Rethinking my Personal Identity Online (PIO)

I have a confession to make: I have never tweeted. There you have it. Shocking, I know. I’m concerned enough about this to have gone and got myself a Twitter account the other day. Within hours two other users were “following” me. This despite the fact that I had never tweeted (and still haven’t). I wondered what they were expecting, with no history of tweets to judge that following me would be worth their while. I suppose my name, or more likely my email address, was sufficient within Twitter to attract them to my empty account (yes, I know them both outside of twitterdom). But that didn’t lessen my communications anxiety. What would it be worthwhile me saying (or, rather, tweeting)? Mark that. Before I have input a single 140-character utterance, I am thinking about the wider ramifications/implications/considerations of what I might place in the infosphere.

Recently, on an email list to which I subscribe I got notice of a call for papers for a special issue of the journal Minds and Machines (I haven’t bothered with a link because it is not an open access journal). The issue would be on the construction of Personal Identities Online (PIO). It caught my eye because some years ago this was a subject that concerned me somewhat. Seems like a long time ago now, but I remember struggling with the possible implications of fully embracing openness, which at the time meant mostly free and open source software to me. I concluded that the way to live openly would be to avoid a radical disjunct between my online identity and, for want of a better term, my “real” identity. As much as possible I wanted them to be seamless. That is the reason the URL for this blog has my real name in it. If I join an online community, or an open source community, again, I tend to use my real name. If I put a comment on your blog or elsewhere, I won’t hide the fact that it was me. I’m not naive; I know that some individuals have exceedingly good reasons for obfuscating their online identities. But I wasn’t in that situation and I wanted to take up the challenge of living in the open.

For the past month I have been helping a friend build an online presence for herself in a new career. At first we talked a lot about her goals. We also talked about what a personal website or blog, or a business website, says about you and how you can influence that impression in small ways. This prompted me to undertake an audit of my own online presence and begin to think through what I was saying with it. On which, more anon.

I know that a number of my friends are on Twitter. I know this because I see their tweets appear on my Facebook (FB) page. I had wondered why they were using an external micro-blogging site in order to post FB updates. Later I learned that through yet another tool you could post to numerous online communities at the same time, for example to FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn. (TweetDeck is an example of one of these tools.) Why would I want to do that? Why do they? I suspect I must have fallen behind the times on this.

The good news is that I’m back thinking about such things. As such, I thought an initial post that I am so doing would be a good way to solicit input from others on aspects of their PIO and how they manage same. In a series of posts (you noted the “I” in the title, right?) I want to turn my attention to blogs, rss feeds of various kinds, websites, online communities like FB and LinkedIn, and, of course, Twitter. I may even find something worth tweeting about.

Posted in communications, thinking.