I've been doing quite a bit of thinking lately regarding my online identity. For awhile now, I've been trying to separate my personal and professional identities, but it's a lot harder than I imagined. The online name I chose way back in '98 has stuck with me, and is associated with my real name in various places throughout the web. Separating them completely is almost impossible.
Mashable reported today that Google released a tool to help you manage your online identity (http://mashable.com/2011/06/16/google-me-on-the-web/). It's definitely worth checking out. I have had Google Alerts set to keep an eye on things, but the new "Me on the Web" tool in the Google Dashboard (https://www.google.com/dashboard) may prove to be more useful. It'll keep an eye on your name, and any email addresses you tell it to track. Google also includes links to information on how to manage your online identity, and how to remove unwanted entries.
The younger generation doesn't quite grasp the importance of an online presence. Colleges and businesses are Googling prospectives now, and what they find could either help or hurt your chances of getting in or getting hired. Your best bet is to either never post anything that could get you fired. And always, ALWAYS, assume anything you send via text or email, or post to Facebook/Twitter/etc. is public. Even if you have privacy settings in place, all it takes is a forward, or a quick right-click to download a posted photo and suddenly that-which-was-meant-to-be-seen-by-a-few-people is making its rounds to everyone you know, (and several people you don't.) Recent news has proven this to be true... Weinergate is one great example (http://news.yahoo.com/s/theweek/20110531/cm_theweek/215786).
On the flip-side, if you have some knowledge in your field, maintaining a professional blog that demonstrates that knowledge may help your chances of getting hired. Be sure to include a photo so you don't get confused with another who shares your name (see below).
A person's reputation has always followed them. But the methods by which that reputation is learned has changed. It's no longer just a face-to-face interview and a few calls to your listed references. You create your own online reputation. What does yours say about you?
What about others on the web who share your name? There's not much you can do about it, but it's generally entertaining to find out.
This guy has mine: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huSQBgMmrb8?wmode=transparent]
So does this dude: http://www.hypnothoughts.com/profile/DanielHedrick
This guys does, too, but he's actually pretty cool (I follow him on Twitter, and play an occasional Words With Friends game with him): http://twitter.com/#!/dcoder
Actually, most searches for Daniel Hedrick land on either myself, or the Daniel Hedrick (@dcoder) in Texas, and I'm good with that. Now if only we could get the country crooner in the YouTube video above to change his name...
I suppose I could ask Hypnotist Daniel Hedrick if he could convince Country Daniel Hedrick to change his name to Garth. I mean, the hypnotist does actually live one town over from me.
My Uncle Dan Hedrick doesn't really have an online presence, but I did use his account to rent movies at the beach once. Not on purpose, mind you--I just handed them my ID, and they pulled me (him) up by name. Don't worry, I returned the movies on time.
Try it. Google yourself and see what comes up? Do you share your name with an off-key country singer or a hypnotist? Is there an old rant on a forum from 10 years ago bashing a former employer? Maybe some pictures from your college days proving that you're a Beer Pong Champion?