this blog is girtby.net

Posted
3 September 2006 @ 5am

Tagged
Meta, Personal

Decloaking

Hello, I’m Alastair Rankine.

Well, as revelations go, that’s hardly as exciting as Kiss appearing without makeup for the first time. But I have been expending some effort trying to maintain a degree of anonymity on girtby.net, and so it’s not an easy decision to open the kimono.

I described the original reason for anonymity was to protect myself from inadvertent career limitation: saying something now that I might have cause to regret later. Recently though I’ve come to the realisation that this attitude is too conservative, and that instead of minimising a possible downside to blogging on girtby.net, I have missed out on a potentially large upside.

When a hypothetical future employer googles searches for my (fairly unusual) name on the web, I want them to find some of my offerings and other worthwhile public content. These represent my online resume and are potentially very valuable to my brand.

I could have started afresh with a new blog (and the exhausting search for a new domain name), but this would have meant coming up with new, fresh, offerings to bolster my online reputation. This would be needed if in fact I had already tarnished the credibility of the girtby.net identity. Which is possible, but unlikely in my subjective opinion. A good spray once in a while shouldn’t do anyone any harm.

The other reason for decloaking on girtby.net was that my identity had already leaked anyway. Yes, this post on OddThinking was written by me. Maintaining anonymity is hard.

Henceforth, girtby.net will be the public representation of Alastair Rankine. It will be “officially” focused on mostly serious, but not exclusively technical, topics. Not much change, in other words. I had long ago abandoned the practice of blogging every passing thought or URL or movie recommendation.

If you care about such eminations of inconsequence from me, you’ll need to look at my other blog. Yes, that’s right, I have set up a blog which is a completely separate identity and uses a pseudonym. It’s open to all girtby.net readers, current and future, but you will need to email me to get the URL. The mildly ironic consequence of this is that you will need to decloak (or at least de-lurk) in order to read my new blog. I wish there was another way, but I can’t think of it.


6 Comments

Posted by
Chris
3 September 2006 @ 5am
#

I knew! I knew it was you all along.

Do me a favour tomorrow at work and keep the kimono closed?


Posted by
marxy
3 September 2006 @ 5am
#

The recent identification of individuals from their AOL searches shows that we all leave many footprints on the internet that can be used to identify us if someone really wants to.

The other dimension of this topic is how many instances of our names there are out there. I’m more worried about being mis-identified as another person with the same name as me.

Will this make you more thoughtful about what you publish?


Posted by
Alastair
3 September 2006 @ 5am
#

The recent identification of individuals from their AOL searches shows that we all leave many footprints on the internet that can be used to identify us if someone really wants to.

Absolutely. It was a very sobering event.

I’m more worried about being mis-identified as another person with the same name as me.

I guess this is a good thing too: you get the opportunity of plausible denial. “I didn’t say that, it was the other marxy”. With a very uncommon name like mine, I don’t get that option.

Will this make you more thoughtful about what you publish?

Good question. I guess the short answer is no: I was always very careful about it. But in the past I was more aware of the potential for identity leakage, whereas now I’m more careful about the impact on my real life identity.

Realistically I think there is more risk of me making some career-affecting blunder in an email to a public mailing list than here on the blog.


Posted by
Aristotle Pagaltzis
3 September 2006 @ 5am
#

you will need to email me to get the URL

Does leaving a comment suffice?


Posted by
bjkeefe
3 September 2006 @ 5am
#

I salute you for having the courage to sign your name.

This comment is really more of a response to the piece that you posted on OddThinking, a point of view that you have evidently grown away from. I thought that piece makes a good case, and I have strong feelings in the opposite direction about anonymity, so I wanted to register them. (Straining at moot gnats is my specialty!)

I acknowledge the real fears that whistleblowers and those subject to persecution face. I suspect that I have lately also grown a little more accepting about people who want to vent their spleens, but fear economic consequences; e.g., someone who runs a business whose customers might be irrationally offended by the blogger’s nighttime politics. But only a little.

To my mind, anonymity on the Web has done far more harm than good. It has allowed cowards to pollute good debate and discussion with noise and invective. It smacks of people unwilling to take personal responsibility. You have only to look at the power structure in my sad country to see how distasteful and dangerous both of these can be.

As for worrying about future consequences of past posts, I can only say: I wouldn’t want to be involved with anyone, whether as an employee or as a friend, who wouldn’t respect my right to possibly different points of view. As for posts that I myself might later cringe at, I would expect such a person to assume that I was capable of growth, or at worst, that I was entitled to be a human being and occasionally stick my foot in my mouth.

Apart from conveniently placing most of the burden on others ;^), I must say that having a blog under my own name works as a good sanity check.

This is getting long for a comment. If you want to hear more from me on the matter, see:

http://www.bjkeefe.com/runts/anonymous-posting-considered-lame.html


Posted by
Alastair
3 September 2006 @ 5am
#

Brendon,

I think it is possible to be anonymous (that is, maintain an online identity which is different from your real life one) but still be accountable. I know this sounds like a contradiction, but it is basically what is offered by eBay.

On the other hand the anonymity offered by wikipedia is almost to be its undoing.

There are of course many important and conflicting issues here. Almost certainly clever people are thinking about this.

In slightly related news: OpenID identity management is coming to Mephisto. Look for it here soon.