Your electronic footprints--something to consider


Anonymous Patron sends "us this post from the History News Network. Your electronic footprints--something to consider.

Have any of you ever done a Google search on yourselves? When you post here, your posts are electronically archived and, of course, accessible to web searchers including future employers, researchers, writers, social scientists, etc. While we are lucky to live in a country that values free speech under the First Amendment, you might consider that you are leaving electronic footprints.



I googled on my real life name (in quotes, of course) and had only one hit, and that was on the credits page of my school's website. When I googled without quotes, there was also a reference to me on my mum's family geneaology website (which I maintain).

Now, when I search with my online name, I get quite a few more hits because it's name I use in fandom and for just about everything. Popping slashgirl in, the top hit is my LISNews acct, interestingly enough. I tend to use slashgirl as a login name more than anything.

Interestingly enough, I have hotmail to thank for my not starting out using my RL last name. Back in 96/97 I signed up for an acct and it would not allow me to use my last name. So I finally used my birth surname and it took it. Being a newbie I was all worried about using a fake name, but nothing happened to me. *lol* About 2 months later, my mother signed up with hotmail, no problems, using exactly the same surname. *sigh*

Since then I've really come to appreciate the fact that I didn't start out using my real name on the net. Some folks could connect me to my online name, but most people that I know don't even realise that I had a birth name different from my current one. I like the small cushion of comfort my user name allows me.


For those worried about "electronic footprints," there are at least three strategies--the third more-or-less accidental:

  • Use pseudonymous accounts and names. No notoriety, but also no personally-identifiable "glory." I'm not fond of this one.
  • Be aware of the New York Times Rule: Never post anything that you wouldn't be willing to read on the front page of the New York Times.
  • The accidental "strategy": Do a lot that's available online, and be cited a lot. After a few years, it will be (almost or actually) impossible for anyone to track all those footprints--especially since some/most web search engines have fairly low limits on how many records they'll actually show you, regardless of the big numbers at the top. (And, given website proclivities for auto-changing the dates, using date-range limiting does very little good.)
    I can vouch for the effectiveness of this "strategy."

I've been kctipton forever and ever, and it shows. Enough pecking around for my nickname and my real name gets, most of the time, me as the top results. There is a professor/researcher with my real name who seems to be more "relevant" to Google for that query, but that's OK by me:)

Another way to to vanity searches is to try to find some of your old email addresses. You'd be surprised where those turn up.

When I got the auto-email notification of a reply to my comment, I wondered what the reply was all about: What did I do to offend someone this time?

Turns out you're really replying to the post itself, I think--or maybe not. In either case, no dispute here. It just has never suited me to make up a nickname: lack of creativity, perhaps.

Actually, there's a bird expert somewhere in the U.S. who probably wonders who the h***ck I am (we even have the same middle initial, and we do belong to some of the same organizations, but my level of birding is that I can usually recognize raptors, hummingbirds, and "other"). Back when the web was relatively young, ego searches had me well down the list in pages dominated by a J. Walter Crawford, who I believe did lots of illustrations (or something) for endless religious explications from some outfit. He's dead (afaik), and the explications have been swamped by my stuff. (Partly because librarians are demon linkers!)

Come to think of it, there is (was?) a professor emeritus with the same name, elsewhere in California, but I don't think I've ever seen him turn up in ego searches. I only know about him because a previous publisher managed to confuse royalty statements, at a time when he was earning a pittance from one book and I was getting pretty decent money from half a dozen.

The amusing occurrence now, a credit to the things companies try to do to look more worthy than Google and Yahoo, was reported to me by Lorcan Dempsey, VP of research at OCLC: When he did an ego search at (a newish metasearch site), the results were preceded by a query as to whether he wanted Walt Crawford. When he did a search on Walt Crawford, the results were preceded by a query as to whether he wanted Lorcan Dempsey. (I repeated the searches. Consistent behavior.) Hmm: I should have made that a journal posting. Maybe I will.