In keeping with my well-earned title of “O Confused One” I am truly confused about my social vs. private presence on the web nowadays. Forgive me as I ramble on, trying to figure it all out. I started thinking about all of this after reading a great post at Marian’s Roots and Rambles.
My so-called private life:
My first social web experience, as with many of you, I am sure, was with Facebook. I am a long time Facebook user, however I have spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to keep my profile ‘private’ (or as private as you can manage given that Facebook does everything in its power to bring certain aspects public). Every time Facebook changes it’s interface I spend more time making sure that I’m still ‘private.’ You cannot search for me on Google, however that took some doing, and I’m not so sure it’s foolproof.
2) Private blog
I started a blog a few years ago just to apprise my family and friends about our adoption process, since I was tired of giving the same answer to the same question (how is the adoption going?) on a nearly hourly basis. I kept the blog password protected, and used pseudonyms (yes this is like double ridiculous) since the blog morphed from an adoption process blog to a new parent posting pictures about her child blog. My thinking was that eventually my son would want some privacy of his own, and having a blog out there about everything he does as a baby just didn’t seem to be protecting his right to privacy.
Lately I started opening up the posts (i.e. no password protection) but I continue to use pseudonyms and feel somewhat secure that the majority of the public would not be able to figure out who we are and where we live, so our privacy is still relatively safe. This may be a pipe dream, but until I hear a good reason why it isn’t, I’ll stick to that thought process (PS I don’t allow my phone or camera to use GPS to tag any pictures I take, thus eliminating the unwanted creepy experience of someone trying to trace our identities and track our location using the geo info).
Add to the mix that I am a teacher, with a presence on my workplace website. Well there goes privacy right out the window. Want to know how old I am? Just look at my CV and do the math. Want to know where I grew up? You can probably put it together from the locations in which I have worked. This is not rocket science. It’s actually one of the many ways forensic genealogists might try to trace people.
I volunteer to maintain a website for USGenWeb. There’s no keeping that bit private.
5) Public websites
For ages I tried to maintain my privacy on websites that I’d sign up for. I’d use pseudonyms and create extra email accounts so I wouldn’t have to use the one that’s an obvious giveaway: email@example.com. The problem is that all of this is too much to keep track of. Which sites am I public and which sites am I private? Which sites show firstname.lastname@example.org and which sites don’t? Inevitably they all started to meld together and I have no idea which are which.
Finally we have websites like classmates.com, others that offer copies of yearbooks, etc. and it starts getting really tricky to remain private.
My public life:
Eventually I joined twitter. At first I thought I’d keep twitter ‘private’ as well, but that just defeats the whole purpose of twitter. So I went public and now I even do a little happy dance whenever I increase my followers. It’s amazing how addicting this can be. I even post my ‘follow me’ button here. So follow me already!
2) Linked In:
As the foundation of linked in is ‘networking,’ it was always pitched as a place to remain public. I bought the pitch, and I’m public. I haven’t linked it yet to my twitter account or my blog though, so I still have to take that step in linking all my public profiles together if I really want to be ‘out there.’
3) Genealogy blog
Not too long ago, I started this blog. Welcome to the world of laying your life out in public. I don’t post my own surname here, but anyone connected to me on twitter can also find me on other social venues and voila, you know all about me.
In my opinion, the act of creating a blog means that I want more of a public presence. If I created the blog just to write to myself, I could type this into Evernote or a journaling software and be done with it. I’d have a lot less technology to deal with and a lot more time to write and do research. But that’s not the point. The point is that I WANT this site to take off – I want my blog to be successful, so by default I want a public presence.
4) Google plus
G+ really brought my public profile to the forefront. I was going to use a pseudonym and then I found out about folks with well-known trademarks that were kicked out of G+ for using their pseudonyms. ::sigh:: I guess I’ll suck it up and make this a part of my public presence. Did it hurt? No– I can see now that it hasn’t. What will it bring in the long run, I’m not sure. At least G+ allows for the circles, which are simple enough to maintain.
5) A co-authored blog
I am currently training to run a half-marathon, and a colleague of mine asked if I would help write a blog about the journey to 13.1 miles. I agreed, and I post under my initials only, but again, given all of the other links to my public life, I’m sure it’s relatively obvious who I am. And now if I link to that blog in this post (which I just did), it will be crystal clear.
My private live and my public life, bickering:
1) Can Facebook really remain private? Not without a lot of effort…
In recent history I started ‘friending’ other genealogy folks on Facebook. This was a huge leap for me, since previously I only ‘friended’ family, friends, and other people I have known in my life, and even then I didn’t always share everything with the latter group. However, I started to see the benefit to friending other genealogists when I got involved in going to the APG meetings in Second Life, and finally gave in. So now my ‘private’ facebook life is replaced with a semi-private life. I have not met (unless you include Second Life) most of the genealogists that I have friended on facebook. But they are able to see my posts, my pictures, my comments… my life, on Facebook — unless I am willing to create yet another group and figure out how to hide certain things all over again. I have given up on that on Facebook. It’s too much work.
2) Do you really think including those links is a good idea?
A cyber-friend suggested I include links in all of my emails that will direct folks to all of the blogs and sites that I’m maintaining. What a great idea to remind everyone to read the blogs… and presuming I’m only emailing friends and family, it won’t matter that I have now created a public listing of my private blog, public blog, volunteer work, twitter account, etcetera. Yet, what if they forward the email to someone else? Kaboom. (That was my privacy blowing up in my face.)
3) To link or not to link
If I link my running blog to this one, I blow my cover on the running blog, and given that we’re raising money for charity and I’m listed at the charity website…. fogetaboutit!
4) Follow me…. no don’t….. okay, follow me — wait, don’t.
So now I have this somewhat public presence, which I try to improve (= make more public) daily via twitter, Google plus and the genealogy blog, and I have this semi-private presence in the form of the family blog and Facebook (given that I continue to police the account to ensure I’m not visible) which are getting harder and harder to maintain as private. I’m about to give up on the private. I’ll pray that my family blog remains hidden at least to the general public (no offense, general public, but we know there are some wacky things that go on in this world), otherwise, I’m an open book.
Getting back to Marian’s query: Do I want others on Facebook to follow me? I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I still like the idea that I can keep Facebook relatively closed. However, I’d rather spend my precious time writing and doing research (and with my family) than policing my Facebook account, so I’m just going to go with the flow at this point, and “whatever will be, will be.”