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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Friday, April 13, 2007

How do you name yourself online?

On Wednesday I participated in a panels-in-the-round discussion entitled “New Social Formations in the Age of the NextWeb”, part of an event called CODE: Building the New Agora organized by Project Open Source | Open Access at the University of Toronto (unfortunately I hadn’t been able to make it to the other part, a lecture by Prof. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun of Brown University). The discussion was very good; this post springs from one particular comment that was made.

That comment was that one characteristic of Web 1.0 was anonymity (“on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog”), while in Web 2.0 people tend to publicize all kinds of information about themselves. (I can’t remember who made this comment — it was in the corner of the room containing David Crow and Tom Purves among others — and I’d appreciate hearing from anyone else who was there so I can give proper credit. UPDATE: Michael Dila remembered that it was Tom Purves, and Tom has confirmed it in a comment below.)

So an increasingly important issue is this: how do you name yourself? There is “Identity 2.0”, but that’s for identifying yourself to a computer, which is not what I’m talking about. What name do you use so that people will know that the person being referred to is you?

If the context is clear, e.g. within a small group I’m part of, it’s usually sufficient for me to use the name “Rohan”, or in a larger group “Rohan Jayasekera” should be enough. And even across the entire Web I’ve made my mark sufficiently that I dominate search results. But there are two other people named Rohan Jayasekera who are far better known than I am globally, and even on the Web they have entries in Wikipedia and I don’t. I could call myself Rohan S. Jayasekera which would distinguish myself from them (because their middle initials don’t match mine), but even if that works now it may not in future — and I find it silly to call myself Rohan S. Jayasekera given that to pretty much everyone I deal with “Rohan Jayasekera” is perfectly adequate.

Some people use a nickname online, but getting one that’s unique in all contexts, yet reasonably memorable (e.g. the probably unique britneyfan8640hx538u isn’t memorable), is very difficult, since anything memorable across a population is likely to be used by other people too. I do pretty well with “felicopter” (feli- as in feline +helicopter = flying cat) and have claimed it in all popular places (felicopter.com/.net/.org, Yahoo ID, Gmail address, etc.) but I haven’t been fully successful: someone in France registered it on eBay, and it appears that someone (perhaps the same person) has it on Hotmail. A nickname can be useful if you use it consistently online and offline, especially if your name is something like John Smith.

If the human-rights activist Rohan Jayasekera, who writes a lot in print, decides to start blogging, that could be a problem for me.

2 Comments:

Blogger thomas.purves said...

yep. that was me.

Friday, April 13, 2007 at 11:32:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Christina said...

I was waiting for you to get to the anonymity vs publicity aspect. Personally, I'm on the side of anonymity, and so have three names, depending on the circumstances. Wait, four. No, five.

Friday, April 13, 2007 at 5:15:00 PM EDT  

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