Friday, October 30, 2009

Starting Your Online Identity

Online Identity.

What's your reaction to those words? Some people cringe and want to surf online in perfect anonymity, experiencing without commitment. They want to see what a site has to offer them, without that site knowing who they are or how to get in touch with them. That's a valid, if naive, concern.

Other people just want to scream and make noise. They don't know what they want. They want a Web site up and they hope purpose/function will determine themselves later. I was like that.

Still others, and these are with whom I am concerned, want to use online representation to promote themselves for whatever purpose. Branding, transmission, howling into the void, &c. Among this group is a subset that does not currently possess Web savvy and may make a series of mistakes while trying to establish themselves online. Without insulting specific other companies, I'll instead focus on my love-affair with Google products and a few other services.

Branding Yourself.

There's nothing wrong with availing yourself of online resources to promote yourself, your ideas, or your services. This message isn't to people already doing this: this is for people shying away from the concept. My personal belief is that if you represent yourself positively, you won't go wrong.

Think about Facebook and Twitter, seriously. Twitter's a handy way to keep in touch with not just friends but professional interests. Text messaging was the first great leap in word-of-mouth advertising (the bane of bad movies, as production companies discovered), and Twitter was the second--global text-msg networking, essentially, with no roaming charges. If you keep your eyes open, you'll become startlingly aware of how many of your favorite media focii are already on Twitter: I'm following the editor of Merriam-Webster, NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Rachel Maddow, and Queen Rania of Jordan, in addition to many of my friends and co-workers. Really, the hardest thing for me about Twitter is being mindful of my visibility and trying to sound upbeat most of the time. (It is very important to sound positive when promoting yourself. Not insipid, but not dreary and self-destructive, either.)

As for Facebook, you should already know what to do: connect with your friends, learn how to set your privacy levels, and don't post any photos you wouldn't want your grandmother or boss to see. Within that context you should still enjoy a great amount of creative liberty. (I'd recommend avoiding all those millions of tedious little games, however: they're nothing but a time-sink. Your friends will try to lure you but be strong.)

And I understand the stigma attached to Facebook: it has a reputation of being MySpace II, a big, drunken, subliterate party zone. Yes, there are idiots on Facebook and they are great in number, but your presence there doesn't have to endorse, interact with, or acknowledge them at all. You can exist pristinely, peacefully on your own, set up your own boundaries, and hand-pick the trappings and accoutrement you desire. If Facebook is a party college, you can sequester yourself in the campus library quite happily.

Self-Aggrandizing.

There are other free online resources you can use to begin to promote yourself. Get a Gmail account, to start with--trust me, you'll love it (really biting my tongue to keep from slamming the other e-mail services). With it you will be connected to Blogger, Google Sites, and Picasa, but I'll go into those later. I wanted to talk about those in this post but I'm already getting too wordy.

What you should do, however, is focus on Google Profiles, which will act as a terse biography for yourself and as a hub for all your other social networks and online activities. It's very handy: fill it out and set it as part of your Signature for all outgoing e-mail. Here's my profile, for an example. You can set restrictions on who's allowed to see your profile and information, don't worry, but try to think of it as a multidimensional business card for your friends. You can link to any blogs you write, any Web site where you have a profile, or just keep track of places you like to go. You can do the same thing with Extendr, which a lot of people prefer, but you have to pay to make it look nice and include a bio. Unless you do, it's just a useful catalog for your bookmarks.

Eh... more later.

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