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I am looking for information on how people manage their (multiple) Virtual Personae. First let me start by providing my definition:

Virtual Personae: the sum of the information about a person available online, provided by the the person or by others about the person, that can be uniquely assigned to the person.

From this a Public Virtual Personae would be the public information and a Private Virtual Personae would be information that is online but reasonably secured such that Googleing the person would not reveal this information.

For myself I have tried to separate my public and private Virtual Personae for some time. For example, my personal blog is the central repository about my private personae and the public pages do not reveal information I would not want a random stranger to know. Similarly on Flickr I have both public and private photos (Flickr provides 4 levels of privacy: Private > Family > Contacts > Public in terms or restriction on who can view, but may sites only offer 2 or have differing levels, there is no standard, at least not in practice.) My professional life is more restricted to LinkedIn and other such sites that have a very professional bent.

However, my Facebook page lists where I work (my mistake) and while I have two iName aliases, one for personal things (such as this site) and one for professional (today just used for contacting me) I don't seem to be very diligent at thinking about the private/public issue when I sign up for new services. Most of the time I find myself needing to go back and delete or change info. And we all know that the Internet never forgets.

My awareness of this issue is heightened by my previous work on identity and identity management. The technical difficulty of how to manage in a deterministic way entrenched behavior among people are complex. Liberty alliance, OpenID and other identity systems have mostly ignored this and left it to the Presence vendors to solve. The resulting solutions are too difficult (IMO) for most end-users to care, lack of universal adoption is also a problem. Most end-users don't bother to setup and sort of private/public or personal/professional walls, they just broadcast things into the void and hope it does not come back to bite them.

With the explosion of blogging/social networking/status broadcasting/etc. the phenomenon of the drunkfail I see this as becoming more and more of an issue. Maybe in 20 years no one will care but in the meantime failure to control ones Virtual Personae can have very real consequences.

So; What are the best practices that people recommend for dealing with Virtual Personae? Or am I making a mountain out of a mole-hill?

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As this question has no concrete answer, and has already been flagged as subjective, it should have been CW from the start. Switch has been flipped. –  Diago Sep 29 '09 at 5:53
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2 Answers 2

I take a much simpler approach.

Everything I post under my name I presume to be open for the whole internet. So I won't share something I'd like to keep private.

Everything I'd like to share with a select group of people I share using the privacy control of that platform.

Everything I'd like not to be associated with me, I use a separate email account and 3 or 4 different reasonably unique nicknames (using words from another language greatly helps the non google-ablity of your nickname).

Altough I don't have to problem of trying to seperate my persona for different communities.

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Although I do understand the problem, and come to a (so far) satisfying solution for it, be aware, that most users simply don't care about identity management. Thus, the rest of the article will explain my particular configuration, and is more aimed towards "power (social) users".

First of all, my initial motivations for better virtual presence management came from several sources:

Update: a much better explanation of the need can be found in this excellent piece on the issue of pseudonymity.

1, I'm always working with the assumption, that I might be wrong in whatever position I'm taking. Throw-away identities enable me to voice "minority" opinions on touchy subjects, where doing so in public would result in long-term hostility (think atheism).

2, Working accross many different communities sometimes presents mutual incompatibility between several (sub)cultures; and whereas I'm okay with living in a constant state of cognitive dissonancy, most people aren't.

Since this is inherently a social problem, let's take a view on the social hackery going on behind the scenes:

1, Thou shall not, under any circumstances, disclose real data. (Paypal enables (semi-)anonymous payment via credit cards; for everything else, you can make things up)

2, A bit of a social hack: whenever you meet new people IRW, the first 2 minutes have the highest impact on the relationship (psychologically, it nails your face to your function in society to "relative importance"). In certain social circles, it is socially acceptable to simply introduce yourself with a nick name; if you manage to have other people call you on that, it will nail in a network effect. Use that nick to propagate information for that certain group.

3, For groups, where nicknames aren't "in" (>=30), you can make a plausable name up (along with a marketable background). Registrate an e-mail account, facebook,...etc with that name, have it propagate, and soon it will be just as "valid" as your "real" one.

4, Mind the collisions. You can measure "group distance" by creative usage of online social networks; should they have a large probability to collide (at least 2 members overlapping both social circles), use the same identity.

5, Business in general is tricky. Currently, laws hasn't really cought up to the fact of anonymous money, virtual goods, and post-nationalist commerce; this is something I'm currently working on. In the meantime, you can either use a "trade name" (and build reputation/brand recognition behind that), or, as a last result, your "real" name.

6, Reputation, in general, should be built upon a virtual presence (think web sites, instead of aliases) -it's also much easier that way (codinghorror, joelonsoftware, etc). On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog (or even care), thus there's little to no reason to associate your reputation-empire with drunken photos of last friday's party.

Now, on to how to manage this effectively:

1, each aliases has it's own e-mail address (sometimes on it's own domain). All aliases are forwarded to a master mailbox, auto-organized (via labels) by the alies in question (and the group / social circle it represents). GMail has recently introduced sending email from another address without the "on behalf of" tag, so you don't even have to log-in to other mail accounts most of the time.

2, Chrome's "incognito" feature allows you to login to social sites/etc with multiple accounts. Be vary of logging facilities, though; should your circle collide with system operators, you might want to use a proxy.

3, have a dedicated alies for "first adaptor" behaviour -this will be your spambox. Only use credible aliases, when the application has already "crossed the chasm", and be vary of which market spaces are also users of the website (and which identity you'd wish to use to interact with them).

(I'll update this, if you have any specific questions, in the meantime)

Hope this helps.

-The Dragon

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Haha... sound's like your are more paranoid than I am. Thanks for the thoughtful answer. Is #1, 'Thou shall,' or 'Thou shall not'? –  beggs Aug 25 '09 at 6:17
    
'Thou shall not' -I'll update it in the next revision –  Silver Dragon Aug 25 '09 at 6:41
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