A digital identity

My digital identity was created a long time ago. Back in the days of Piczo and Geocities, I began constructing my first individual identity (Martin, 2008) which I’ve continued to develop.

Nowadays, my footprint is much bigger. In fact, so much of myself is now online that I appear on the top page of Google for the search ‘Catherine May’.

Fortunately, a more successful Catherine May beats me to the top image spots.

Fortunately, a more successful Catherine May beats me to the top image spots.

There were days when I used to be ‘anonymous’ on the web. Or so I thought. I chose to show different windows of my identity in different places, withholding certain information. I created a fragmented ‘identity’ for myself on Myspace and forums.

Was I being a different person in different places? No, I don’t think I was. I was always ‘me’ and always used the same usernames linking my identities between each site. Whilst other site users didn’t know everything about me, they didn’t need to. On each site I made my footprint, I knew I had a different ‘public’ to whom I was speaking. With each post I made, I was addressing a different ‘networked public’ (Boyd, 2007)

In 2009, things changed for my online identity. I gained an understanding of the difference between public and private and ensured my privacy settings on Facebook were locked, and this new-fangled Twitter account of mine could be viewable to everyone.

A year later, I put more of myself publicly online with the creation of my first WordPress blog.

With my words now public, I started to think about who would read them and soon I created my first imagined audiences (Marwick and Boyd, 2010).

Initially, I made the error of thinking of myself as my audience and wrote about things that only interested me.  Boyd and Ellison (2007; 10) found that social networks “are structured as personal (or ‘egocentric’) networks, with the individual at the center of their own community” and, upon reflection, I think a large factor in my initial usage of the internet could be described as a curious egocentrism.

Times changed and so too did my imagined audience. I decided my audience would be people who enjoyed reading music reviews. I imagined (and my WordPress stats and Twitter followers supported) that my audience were largely British, however I quickly found Australian and American readers.

Making something public, makes it viewable by anyone in the world with access to the internet.

Making something ‘public’, makes it viewable by anyone in the world with access to the internet. (Stats taken from catherineelaine.wordpress.com)

As my digital identity grew, my imagined audience narrowed. Actually, my imagined audience grew too, but I began to consider that different parts of my online identity would have different audiences.

When a Facebook profile isn’t set to private, anyone can see your photos. There’ve been many stories of  employees losing jobs because of inappropriate photos and often photos can end up in places you wish they hadn’t (this clip taken from The Ellen Show highlights how people can forget what they’ve made public.)

My Facebook remains ‘private’ and so my identity there is presented to a small audience of only those who know me personally. I can share family photos, life updates and post on my friends’ timelines. On Facebook, my audience is restricted and hence my imagined audience over there is probably more targeted and accurate than on more public sites.

With this blog, I imagine my audience to include students and media professionals as well as those who are my friends and family in the offline world. As the audience is not restricted, I sometimes question whether I should be concerned with the information I make public. On a personal and professional level, I share a lot of information, but this has never caused concern for me.

Do I make the most of my digital footprint professionally? I certainly try to. I’ve used a combination of tweets, blogs and LinkedIn to find myself work experience which ultimately landed me my first graduate job.

So who is my imagined audience for this piece? Well, I always believe the best blog posts invite a response, so feel free to tell me.

My digital footprint is very public and ever-expanding. And for me, that’s pretty exciting. I put things online for a reason – because they are a part of my identity – and I don’t mind who sees them.

Who are you and what would you say are the major aspects of your digital identity?