-minded people we would’ve never had the pleasure of meeting. I appreciate your comment and observations, as well as validations in areas I’ve been negotiating, not only for myself, but also for how I will approach teaching Freshman Year Comp with future students. Although my doubts and reservations about utilizing online resources in the classroom seem to dominate my narratives of late, I am actually excited about the possibilities /practices of digital literacy/humanities, or whatever it is called, hold for me as a future educator and for my future students.

    Yet, within my own digital journey I strive to get a sense of what’s good and what’s not so good about interacting with the world-wide web, or rather just when enough is enough of a good thing before it can turn into a bad thing for myself and for my future students. So, I especially appreciate the things I’ve learned vis-à-vis your writings and sharing. Again, very validating, and I’m so glad we’re on the same page in some of these vital areas of concern. Ripp is right on with her “not all cupcakes and rainbows” assessment. And as you bravely brought into being, the importance of “quality over quantity.” A very keen and honest observation, something I want to put into practice. Yes, selection is key; I will keep that in mind.

    I am definitely considering the ideas you mentioned; I so agree that it’s imperative for students to feel that they have a say, and a choice, in the vast openness of online participation now taking place in many classrooms. Moreover, I’m glad you mentioned a number of educators are now taking in account how the students may feel about how they’re sharing their ideas/work/selves in an open online environment. I recently had the pleasure of participating (via Twitter) in a #ccourse’s webinar/ Google hangout, in which the speakers and hosts, Lisa Nakamura and Liz Losh, addressed some of these same issues, which was very encouraging. At the same time, I feel I need to experiment more with what is out there technology wise, and to continue considering many of the things I’ve been learning about digital humanities. I’ve been so fortunate to study under Dr. Kim Jaxon; she has been a great source of support and inspiration, and always sensitive to her students’ online sensibilities. Honestly, if it wasn’t for her I would’ve never ventured into the world of Twitter, blogging, and of course, Connected Courses, where I have been so privileged to connect with many nice, interesting people like yourself.

    Thanks again, Mariana, for your support and encouragement; I look forward to getting to know you better as well. And also many thanks for being a safe place for me to push back and forth in this intense learning space I am in. I’m planning on continuing with an online identity; just need to figure out exactly who she is!:)

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