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June 25, 2009

Filed under: culture»internet

Own Your Name

When Facebook recently announced that users would be getting their own human-readable usernames and corresponding URLs, Anil Dash linked back to his 2002 piece, Privacy through Identity Control:

...if you do a simple Google search on my name, what do you get? This site.

I own my name. I am the first, and definitive, source of information on me.

One of the biggest benefits of that reality is that I now have control. The information I choose to reveal on my site sets the biggest boundaries for my privacy on the web. Granted, I'll never have total control. But look at most people, especially novice Internet users, who are concerned with privacy. They're fighting a losing battle, trying to prevent their personal information from being available on the web at all. If you recognize that it's going to happen, your best bet is to choose how, when, and where it shows up.

It was good advice then, and it's good advice now. It's especially good advice for people in my field, new media and online journalism. Own your name: buy the domain, set up a simple splash page or a set of redirection links, or go all out and create a rarely-updated work portfolio. But leaving your Internet shadow up to chance is simply not an option for us anymore.

Here's an example: This week, I got an e-mail in my work inbox from someone who wants to work for us. Well, actually, he's interested in "pitching ideas for new online projects," and he has "a Logline Synopsis and a variety of treatments ready to send upon request." What he doesn't provide is links to any past work, or any hints as to what he wants to do. That's his first mistake: this isn't Hollywood, it's the Internet. We don't want your pitches, we want links and examples, and anyone who doesn't understand that probably isn't someone with whom we want to build online projects.

But it's possible, for very small values of possible, that someone who is aware of all Internet traditions would forget about the humble link, or would be wary of releasing their revolutionary ideas into the wild without keeping them under tight control. So I did what any prospective employer would have done: typed the applicant's name into Google.

The very first link--I kid you not, the first and only link for this guy's name--was a YouTube entry labeled "demo reel" by a username very similar to the applicant's e-mail address. Contained inside were five minutes of poorly-cut, VHS-quality video seemingly from a college TV station, focusing mainly on fratboy humor like asking groups of girls embarrassing sexual questions and being punched in the groin (not at the same time, unfortunately). As far as the Internet is concerned, that's Applicant X's identity. Think he'll get any response on his pitches for "new online projects?"

If you work in a fairly traditional job, or even a low-intensity information technology job, a minimal online presence--maybe even through something like a LinkedIn or Facebook URL--is probably fine. But if, like me, your job is to make digital content (of any variety) specifically for the Internet, you need to do more than that. You need to own your name.

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