This November marks 7 years of active Internet usage for me. Considering that the Internet arose in the 1980′s I’ll admit I was a good few years late on the spot. That being said, I’m happy to note that I was just in time to see the internet rise to the status of core infrastructure in our society that it has now. That, combined with the Web 2.0 movement makes the internet a very interesting place to be. In recent years the Internet has become an increasingly democratic medium, with anyone with a stable Internet having the capability to become not just the consumer, but also the creator of a variety of information.
It has only been over the past year or two that I’ve really started to take advantage of this inherently two-way aspect of the Internet. Having a online presence can be very useful nowadays and I would argue that it won’t be too long before having a website (or an ePortfolio) becomes as useful as a resume (and for some professions, even more useful). Being a computer scientist/engineer and part time web-designer, having an online presence is something I feel to be very important.
What is an online presence?
So what exactly is this online presence I talk about? Everything that you put out on the Internet is a part of your online presence. Email, IMs, IRC conversations, blog posts and comments, social network activity, all of it taken together goes to defining the unique ‘you’ online. For some people, like my parents, this presence is tiny, limited mostly to email and some IM conversations. But for most younger people (including myself) there’s going to be a whole slew of important and often unrelated information out there that represents your online identity. It’s important to know where your personal information is and what it represents. Much of the web is searchable and as the years go by even more different forms of information are being indexed and made available at a moment’s notice to anyone who wants them. Just as you wouldn’t leave your wallet or personal banking information lying out on the street, it’s a good idea to keep track of where and why you’re sending your information.
Here’s a little experiment: Type your full name into Google and see what the results are. If you have a relatively common name, then chances are that many of the results may not be about you. However the ones that are about you are worth looking into. Do they represent things you’re proud of, or at least things that you wouldn’t mind others seeing? If not, you should try your best to have them removed. In some circumstances you can’t (mailing list emails), but in some you can (forum posts). While I’ve always been an advocate of disclosure and I can’t stand hypocrisy, it’s also your right to rectify past mistakes. And while you are rectifying past mistakes, remember not to make future ones.
Your window on the world
It’s important to realize that your online presence is not just what the world sees of you, but what you see of the world. Having multiple email addresses with multiple providers (perhaps with not-too-discrete names) might confuse people you’re in contact with, but it will also make life harder for you. No matter what field you’re in, email probably takes up a considerable part of your time and you can make things easier by consolidating your email into a single place. At the other end of the spectrum, you could also have one gigantic inbox with everything mixed together. Learning to use filters and folders to separate out email will save you the mental and time costs of having to manage things on your own.
Whenever you see duplication in your life (multiple emails, multiple blogs, multiple websites), there might very well be an easy way to cut them down, whether it’s by using a client (or Gmail) to pull together multiple mailboxes or having multiple subdomains instead of multiple websites.
Your online presence is two-way street. In some ways it’s like your home: you live there and spend a lot of your time there, but you also have friends, family and other guests over. Taking care of your image on the web is just as important as keeping your house clean.