Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your Digital Footprint

Most of us don't think to Google ourselves unless we're bored at work or have a narcissistic streak, but knowing how the internet "views you" can be extremely important. Seth Godin encouraged us all in 2008 to Google ourselves and see how other people are viewing us, and in many cases judging us by our Google search.

But where do you start? Some of us my have unique names, but when I changed my name to Smith I knew that I was joining the 10 pages of the phone book to be lost forever. Then the Internet took over for the phone book (although ironically enough Bethany Norris does come up with a few hits from college) and I became "findable again."

The key is Searching 101 - Boolean searches and quotation marks. Instead of just searching for Bethany Smith (which is by default a Boolean search of Bethany AND Smith) search for the text string "Bethany Smith", otherwise any webpage with the word Bethany and the word Smith somewhere on it will pop up. This text string narrows my search from 12,500,000 hits to 24,100. To narrow it further I can add some modifiers, such as NC or education, or even NCSU. Think about a person searching for you and what do they identify you with. If you've sent an employer a resume then they'd probably associate you with your last employer or your address.

Now once you google me with NC, you get my phone and address. To some people this is scary, becuase now you can bring up a Google Map and with street view can instantly see a picture of my house. You can even take this a step further and go to my local government website and find out how much I paid for my house and if I owe taxes. But this is all what I would call describer information, it provides the basic info surrounding me, but not really who I am. A background check can give you only so much info, it won't tell you if I'm actually good at anything.

So what is Identity? What defines us? One of my favorite videos for presentation purposes, Identity 2.0, begins to talk about the mechanisms we use to authenticate who we are, how these identity transactions that used to be in person with the exchange of a business card or the brandishing of an ID have now migrated to the Internet.

So are we what the Internet says we are? I like Seth Godin's recommendation, flood the internet with good stuff that you control. Create a Blog, a LinkedIn profile, a basic website so that the top hits on Google is info you have created and have control over. To take that a step further, I recommend that you stay consistent in your username ID. On every website I join, I use the same ID, bethanyvsmith. It is my Twitter name, what I use on Slideshare, Google, etc. This continuity allows not only for me to remember my login, but also to be "identified" by others. When I comment on someones website, etc. Bethany Smith begins to be associated with bethanyvsmith). You can use a service like Namechk to try out IDs that you might want use & if they are taken. You can also use a service like ClaimID to claim websites that you are associated with. I just joined this service, so we'll see how it helps with my Online Identity Management.

But in the end, how can I keep track of what is "out there" about me. My favorite tool is Google Alerts. Use the same search phrase that you perfected earlier in finding yourself and have Google search for it on a regular basis, then you can have a scheduled e-mail, or constant RSS feed to keep you in the loop.

We are on this presipise of personal information overload on the Internet, for some of us it's already there, and for others it is coming. While some want to fight it and remove themselves from the Internet, I say embrace it for what it is and put your own spin on it. We must start the good PR about ourselves and recognize that on the internet your name is a personal brand, protect it well. As Kim Cofino says, "Who do you want your Digital Me to Be?"

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