Rachel Shadoan Muses

Online Identity Management

The problem with the internet is that it is simultaneously public space and private space. One can stake out a little piece of internet and claim that it is one’s personal online playground–but often one is still held professionally responsible for the content.

Further complicating the issue is different professional communities have different community standards. What may be completely acceptable in one community may prove disastrous in another community. Jeph Jacques’ twitter feed is delightful within the context of the webcomics community, but I imagine similar tweets coming from an Intel researcher would be frowned upon.

The problem is not so intractable if one aspires to one profession only, or to a range of professions with mutually compatible community standards; in those cases one can build a public online presence that complies with the community standards and a private one that doesn’t. But what if one aspires to a range of professions with vastly different community standards? Does one censor for the most conservative community, possibly at the expense of the presence in the more permissive community?

One possible solution involves operating in one community under an assumed persona, something particularly possible if that community’s professional sphere is largely online (ie, webcomics or professional blogging). I find this solution frustrating for two reasons:

  • I am proud of all of my work, and would like it to be associated with me and my name, not a name I had to invent because someone else has different standards of acceptability
  • Choosing such a pen name requires a level of commitment that at 23  I find very constraining; the only self-branding that I have been satisfied with in any long term way is my own name, and I have difficulty even with that.

Additional things to contemplate: what belongs in a professional web presence? I am prone to producing long reflections on tools that I encounter and experiences that I have while working in various sectors. I think this is a valuable thing not only for me, but for my professional community; if I show exactly what and how I am learning, it’s a shortcut for others. However, in a discussion with today with Dr. Catriona Macaulay, program director for the MSc in Design Ethnography at the University of Dundee, that has been called into question.

“Consider the audience”, Catriona instructed me. The reason to have a professional web presence is to build a professional network, she asserted. Professionals are busy. An executive once told her that each email he received got 15 seconds of attention–if in those 15 seconds he was not convinced to give that email a minute more, then the email was discarded.  Catriona felt that the audience of a professional web presence would have similar time requirements: they would be reading to get something out of it, wanting to get that something in under two minutes. My job, she explained, was to make them interested in me and in what I am doing in those two minutes.

While I acknowledge the importance of brevity, I am concerned that focusing only on the briefest overviews of what I am doing runs the risk of turning my professional web presence into a glorified multimedia CV. I feel much of the value I have to add to my disciplines is in sharing what I’m thinking about what I’m doing. In other words, to what extent do critical reflection and analysis belong in a professional web presence? What is the purpose of your professional web presence?

Do you have any examples of professional web presences done particularly well? How have you balanced your professional and personal web presences?

When you read professional blogs, what do you want to get out of them?

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One comment on “Online Identity Management

  1. morna
    January 22, 2010

    You need to think about your purpose. A professional web-presence can imply a multi-media CV IF you are constantly looking for new work.

    But if you have a community who regularly seek your knowledge on a given subject, they will approach you professionally for advice and interaction.

    On the point about adopted personas, I have found that there is a very mixed reaction depending on the community. Some communities will flame when somebody uses an avatar – others when they show a photo.

    There are many ways to create your community – if you have a very mixed community then it may be better to segregate them.

    What I have found works for me (although I do not have the balance right yet)…

    Facebook for personal friends in the UK
    Facebook for professional contacts USA
    Facebook groups for local community

    Twitter streams for events and news relating to specific interests
    Linkedin for CV updates

    Of course I am aware that age may play a part in all of this and younger people may have a different way of handling their various personas… and there are plenty of web 2.0 sites I have not even tried yet.

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