It’s a fact of life that our face to the world is now, in large part, what people find when they Google us. While there are services to help us manage the results. I can’t claim to have tested them and my gut says they’re bad news. The purpose of this post is to give you food for thought for methods to do it yourself.
There are the, hopefully, obvious social things:
- Don’t pull a Steve and tell somebody they’re holding it wrong. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree. It just means you need to be mindful that somebody other than your intended recipient will sometimes read your emails. Not because some wacky notion like the FBI is spying on you or your employer is but because people indiscriminately forward.
- Don’t get in flame wars on message boards or mailing lists. Keep your sense of humor and perspective.
- Realize that if you take a political stance, you are foreclosing some opportunities. It’s totally valid to share your opinions but know the price you pay for taking a public position on an issue.
- Remember that pictures of you drunk, stoned and partying hardy aren’t going to help you get a job as an air traffic controller.
- Remember that police record and credit rating are going to be found but so will which charities you donate to and what organizations list you on their member rolls. All of these are all part of what people will discover about you online.
- Drinking and computing is almost as dangerous as drinking and driving. Don’t do it.
But those are all the easy and obvious and choices we all have to balance in how we interact and present ourselves against our personal social and political priorities. In many ways the Internet can be like a high-stakes work cocktail party. I hate high stakes work cocktail parties. I usually try not to attend so, for the social aspects, I am not a good source of advice. Technical measures, those I can be useful with.
Technical choices you can make that can help preserve and enhance your reputation online:
- Manage your Facebook privacy settings carefully.
- Don’t use throw-away email addresses for real business. Yahoo, GMail, and other free email providers are providing you free email because they want something from you. In the case of search engine companies, they can correlate your searches to your very personally identifying ‘private’ email correspondence.
- Do use disposable email addresses for signups to mailing lists and for managing relationships with online vendors etc. Make sure you can keep control of these addresses. (see below)
- Don’t fall prey to ‘ZOMG! Don’t open this email/click this link/use this Facebook app, They are destroyings your computerz!” scares. You should learn techniques for avoiding these issues on your own (I sense a post coming.) and shouldn’t be made prey to, or participate in the human transmission vector for spreading the scare.
- Remember that a Yahoo email address makes you look like a Yahoo. If you want to present a professional image, the domain your email address comes from is in some ways like the clothes you’re wearing when you walk into the interview. The same goes for MSN, Gmail and, of course, AOL addresses. They make you look like a yahoo. This is doubly the case if you make a living in a field that depends on internet savvy. I used to love getting solicitations from SEO consultants etc. with yahoo email addresses. It made screening them really easy.
- Beware of “Free Public Wifi” In fact, beware of legitimate providers of free WiFi too. That cool coffee shop you go to that’s run by a local person that makes good coffee that doesn’t come in sizes with silly names? The one with the donated books on the walls? The one that feels great to be in? Well, the kid they hired to set up the free WiFi could be sniffing all your traffic. Turn off automatic checking in your email client. Don’t sign on to sites that don’t have SSL. (yes, even SSL is imperfect but there are limits to even my paranoia). Don’t do anything that exposes your identity or has you surfing anywhere you wouldn’t want anyone looking over your shoulder to see.
- Get a cellular data service for your laptop for those cases where you know you need a legitimate (although not truly private) connection.
- Never do any personal business on your work email address or your employers network. Use your own laptop, phone, tablet or netbook and your own connection. If they don’t allow you to have any of these at your job, consider that a hint that you really don’t want to do any personal business on your work-owned resources.
All this advice leads to this: get your own domain hosted with email under that domain! I keep recommending DreamHost because they are cheap, have been reliable, have a sense of humor, are cheap, have a full suite of services, are cheap, have been around a long time and, did I mention they’re cheap? I also make a little money from everyone who follows my links and signs up. There are other providers though. If you don’t like DreamHost or prefer somebody else, go for it! What matters is that, with your own domain and a decent provider, you can do the following:
- Have an email address like email@example.com for your personal correspondence and firstname.lastname@example.org for business or whatever two you like. You would be amazed how many companies offer high visibility employees two email addresses. One to do real work on and one to pretend to care about customers with.
- Have disposable email addresses like me-PBS@mydomain.com which let you detect which entity you are doing business is selling your email address if you make sure only to use that email address with them.
- Have a blog like this one that you can back up the contents of and move if your provider goes belly up or raises prices too much without breaking anyone’s links to you. If you hosted your blog here you’d be hosed. Any links to your posts would die on 9.30.10.
- Have a place to host your pictures and videos where you don’t have to sign away your rights.
- Have a place to upload your (Encrypted first. Right?) backups or info you want available remotely in a pinch.
- Have a place to accumulate evidence of your efforts. Content you post at your domain all accrues to your reputation and, potentially, to your ability to make a living from it. Content you post to Facebook, Flickr or other places that you hope will aggregate an audience for you all accrues value to the place that hosts your content.