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Participate in online communities

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We strongly encourage students in high school and college to consider participating in online communities related to their areas of interest, whether academic, hobby-related, or career-related.

Arguments in favor of online participation

Access to the best peer groups and experts

Further information: connect with the best people

Although not all the top people in a given area participate in online communities related to that area, the proportion is sufficiently high that you are far more likely to encounter and interact with top people in your area of interest in an online community than in the real world. This is most true in high school. It may become less true if you go to a college that is strong in your area of interest, but it may still be true.

Here, top person includes both top people at your age level or academic stage and top people across all age levels. In other words, you are more likely both to find challenging and stimulating peers and more likely to find experts who can be potential mentors and sources of inspiration.

Even people whom you know in real life may be more willing to interact and engage online because they know that what they say will have a wide audience.

You can see supporting evidence for the claim(s) made here at the page student statements about the importance of online networking.

Generating useful information for a broad audience

KEEP IN MIND: Activities that generate useful information can produce vastly different levels of value to society depending on how many people are exposed to the information.

Consider the following comparisons:

  • Writing the Wikipedia page about a topic versus writing an equally good summary of the topic for a local discussion or debate club.
  • Writing a Quora answer detailing your experience in a topic versus writing up the same experience in an article for your school's print magazine.
  • Asking and answering questions about programming difficulties on Stack Exchange versus asking and answering questions in a mailing list for your school's computer club.

In all examples, the former activity reaches a much larger potential audience than the latter activity, even though the quality of the output may be the same.

Of course, audience size is not the only consideration -- it may be much easier and more personally valuable to you to help people in your school or neighboorhood or friend circle than to help strangers. But the value to society consideration argues in favor of trying to reach larger audiences, and this may best be done through participation in online communities.

Note also that when you write anything for an online website, you own the copyright on what you wrote, so that you can reuse whatever you wrote for any other purpose. So, you can, if you choose, write a Wikipedia page about a topic and use that (or a modified version) at your debate club. You can write a Quora answer and submit that for your school's print magazine. You can suggest that a question about programming be posted on Stack Exchange so that you can answer it there. In other words, you can get double mileage in many cases.