I kept myself totally invisible on the web for years – lots of people do this. I took lengths to make myself un-Google-able. I used proxy names, kept multiple email accounts, never mentioned myself. It was all very Locke and Demosthenes, really, but i took a lot of energy.
So what changed? Well, for one thing, identity fraud got big. In a couple of circles, variants of my names were being used as poseurs, which was frustrating. For another, I started paying attention to how bigger media players were actually getting noticed. If you listen to talk on even the geekiest of forums, you don’t see screen names any more. The Mandrakes and CmdrTaco’s of the world are falling down, replaced by real people using their real identities. This is a phenomenon, this personal branding. It’s a big deal.
If you’re not keeping up you’re falling behind. I know technology is hard to keep up with. Social media is growing geometrically on a daily basis, and you don’t grow with it. This is worth noting, and it’s something worth taking advantage of. You may not be scaleable, but the net is.(that one’s not mine, go subscribe to Media Hacks and listen to the backlog.)
I’ve said before that businesses would fail if they tried to think on the scale of the internet, but there are a lot of instances where individuals (mostly marketers, bizarrely, not IT professionals) have succeeded. It’s worth giving a shot to, in the interest of developing your own footprint as well as building your business. I know that sounds conradictory, but I’ll give you a few examples.
It’s fairly easy to expose yourself to others – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace. To a lesser extent Flickr and other services. Finding people of like mind, or who have things to add to your conversation is simple, as long as you’re looking. For example; I followed a trail of podcasts and websites, which started with Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation blog, through Media Hacks to Chris Brogan, Marketing Over Coffee, Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin. In the comments for some of these, I found Mark Dykeman, Milk Muny, and Twitter. Yes, I hadn’t even used Twitter before I read the Six Pixels blog. Now, Twitter is an essential tool in exposure – finding people to follow is really simple. I’ve used Buzzom, I have UberTwitter on my BlackBerry, and TweetDeck on my laptop.
It’s also simple to make yourself available to be found – which is part of what I was speaking of in my recent Exposure rant. Get on blogger. Or TypePad. Get your name as a .com or .net and make yourself a presense. Whether it’s a blog, a showcase of some kind, or even just a brochureware style virtual business card, it’s worth having a presense. Get on Twitter, or Facebook, or even Plurk, MySpace or any of the other social networking sites – this is less my specialty than it is some of the people I’ve mentioned, so read their sites, they’ve got good advice and act as great examples. Being out there is just as important sometimes as being active – if you can be found, and make yourself available, you’ve got that much less push to keep people finding you.
I’m not arguing against privacy, I’m saying that anonymity is dead. The idea that creating a persona for yourself is the best way to gain interest is gone. The need to hide because of your statements is, in a lot of places, false – exposure means someone will always back you, even if you’re contraversial. If you want to stay private, stay offline. If you want something kept private in public, there are means – screen names and proxies are some of these, but they’re so severely limiting and limited at this point that you need to be conscious that using the anonymity of the net exclusively as a key to getting your message out will eventually fail you. People dig. It’s nature.
I’ve made some changes recently – so I’ll use them as further examples. I’ve got a google profile, I changed my Twitter username to my own name (@IanMRountree, find me, my follow list is sad and small). When this domain expires, I’ll be registering some variant on my full name to use as a .com as well, and combining the stream here with the archives for Why Read The Manual! because that project is more tied to myself than it is to my need to become a business. I also cross-link an absurd amount of stuff from here to Twitter to Facebook to FriendFeed – eventually, when I have time, I’ll be trying to create different conversations in each of these channels, but in the mean time, mirroring is all I have time for. It keeps me active on many more channels than I would otherwise have time to maintain – which is at the heart of what I mean when I say you can use the scaleability of the internet to your advantage: Being bigger than your schedule allows for is so possible it’s mediocre. Which means if you’re not taking advantage, either it’s not your thing (valid) or you’re missing out.
I want to know what you think. If you use a proxy, why do you do it?
Conversely, if you use your own name, as I’ve been doing more and more lately, why do you feel safe doing that instead of making up a kickass online persona who is inevitably much more fancy than you are in real life?