Online Identity – a digital tattoo

I was at a couple of events last night that tied together nicely. The first, Blogging Demystified, was being run by Londonist and bought together Annie Mole, Tom Reynolds and InkyCircus. I’d not read the latter before, but it’s now being added to the list, a fun look at science matters. The presentations were high level, but enjoyable non the less – talking about personal experiences of blogging. Tom, pictured here with his draft new book, Blood, Sweat and Tears, talked about online identity.

Tom and Book

It’s quite apt, as Tom does not go under his real name, although he’s now well known under his pseudonym. He started off writing a blog called Why I hate Humanity and, as an ambulanceman, thought it would be prudent to cover his tracks, so used his middle name and the name of the local butcher.

Tom gave an overview of identity. In relating to people, especially initially, around 90% of the perception is drven from body language and vocality. Other peoples perceptions and your’ stereotype’ of the person fill in some of the other gaps. But online interactions lose the face-to-face and you have to rely on what you can find – blogs help provide an online identity and can give people a ‘long view’ if they read your history. Other identities can also help – Tom gave us 2 (or 3..) slides of his various avatars in his online gaming personas. He also discussed using blogs as a way to ‘prove’ who you are.

Next up was a geek dinner with David Teten; his company uses online sources to research job candidates etc. There were organisational cockups which were taken care of bu Ian and Ben, but by the time I got there, the food was being put out and I had time to eat before the speach. David talked about his book, The Virtual Handshake, and how you can build up an online identity and leverage it to your advantage. There were 6 main points to be considered:

  • character and online id
  • competency
  • relevance of your network (to what you are trying to do)
  • ‘strength’ of online brand, links, relationships
  • number of people in your netwrok
  • diversity of your network

The discussion turned to the rights, wrongs and difficulties of having a digital identity online. It’s becoming more and more expected to have a presence – the lack of one in certain work areas would trigger a question for employers in some cases. And it is more common for people for start their online presence earlier and earlier. But things that can be said in your pre-work life can come back and haunt you later – once it’s out there, it’s there. Your online personality can be like a digital tattoo – obtained early in life but later regretted and difficult and painful to remove. SO your tales of student life may seem fun on myspace now, but less so to an employer later in your life. A strong recommendation from David is to keep identities separate, have a personal and business persona. But how many people actively consider that before they start to build their own digital cookie trail in their own space. And remember that this is supplemented by what other people say and comment about you as well.

A couple of different perspectives on online identity, both positive and negative. The summary – just be careful out there.

And here’s a Hugh perspective on having a good online character.

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2 thoughts on “Online Identity – a digital tattoo

  1. Hi there, nice to meet you the other night (at the Londonist event). I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how blogging blurs the boundaries between your “official” life and your “personal” life. As an employer myself, I was initially quite alarmed to come across my employees’ personal blogs, and to know that they were also reading mine. In the end we got used to the fact that we’re all starting to have personal online identities, and as long as some unwritten etiquette is observed (no mentions of the company or its clients on personal blogs, we have the right to ask each other to remove content etc.), it isn’t actually the end of the world.

    So yes, people should be careful about what they write about themselves online (and what other people write about them, which as you say is less easy to control), but I also think that as blogs become more commonplace, employers might – *might* – get a little bit less paranoid about them too. It might also help them to understand/get on with their employees better, and ultimately contribute to a nicer and more equitable workplace. But then I am a hopeless optimist!