I am writing this article as a means to give some order to my thoughts on my on-line identity, specially on how I could take better care of it.
Some ten years ago, when I started to have some activity on the Internet, I had some concerns about my privacy and rarely used my real name for anything I did on-line. In 2002, I started my own personal blog called Jovian Storm and I used to sign my posts as Jake. Since Jake is a very common name, it was very difficult to associate it to me in any way, except for those who knew me personally, which were the main consumers of my writings (aren’t they still?). Not long after that, I started to sign up for a number of web apps and on-line communities and used jovianjake as my new user name or nickname.
On the other hand, I had also used other user names that pointed directly to my name, e.g. jacobodevera, for some web apps that I considered more “serious”. The thought behind that was that most of those already had my name and I was trying to keep jovianjake and his on-line activity separated from my real self.
When I started to be aware of the concept of on-line identity, how it could affect my reputation and how I could benefit from it just by taking some care of it, I had already been producing content as jovianjake for a while. A quick Google search for my name showed nothing interesting. Most of the results came from official publications by the Spanish Government regarding scholarships, and from people I had traded bootlegs with.
I wanted to change that, so I could be associated to some of the contents I was producing (or consuming). A quick and easy first step was to provide my real name to some of those apps where I had signed up as jovianjake. I also mentioned my name in the About section of my blog. The change in the search results was quick; apparently the Spanish Government publications are not so popular after all (go figure!). This move had a drawback, though: by providing my real name in these sites, I was mapping it to my nickname jovianjake, and privacy was gone for good.
I have kept this scheme for a number of years now but the truth is it does not work very well for me. My on-line identity is now scattered across a variety of user names and nicknames and there is no clear separation between personal, professional, private and public. This is happening because I never had a strategy, not even when I realised I should take care of how the Internet sees me. So what user name to choose depended solely on a punctual decision taken at the moment of signing up.
Strategy is the key word here. I should have created one the moment I realised something was wrong. If I had done that in due time, it wouldn’t have been that hard to go back and get rid of all things jovianjake that were already public and start producing as jacobodevera or similar. But that is something I can’t do any more, since I am not willing to let go of all of jovianjake’s content and the time it would take to reproduce it as somebody else (when possible) makes the effort worthless.
So the plan is coming up with an on-line identity management strategy that has, to a reasonable extent, backwards compatibility with the poor decisions I made in the past. It certainly does not sound great, but it is better than having no strategy at all.
Here comes my shiny new strategy to manage my identity on-line:
This sentence is for you to recover from the fact that I used the word “stuff” in my strategy.
In those web apps where I don’t actually mind if the world knows who I am, I will continue using jovianjake as my user name or nickname. Then, if possible, I will include my name in whatever profile information there is available. This will create a clear mapping between this user name and my real name.
In all new accounts that I create from now on in web apps where I don’t want to make obvious who I am, I will use a different user name or nickname that, of course, I will not mention here. I could even use a different user name for each app (I would love to read your thoughts on this).
There are some web apps or online communities where I had signed up as jovianjake as a privacy measure, to keep them separate from my real self. For those cases, if I want to continue using said app, I will create a new account with a different user name and then will try to move everything into this new account.
However, if by moving data over to a new account I am forced to create any kind of relation between jovianjake and my new user name, I will skip this step and simply start clean slated. It would be nice if I could back up and then delete all of jovianjake’s contents in that particular app too.