Now that we've got old business out of the way, on to new business:
This week's topic is Internet Image.
The internet knows a few things about all of us, and it isn't good at keeping secrets. It's also terrible at telling the difference between one's personal and professional lives, and what seems clever and awesome in the personal realm seems inevitably to make its way into the professional realm, where it comes off in a decidedly less flattering light. The flow of information is frighteningly fluid, and I am amazed every day by the amount of connections between internet sites. Consequently, the difficulty of maintaining any sort of privacy or anonymity, even if one really tries, is staggering. Blogger knows all my business because of Google, and Flickr's got the lowdown from Yahoo, and don't even get me started on Facebook. Of all the middle school girls on the internet, Facebook is the greatest lover of gossip, and has not only the greatest store of knowledge, but also the loosest lips.
I decided, in order to improve my professional image, to buckle down and figure out what the internet was saying about me, and as much as possible, to set the record straight. As my guide for Part I of II of this voyage, I took an article from the September 2009 issue of Real Simple Magazine entitled, "How to Look Your Best Online." This article contains three very simple steps to get the internet to stop whispering about you in the locker room.
Step one is to figure out what's out there, and begins, of course, with The Google. I have to admit that I cheated on this one, and googled myself about a month before I began to clean up my online image in earnest, and it's a good thing I did. I am not one of those people blessed with a common name, and Googling my unique moniker immediately brought up an image from my own personal Friendster profile. This profile was in one of the grey areas of internet privacy in that it kept almost all of my information locked away from public view, but did show my main profile image to anybody who cared enough to inquire. The image in question happened to be a particularly attractive and artsy image of me gazing off into the distance, looking melancholy, while clutching a big ol' bottle of gin. Suddenly the lack of interest in my resume during last year's furious job hunt seemed less confounding. "Hmm, here's an interesting and qualified candidate, " I imagined potential employers musing to themselves, "Let's just do a quick web search before calling her in for an interview . . . . .oh dear. Nevermind."
In my defense, "Self Portrait with Tanqueray" was taken with an indie-music-loving ex-boyfriend in mind, and was intended to show my appreciation for a mix CD he'd made me containing the song "Love is Like a Bottle of Gin" by The Magnetic Fields. It's a cute picture, and witty, even. Excellent Friendster material . . . except that nobody uses Friendster, anymore, and potential employers googling me were and are unlikely to get the joke.
Ok, so what to do about it. That's step two: Clean up Content You Don't Want the World to See. With a nostalgic sigh I edited, and then eventually deleted, my Friendster and MySpace profiles. I never check them anymore, and MySpace still listed my occupation as "smoker." Hilarious? Maybe. Unlikely to impress anyone in a professional setting? Absolutely. I'm keeping Facebook, with strong reservations. As objectionable as it can be from a privacy standpoint, it's still a really useful tool for keeping in touch with people with whom I might otherwise have lost contact, and really, how else am I going to let everyone know how cute my cats are? Hmm? Riddle me that.
Fortunately, I'm not one for flame wars or internet forums in general, so I didn't have to go back and delete any crazypants blog entries or nasty comments. I do, however, hold control of a previous blog, which is, I must admit, embarrassingly emo, and not something I want the internet to know about. While Friendster and MySpace got the axe with relative ease, I could not bring myself to permanently delete any of my writing, no matter how self-indulgent. I decided to do the next best thing, and set all of my entries to "private." Unfortunately, LiveJournal (I know, I know!) doesn't let you perform this operation on all of your entries en masse unless you're a paid member. I tried going back and editing entries one by one and setting them to "private", but quickly lost patience, and decided that $5 for a temporary paid account was a small price to pay for my sanity. Hopefully, the Internet will quickly forget all about my frustration with earning minimum wage and my ex-boyfriend's obsession with professional wrestling. Oh, Livejournal. Fare well, old friend. I'll revive you when I'm rich and famous, and publishers are clamoring to publish my early works.
Now that we know what the internet is saying about us, Real Simple also suggests setting up a Google Alert (google.com/alerts) so that we'll know immediately the second the internet starts talking smack. This has been fun so far for me, although it's mostly just telling me about a girl in Texas with the same name as mine who's winning awards in a college theater festival. Good on ya, sweetheart! It also clued me in to the fact that my domain name is on its radar. Again, at the recommendation of Real Simple, I bought myname.com from GoDaddy.com (For those of you keeping track at home, cleaning up my internet image has now cost me about $25.00. $21.75 for two domain names-I snagged my fiance's name as well-and $5.00 in hush money to LiveJournal), and I must say, I feel pretty good and powerful about that. Me.com is pretty boring at the moment, but it is entirely mine, and at least I know that nobody is using it for any other illicit purposes, and that gives me peace of mind.
I was very excited about me.com for a couple of days, and even went about setting up a free website through weebly.com so I could "create favorable content" about myself, as RS suggests in its third and final step. A few days later, after my enthusiasm for the project had fizzled, weebly sent me a surprisingly miffed, passive-aggressive e-mail, essentially letting me know how excited they'd been about my nascent website, and much it had hurt their feelings that I had abandoned it without adding any sort of content. Sheesh. If I'd known my Mom was the driving force behind Weebly, I probably would have just left well enough alone. Anyway, I got another guilt trip from Google Alerts a few days later, letting me know that they'd found my empty weebly site, and that the internet thinks I'm boring, but you know, I'll take boring over gin-soaked any day. I'm hoping to create a fun and interesting (and favorable) website one of these days. For now I'm just working on cleaning house before I try and do any serious remodeling.
Once you've deleted all of your fun internet profiles, RS recommends that you continue in your quest for favorable content by creating a profile on LinkedIn, or as I used to call it, Facebook for Losers. I've changed my tune, as LinkedIn (again, hooked straight up to my gmail account, with no muss, no fuss, and no privacy) immediately found all sorts of people with whom I could connect, and many of whom I actually wanted to know in a professional context. It found people whose names I didn't even remember, but with whom I'm really glad to be connected now. Lots of people are on LinkedIn, and if they find me here, they're far less likely to go looking for me elsewhere, so I think it's bound to be a good resource.
My LinkedIn profile is about as interesting as my weebly at the moment, but I'm planning to work on that one of these Monday nights as well. For the moment, though, I'm girding my loins for next week, when I'll attack the most confounding internet monster of them all . . . FACEBOOK.
Stay tuned, more amusing and cathartic image overhaul to come!