Moving forward with the Web of Loneliness Institute, Inc.
So yes, I have been a bit single minded about my interest in loneliness. I guess because in part I believe that while we all may be good at many different things, there is probably only one thing in which we are exceptional in, one thing which no one else on this planet can do as well as you can. For me, that "thing" is loneliness and doing something about it. There have been times in my life when I have done something which I feel would have a larger impact on my life later on, an impact that is connected to my own personal destiny. One of those things has been the Web of Loneliness website. I created this website back in 2001 as part of my Master's thesis project to collect data from Internet users about how they coped with loneliness both online and offline. At the time, the Internet was now bursting onto the scene, there were still questions about the validity of collecting data online, and there was lots of debates about the effects of the Internet on loneliness. But also, unlike today, creating a website meant having some knowledge of HTML, and collecting survey data online also meant understanding how to use a web creation software like MS FrontPage or Dreamweaver to create an online survey and collect data. Unlike today where you can go to SurveyMonkey or other such tool, there was no tool back then and everything had to be built from the ground up. Over the summer of 2001, I bought a book on programming in HTML, taught myself the language, and set about creating a website and survey in MS Frontpage to collect some data about Internet users.
What shocked me most after creating the website was the response from the Internet. My strategy at the time was to provide some information about loneliness in order to entice visitors to fill out the survey. I knew creating the website was important, but I did not realize just how much of an impact it would have on the Internet. It shot up the ranks on search engines and constantly received considerable traffic. In addition, I had visitors reaching out to me, sharing their stories of loneliness, asking me questions, looking for help, and wanting support. Even after I had finished collecting my data for the survey, I continued on with the site because it became clear to me that the Web of Loneliness was indeed just that, a collection of individuals connecting around the issue of loneliness. It expanded into having an online support group, originally hosted on Yahoo! Groups, and a collection of numerous artwork and poems from visitors about their loneliness experiences.
My intention has always been to make an impact on individuals who feel lonely, to expand the work of the Web of Loneliness (which was affectionately reduced to WOL by a group member) , and take things to the next level. Life got in the way and slowed down my progress tremendously, almost to the point where I was considering shutting down the website. But I decided a change in my life was necessary, I needed to refocus and claim this dream I created for myself. So I pushed forward. Over the past few years, I've spent my energies redesigning the website (abandoning a very old MS Frontpage template design!), shifting the support group to a more interactive platform, transitioning over 200 poems on loneliness into a blog so that they are more searchable, and launching a social media campaign. The results are notable, including now being ranked as the #1 resource on loneliness in Google. After many years, the Web of Loneliness currently claims that #1 spot. Being in that spot also means a great influx of new visitors and new members joining the support group, over 2,200 members and counting.
All that growth made one thing increasingly clear, what I was doing online on the WOL was not enough. It isn't even a drop in the bucket, it is minuscule. I needed to do more and, in part that was where my idea for the Web of Loneliness Institute was born. The Institute was not going to be something that just existed in cyberspace, it is going to have a very real offline existence (even a building at some point!), and reach many, many more folks. Envisioned right now, the Institute has one big objecive: To Reduce Loneliness Globally. It will accomplish this objective through four main goals:
- To increase awareness of loneliness and its negative effects
- To conduct cutting edge research to improve our understanding of loneliness
- To develop and disseminate effective loneliness intervention programs
- To serve as a consulting/clearinghouse for resources targeted to organizations that work with lonely people
We have already begun the preliminary steps for getting the Institute together, officially creating a company recognized by the State of Connecticut, setting up a Board of Directors, and working on filing with the IRS to obtain a non-profit status - 501(c)(3).
What has been truly great recently though is a planning session that was just completed with a number of very seasoned business executives, psychotherapists and others who work with lonely individuals, and members of the WOL to think about how to take the Institute to the next level. Inevitably part of that discussion involves raising funds for activities that can garner attention on the national stage. I have no doubt that this will happen and the Institute will in the near future take-off to amazing heights. I can see it much more clearly now that I have completed this very monumental planning session. It is very much like the initial birth of the WOL website, a feeling that something great has happened that will have a larger impact on my life later on.
I wrote this blog post to share with others my hope and my successes thus far and to thank those who believe in me. But I also wrote it as an appeal for help, if you are interested, I am always looking for others to journey with me along the way.
Web of Loneliness Institute, Inc.