Thursday, March 19, 2009

Anonymity and the World Wide Web

Those who have been readers for a long time may have wondered a few things, like why do the kids have noms de blog, why my last name isn't on here and why sometimes, I can be really, really vague when talking about past situations when there is no need to be. It's really for my comfort, though you could really find these things out if you wanted to discover them.

At one time, the URL of the blog was the same as a screen name used in many places. Part of the change was because the name wasn't a good fit anymore, part of it was that I didn't want the blog to be easily discovered by anyone Googling that name. Funny how that played out back then-I wanted to control who had the knowledge that this was my blog. Blogging was not done by many people and was considered a 'geeky' activity, so it remained a hidden pursuit.

The Google thing is a big part of it, though. I've mentioned before that computers and the World Wide Web aren't new things in our house. My first computer? It was a 12 megahertz machine with a HUGE 40 megabite hard drive. The best part was that 2400 baud modem, so I could access Prodigy. (and it had DOS 3.1 as the operating system.) Several years later, a new computer, a 14.4 US Robotics modem and AOL, message boards and the Internet arrived. Thanks to Babbages, free accounts with *P, CompuServe and GEnie. My friend Henry and his computer store got me a free ISP account.

Being an inquisitive sort, I found the search engines. Dogpile was my favoritem because I could search for anything on it. This was mainly spurred on by employees who would bring in articles about Flaming Pop Tarts. It was fun finding the tales of the weird. Oh, the stories I could tell of what those guys would bring into work-consider them geek 'fishing expeditions'!

The World Wide Web wasn't commonly used as such, but the search engines proved their use with a newborn and his parents with questions about normal baby behavior.

At the same time, having your information out there might not be good. I bore the scars of a failed marriage and was still having the occasional anxiety attack as a result. I didn't want to be found in my new home. In real life, there were very few traceable items in my name, an unlisted phone number and a Switchboard account that listed 'knock knock' where the address and phone number should be. If anyone wanted to find me, they could, but on my terms.

In twelve short years, technology has come so far. Thanks to Google, it's easier to find people. Just three years ago, if you Googled my full name, you'd find three articles I wrote for a parenting site and a couple of trip reports. Now, you can find hundreds. Thank you, social networking. Most of those are links to me from the friends I have on Facebook.

If you don't want to be found, the answer is simple. Don't put yourself out there. There was a time where I didn't. I know those who think they are well hidden, but one simple Google search and boom, your information is available to anyone who wants it. For a long time, you couldn't do that for me.

That said, the more I've been blogging, the more I have been relaxing about my information. The main purpose for hiding myself really doesn't matter. It hasn't for many years, to be honest. My anxieties have mellowed and the further in the rear view my demons are, the more I ponder why I still feel the need to cloak myself.

I've got one steady writing gig beyond the blog and am about to embark on another soon. If not before, the question of why I keep myself partially anonymous has entered my thoughts lately, especially since there is so little that isn't discussed on the blog.

I'm proud of what I write. It's always been a hobby, but now writing is turning into something more than just what I do here at this one little homestead on the world wide web. Why wouldn't I want someone who knew me years ago or worked with me to be able to find it? Why should I keep them from doing so, all because of something that has no control over me anymore?

There is a purpose to this rambling. My promise to myself was that once the blog garnered 50 regular hits daily, I'd go to self hosted or pay for hosting with Wordpress or another similar service. That number has been exceeded since the first of the year.

I've been trying to figure out the right URL for the new home. Along with that, I'm wondering if it's time to 'reveal' myself, too. Should I really continue to keep my last name out of what I do?

Many things in life don't have easy answers, but for me, this one does.

Your thoughts?

5 People talked back:

Joyce-Anne said...

Was that a rhetorical question? If it wasn't then I'll offer my opinion. You don't need to include your last name.

Amanda said...

You have to do what's comfortable for you. Anyone can see my lat name on my blog in my pictures because I watermark them with my name and the year.

Staci said...

I'm not very open with my information. I still harbor fears of certain people finding out information about me. I don't want to make myself too easy to find.

But, it's a personal comfort level. Do what you feel comfortable/safe doing for your family.

tara said...

great post Suzanne! I don't have anything to hide necessarily, but at the same time I don't put my last name out there. Not for any particular reason really now that I think of it! I guess maybe it would be nice if long lost friends could google me and then find me through the blog or what have you....hmmm

Saffa Chick said...

I'm close to doing the opposite and taking my blogging further into anonymity because too many people who know me in the flesh read it and are slightly offended by it...

Although I'm pretty sure no psycho exes can find me through google, and that's the most important thing!