Are You Who You Blog You Are?

Filed as Features on February 6, 2007 4:37 am

In “Who The Hell Are You?”, I encouraged bloggers to fill out their About page on their blogs with information about who they are, why they blog, and why we should care about what they have to say.

Part of the fun of blogging is anonymity. No one has to know who you are. But they do need to know something about you in order to trust what you say. You don’t have to use your real name. You don’t have to hand out your email address, or even the URL of other sites you run. What you choose to share is up to you. Just share a little bit about who you are and what makes you qualified so we can get a peek behind the mask of your blog and trust you just a little bit more.

It helps us to understand, too, what you are writing about. If you are writing about everything on the planet, then tell us that you are and tell us why. If your focus is very narrow, then share with us a little of the rationale and experience you have that qualifies you to write about this subject.

I believe protecting our privacy is critically important, especially as the personal identity and information protection is barely in its infancy. It’s up to us to choose what information we hand out, to whom, and when.

Still, it is important that your About page should give us a glimpse behind the mask, whether or not you share your real name and any personal information.

I can live with any nom de plume as long as you give me a little bit of a resume that says you are an expert in computer programming, have a degree in history or literature, 10 years of web design experience, or walked 60,000 miles over the past 20 years exploring the world on foot. Give us something that says what you write about comes with supporting expertise.

Staunch on this position, I was caught off guard by a comment on the article left by Jeff which asked:

You mentioned that its okay not to list your real name in the About page. That’s fine and dandy, but lets suppose the blog grows really big (like yours) and even your friends or colleagues may very well stumble upon your blog, so assuming you use a fake name from the start…you’d be found out eventually and that isn’t nice at all for me or for my readers.

Is it a bad thing if your blog becomes well known and people find out that who you said you were on your blog isn’t who you really are? I said to him:

Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, Carolyn Keene, and…well, I’d say that’s be a very good club to belong to, wouldn’t you? These are all people who used pen names, names different from their own, for various reasons and purposes.

If your blog gets popular under a pen name, consider yourself lucky.

This got me thinking.

How important is it that we are who we say we are in our blogs? Does it really matter? What if you find out that Betty Blogger is really Sally Smith, or that Erica Erotica is really Ruth Ann Koluveskya? Does that change your perspective about what you read on their blogs?

Then I read that Read/Write Web ran a poll which found that “55% Of People Regularly or Always Fake Their Web Identity”:

Our current poll has been causing a bit of water cooler discussion amongst the Read/WriteWeb authors. The question we’re asking in the poll is: in your current Web activities where an identity is required (i.e. you can’t be anonymous) do you ever fake all or part of your identity?

After 511 votes so far, an astonishing 55% of respondents say they regularly or always use fake Web identities. Just 12% of people said they always use their real identity…

..So perhaps the Web is encouraging people, particularly the younger generation, to experiment with identity in social networks and the like.

While the truth is that most people don’t use their real names online, and we’re raising a generation of kids with online disguises, the poll didn’t specifically address bloggers. How many bloggers do you think use their real names when they blog?

Bloggers have a lot of choices when it comes to exposing themselves to their readers. For some, it doesn’t matter. They can say what they want to say whenever they want to say it, with impunity.

There are many ways to establish a reputation with your blog. You can say “Look at what I’ve done – you ought to listen to me.” If blogging is your business and you want to become famous, speak at workshops and conferences, write books, and have your picture on everything you do, then it might be a good idea to use your own name, or at least pick one and stick with it. I call this the “toot your own horn” style of blogging.

Not everyone needs that kind of credibility. Some build their reputation by what they say and how they say it. Their blog is their resume because the writing speaks for itself. Their name is unimportant compared to their words.

Others who want to blog about their business, company, or industry, will blog under an assumed name for fear of reprisal. This gives them the freedom to speak their minds while protecting their business reputation.

Blogs give you a freedom to speak while protecting your anonymity, which makes blogs powerful word weapons. In countries where freedom of speech is not tolerated, anonymous bloggers can tell the world the truth with less fear of persecution.

Blogs also give you a freedom to be one thing on one blog and another on another blog, like playing different characters in the same play, acting out different roles as you blog.

Is the difference between who you really are and who you are on your blog going to come back to bite you? Ask Mark Twain (aka Mr. Samuel Clemens). Ask Andre Norton (aka Alice Mary Norton) who took on a male sounding name in order to get her science fiction books published. If you really want to know if a name change will hurt you, ask the Pope. ;-)

Are you blogging under your real name or a fake name? Do you think this will help or hurt your blog and your blogging? If you become famous, will you come out from behind your nom de plume?

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  1. By Renée posted on February 6, 2007 at 12:04 pm
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    I don’t really care if the blogger uses pen name and/or not including a pic of him/herself, as long he or she honors what s/he blogs about on any given topic.

    However though, I do care very much about the “about page” even for fake name bloggers. At the very least, let us know his or her field of expertise so that we can decide or not to take his/her advice with a pinch of salt.

    And when the time comes to be famous, it would be great for the blogger to reveal his or her face. So we can put that fake name to the face.

  2. By engtech posted on February 6, 2007 at 2:33 pm
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    I blog under an alias. So far it hasn’t hurt me.

    The one thing I would have done differently is started blogging under an alias that sounds like a real name from day one.

    If people are interested in this subject, they might want to give this series I wrote a try called Web Anonymity 101 Digital Breadcrumbs.

  3. By Ribin posted on February 9, 2007 at 9:18 am
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  4. By Britgirl posted on February 13, 2007 at 1:00 am
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    I blog under an alias but shared 100 things about me on my About page and a bit about what my blog’s about on my home page. I still get comments About my About Me. But I’ve made on-line friends with some fellow bloggers and when we interact off-blog we email each other and use our real names.

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