Emerging Quirkiness

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

- Robert Burns, To a Louse

In 1999, Professor David Jacobson of Brandeis University led a group of anthropology students into a text based virtual world where they were asked to interact with certain residents of the virtual world, and write up the impressions they had formed. Professor Jacobson then used this data to explore how we form impressions of people we interact with online.

I was one of the residents that the students interacted with and I found it very interesting to read Professor Jacobson’s paper about their impressions of me. It was particularly interesting to me since I was going through a divorce at the time and trying to reform my own self-impressions.

It is interesting to reflect on this in terms of my recent experiences with Spock, Spoke, Wink, Zoominfo, and other sites focused on online reputations.

To return to the Robert Burns quote, it is a great gift to have the opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. However, as with the fine lady with the louse crawling might feel, it isn’t always comfortable, and to me, this captures some of the feelings I sense when I hear people talk about online reputation sites.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently released a report on Digital Footprints: Online identity management and search in the age of transparency .

It notes that

Internet users are becoming more aware of their digital footprint; 47% have searched for information about themselves online, up from just 22% five years ago. However, few monitor their online presence with great regularity.

Not only are people becoming more aware of their own digital footprints, but they are taking advantage of other digital footprints. 53% of adult internet users have searched for information about others online.

So, where does this leave us with sites like Spock, Spoke, Wink, Zoominfo, and others? I thought I would look at my own digital footprints a little more closely.

My name is fairly unique, which makes the searching easier. When I searched on “Aldon Hynes”, I found around 30,000 hits. Orient Lodge came up as the first two hits. This was followed by links to my LiveJournal page, my page on the Omidyar network, my blogger page, and finally by some content contributed by someone else; a photograph of the back of my head taken by Beth Kanter at a conference a couple years back. It isn’t a bad representation of me. It focuses on my online creation of content, which should be expected from Google’s perspective. I don’t have a strong feeling about going in and trying to manage it. It is just as well, since there aren’t ways of doing that.

A search on ZoomInfo provides fourteen hits. They provide another view, which is also fairly accurate. “Trainer, Community-Building Technology”, “Chief Technology Officer”, “Progressive Activist”, “Director of Technology and Training”, “Trainer”, “Vice President In Charge of Membership and Communications”, “Information Technology Executive“, “Host”, and “Technology Director”. I am struck by how frequently references to training come up. I love to teach, but I don’t think of that as a key characteristic. ZoomInfo allows you to update information. It ties into xing, a social network that I’ve joined but really haven’t taken to. Yet it doesn’t give any way of saying whether those websites really relate to who I am.

Spoke provided five hits, describing me as “Director of Technology” and “Campaign Manager”. Not especially informative. When I looked closer, I found it wasn’t particularly accurate. Yes, I was a campaign manager, just not of the campaign they claimed I was. So, I tried to make my corrections there. With Spoke, you send off requests and someone, supposedly will make the change some time.

Wink links to my Facebook, LinkedIn and Friendster pages, and then to a bunch of information from ZoomInfo. It doesn’t really give any insight to me. It does have tools to identify yourself and to link yourself to certain pages, but these tools do not seem to work very well.

All of this takes me back to Spock. Spock is very focused on tags that anyone can add. It starts off by scraping tags from various sites, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Friendster. Then, you can vote on whether or not the tag is relevant, as can anyone else that registers on the site. Currently, Spock is growing rapidly and more of my friends are connecting and changing my tags, so my reputation there is shifting. In addition, it is still small enough of a community that it can be gamed. If I asked a dozen of my friends to add a specific tag, I could make that tag the most prominent tag for myself.

That said, the current top tags for myself are “activist”, “Financial Services”, “technologist”, “father”, “married”, “quirky”, “Second Life Residents”, “Spock user”, “Democratic Party contributor”, and “Howard Dean supporter”. Of all the characterizations of me out on various sites, this seems to be the most complete and well rounded. Likewise, the list of relevant websites seems pretty good, starting off with my LinkedIn page, followed by my blog, my Facebook page, and then a couple Second Life related social networks.

Some of this reflects my interaction with folks about Spock. We’ve talked about it a bit around the family table, which is part of the reason “father”, “married”, and “quirky” appear high in the list. My friends on Second Life appear to be more inclined to joining and exploring emerging technology than other groups, which is probably the reason the Second Life social networks appear high on the list. As to my blog? That wasn’t high enough on my list, so I encouraged people to tag it as relevant and it has climbed its way up.
All of this points to directions where I would like to see reputation management sites heading. By far, Spock is the best I’ve found so far. However, it would be great if they could provide contexts. “Father”, “married”, and “quirky” apply nicely in my family context but is much less relevant in my “financial services” context. The Second Life information perhaps deserves a context of its own. I spent a little time going back and forth whether or not I should add my Second Life name to the list of my names.

One context that is not providing information right now is that of going through a divorce, which was an important context during Professor Jacobson’s research and I’m sure that people searching the web could find information related to that. However, it isn’t a current context, nor one that is likely to become a current context. Having the ability to have former contexts is probably something that will help reputation management a lot as things evolve.

Beyond that, it would be great to have relevance on a sliding scale. Right now, I can say whether a site is relevant or not. Many sites are relevant, but some are much more relevant than others. As to trust, the biggest gripe I have with Spock is that they view trust as symmetrical and cross contexts. There are some people out there that I might trust that might not trust me at all. Some people I might trust for their knowledge of social networks but for their knowledge of gardening.

So, I will keep an eye on my reputation as it is presented in sites like Spock, Spoke, Wink, Zoominfo, and other sites. If I am lucky, I will learn new things about myself by doing so, and if we are all lucky, they will continue to evolve.

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fascinating! ;-)

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