I enjoy working with all kinds of technology and being online. I am ‘hyper-connected’ in part because my work demands it – so much of what I do involves a computer and internet technologies (and more recently, social media). However, when it comes to an online presence, I have always struggled between my high-tech work life and the desire for privacy in my personal life.
When I first started learning how to build pages for the web in 1994, I was using pico (a UNIX-based text editor associated with the mail application pine) or VI to write web pages. The first graphical browser for the web (Mosiac 1.0, I think it was) had just been released. There were less than 100,000 pages on the web – unfathomable today! At the time, I was just not sure about putting myself out there, online, when I wasn’t yet sure where ‘there’ was, and who was looking. So as part of learning to write HTML, I posted a web page with a picture of my rabbit, Larry. For many years Larry was my only online presence. At the time I was working with my friend Solomon, who was even more privacy conscious than I. He purchased all of his groceries with cash, and he refused to get a discount card because he didn’t want to have all of his purchasing data tracked. I hadn’t thought that much about privacy at that point. In retrospect, I think that type of concern (and even the awareness that there are choices to be made) seems generational. Times have changed as internet technologies have become nearly ubiquitous in the United States.
During the course of my dissertation research, I went to great lengths to protect the identity of company I was studying. This was to ensure I could publish my research later. So when my graduate school posted small web pages with all of the students (including research area, a photo, and brief bio), I panicked. Fortunately, the department was super-responsive, and I worked with them to reword the page. That process reminded me of how little we control about what information appears about us online.
With the rise of Google, I have periodically searched on my own name to see what comes up. I’ve learned that my name is not all that unusual – I think there are at least four other Natalie Hansons out there. One of them is the wife of singer Taylor Hanson. That has served to my advantage in terms of hiding out online, because news and photos of her have always appeared first, and any information at all about me was two or three pages down in the Google results. And that was fine with me!
Recently, however, I am realizing that I would like to have more of a presence online, and that I can take an active role in shaping that. In fact, I think the work that I’m doing now (in social media) really requires it. As I built my blog, my Facebook profile, a Twitter account, and so on, I have been forced to think about what I do and don’t want to share, and with whom. In the past few months, I finally uploaded my web page to my domain, and I’ve reworked my blogs to separate personal and professional. I have also been doing more publicly online – responding to blog posts, etc. However, I’ve set up my blog so that it isn’t pushed to the search engines. That means if people are finding it at present, it is because I’ve either given them the link, or they’ve gotten it from my website. That, too, is fine with me for the time being.
I searched my name again a couple of weeks ago, not too long after the Michael Krigman podcast was posted. Suddenly, my website has shot up to second in the list of results (click here to see a screen shot). That really just blew me away. I am now really even more curious about how the search algorithms work, and what I can do to control what appears in that list. Or (if I want) to ensure that I remain high in the rankings.
I am going to try an experiment at some point soon, and that will be to enable this WordPress blog to be searchable. I am very curious to monitor what happens to the Google search results, how quickly, and to see if I can figure out why. In the meantime, there is a new search engine called Cuil that has just been released this week – it’s been all over the press. I have been told it’s pronounced like ‘cool’, but it is also the French word for cull, interestingly enough. When I search for myself on that one, I don’t come up at all on the first few pages. I stopped looking after that, but I am also going to monitor it as I experiment with getting myself out there online.
Pingback: New and (Potentially) Useful: Cuil :: libbyh.com | doctoral student + writer’s block = blog
I really like the idea of tending your online presence. David Karp said it well in a recent Wired Magazine article:
“People have been so paranoid about having any presence online for such a long time. A lot of them have gone through that transition of ‘Well, sh*t, it’s out there. I’m searchable on Flickr or Google.’ The cat is out of the bag, and the only way to take back that control is to get out there and have a presence, have an identity that you feel represents you.”
The question about search algorithms — and how to put the information you *want* people to find front and center — is a good one. In Google’s PageRank calculation, incoming links are heavily weighted. Your rise in Google’s results following your podcast with Michael was probably largely a result of his linking to your site. Michael linked to you, lots of people link to Michael, your stock went up.
The Wikipedia article on PageRank is good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank
I don’t know anything about Cuil’s algorithm yet. Let me know what you find out!
I was at the top of the list of my names not too long ago myself 🙂
Ironically, that post itself is now what represents me at No. 7 when searching for me.
Also somewhat Kafkaesque: an email I sent to the laconica developer mailing list asking if there’s a laconica client (to be used by us internally), is now the No. 1 result when searching for “laconica client” 🙂