The 7 Deadly Sins Part 2 – Pride

How proud are you? How interested in your online reputation?

When was the last time you googled yourself? Probably more recently that you’d like to admit, but we all do it! I am regretfully a poorly known Nicole Harris. My light is often eclipsed by an American gymnast (she must retire soon!) and an American Beauty Queen (she must get ugly soon!). It’s a morbid fascination to look at the trail we have left of ourselves online. Its also true that anything you can do someone else can do better – for example online searches are becoming increasingly common as part of investigating potential job applicants.

It is very easy to ruin someone’s reputation online. There are currently several high profile cases in which individuals are trying to force Google to change search results that appear when their names are entered due to unfortunate connotations, inferences or connections. In some cases this is simply due to the algorithm and unpredictable connections, in others its a case of shared names and in others it is due to past misdemeanors that the individual would rather have forgotten. The web is very unforgiving when it comes to forgetting! I’m not even going to go through the many many cases of ‘that embarrassing photo on Facebook’, only to remind people that it is more likely that someone else will upload it and tag it as you than you are. Your reputation is in their hands, so make sure you are comfortable with the they you spend your time with!

The most important thing to remember is that the web is not a closed book, and that community you are in may not be as private as you think it is. Just because you have logged in to something, it doesn’t mean it cannot leak out of the walls you think your authentication may have built for you. There are so many loop-holes around what parts of what sites search engines can index and promote that it is nearly impossible to manage yourself sensibly without just being, well, sensible.

The concept of community also blurs the lines. However high you have set your privacy settings, you are really only as private as the settings of the weakest member of your community – and we all know someone who posts everything to the world, including you asleep and dribbling in a crooked cracker hat after a turkey and sherry binge.

There are two types of services that will manage your identity online for you – one that actively sets out to create a positive reputation and account for you (as used by Charlie Sheen to amass large numbers of followers quickly) and those that help you fix things you don’t like about the way we are presented online. There are also simple tools that you can use yourself – like Monitor This, Google Alerts or more sophisticated tools like Trackur.

So how do you know I’m *that* Nicole Harris? Well it is still quite difficult. In the world of academic publishing, where reputation is everything, we are only just beginning to see the emergence of standard identifiers for individuals through initiatives such as Orcid, the Names project and NISO work. Out there on the open web world, it’s a bit more difficult. What can we do to help people know they have the right me?

  • Being First helps. The vanity url grab when Facebook first allowed people to associate themselves with a name and not just a number was interesting. However the usefulness of it has become hidden in the success of Facebook – has anyone else found it increasingly difficult to find people through searching on Facebook without knowing their email first?
  • Being Consistent helps. It’s useful to chose a name pattern and stick to it, which probably means not going for the typical firstname-lastname combo unless you have quite an unusual name. I suffer from a bit of vanity here as i really like having @nicoleharris on Twitter, but to be consistent I probably should have gone for @nicolevharris.
  • Making your mark helps. If information is going out there about you on the web – whether it is under your control or not – try to consistently ‘mark’ it with an identifier that you are comfortable with. This might be a twitter name, a linked-in account, an email address or something more basic like use of the same photo, but try to make sure that mark is there. Give it to conference organisers, ask people to add it if you notice something about yourself but make the effort to say, yup, that’s me.

OpenID aspires to occupy this space and have us all identify ourselves by our super groovy and unique OpenID, but this has failed to really provide a service that users believe they want. Andy Powell wrote an interesting piece on active management of accounts online and it is still pretty relevant today. I’m curious what will win out – maybe something like this?