Wooooop! I've been itching to answer this one all week, but I needed to get a few of the others out of the way first. But here's today's very interesting question.
You're very careful of exposing your identity online. Can you share with us the measures you take, and where you draw the line between OK to share and not OK to share?
Where to start? I guess I'll start with the past. I used to have another blog. A couple of the people reading this one remember that one. It ran from 2003-2007 and was fairly popular (any given post would get 10-20 comments; popular ones would get over 50 sometimes). For the first 2 years on that blog, I used my real first name. Creative right? My family (mom & dad, grandparents, etc) knew about it too.
I wasn't intending to, but let me just talk for a sec about sharing your blog with your family. I don't think it was a good idea for me to do so at the time. My mom, for example, maybe wasn't ready to experience the way I think about things. Maybe she wasn't ready to see me as an adult, or maybe she just didn't like that I was sharing these things online, for the public. Either way, the point is, I got some flak from family for some of the things I wrote, even though I didn't really write anything that I thought was too "bad".
Then... I moved to North Dakota. From Oregon. That's quite a change, culturally. I wrote some pretty sarcastic and/or less-than-positive things about this region. And I got caught doing it by someone who worked in the same department as myself (I was a lowly student grunt/employee at the time - this is not where I currently work). Basically it was a big gossip-train. Someone had used Google and found my blog, found the "horrible" things I'd written about ND, and then passed it around to other people in the department. People were upset that I was so full of hate for their "great state". (North Dakota: We are a proud people, apparently!) It was also rumored that since the posts were date-stamped during work hours, I must be blogging at work. (Post scheduling, anyone?) I finally was confronted by a higher-up about it. This person had not read the blog, but told me it was causing disquiet and I'd be wise to remove the offending things. Goodbye, free speech, am I right? We all know at least one blogger that's been fired for her personal writings... and somehow I doubt that things would work out for everyone in that situation as well as they have for her.
So anyway... I removed the offending stuff, changed the time-stamps on all the posts, and got myself a pseudonym.
I don't have that blog anymore. I deleted it due to my personal life drastically changing. Let's just say I didn't want any ex-relatives following my life anymore. An indirect result of this deletion was that my own relatives didn't have it anymore, either.
This new blog happened a few months later. With the madness that is my work and school life, I felt like I needed *something* personal on which to stake claim. But I really did not want anyone finding me. Not relatives, not co-workers, not anyone.
So I decided that this time, I was going to be Very Very Private. To me, this meant:
- No revealing our faces online.
- No revealing the city or state in which we live, the outside of our home and/or any photos showing the neighborhood.
- No revealing first names, or even initials.
- No revealing the colleges we go to, or the industries in which we work.
- All of the above goes for any topic involving our parents/friends/relatives too.
I blogged sporadically like this for several months. I said I was from the northern US. I said I worked 'in technology'. Etc, etc. And then along came my application to blog for the wedding website I still don't mention here (even though most of y'all know which one it is). I really, really wanted to blog there. But I'd have to reveal my city and my face. Oh man.
It was hard for me! I almost didn't apply. But then I thought about it some more. First of all, Grand Forks is a big enough city that it's not like you could just walk in to town and find me immediately (unless you have creepy-stalker skillz, that is). Second? My face. Big deal. I'm a white female with reddish-brown hair. It's not like I'm an instantly recognizable celebrity or anything. I believe I did actually ask the editor in chief of that wedding site if it'd be OK if I blurred Pink Hubby's face. She said the readers would want to see him though, and he obliged.
Now let me just tell you this. It is REALLY HARD to write an honest (and let's face it: therapeutic) blog when you've told yourself you can't blog about where you live, who you are, or what you do. And since I'm a photo-hobbyist (and a newlywed), it's also really hard for me not to show you pictures that occasionally contain my glorious (hah!) mug. People don't find it interesting to read either. They're reading the blog of this... person... with whom they cannot identify because they don't know where she lives or what she looks like or what she's all about. All the posts are vague and meaningless... there is just no connection.
So really, I think that it was blogging for the wedding site that opened the doors for me. I realized that it was OK to show my face and general location to the THOUSANDS of readers who frequent that site. So why not allow the dedicated few who follow me here to do the same? At the time, they were mostly just people who either 1) know me in real life anyway or 2) remember me from my old blog anyway. So they already have seen me and know plenty about me.
Now let's revisit those points above.
- I will now, occasionally, reveal our faces on the blog. How in the hell would I show you pictures of our wedding otherwise?!
- You know my city and state. However, the city is still not included in my Blogger profile, and that is on purpose.
- I have still never shown you a full on outside photo of our home, and I don't plan to. I have considered drawing a picture of it... it's so cute! But I just don't know.
- I still don't reveal our names, and don't plan to. We have pseudonyms. And according to Urban Dictionary, mine means something dirty.
- I have all but revealed the school we go to and the industries we work in. The key is "all but." I have not given our actual titles on this blog, or listed our employers or our schools or departments by name. That is purposeful.
- I have never shown a detailed picture of our families online. In the few photos of them that have been posted (on the wedding site, etc), their faces have been blurred. It is their right to choose whether their faces are on the Internet, not mine.
Just a point of discussion: Since you know our city, it's easy to guess where we go to school. From my various posts, you can probably figure out the kind of jobs we do and/or where we work. That isn't my point. My point here is search engines. I am trying to remain somewhat ambiguous to the search engines. Someone wrote a question in my Formspring form which included the name of the school I go to. I copied the question, deleted it, and re-submitted it without the school name in it. That wasn't to protect me from my readers -- it was to protect me from Google searches for [school name]. See what I mean? If I were to say "Hey guys, I am a [Job Title] at [Organization Name] and I go to school at [School Name]," you all probably wouldn't care either way. But Google would care. And that's where this next part comes in.
In addition to always feeling like I should "watch my back" regarding what I say, I am trying to create a professional persona for myself. That means I don't want people to Google my name and find my personal blog. I'd rather them find purely professional affiliations, research and the like. (And I have a VERY unique name. As in: I am the only one that comes up in those Google results.) I suppose they would find my Facebook profile too, but oh well. I keep my profile pictures decent and respectable, and almost everything else is private to non-friends.
I should also point out that I do now schedule everything to post before or after working hours. Occasionally something brief will pop up at noon-time, but most of my posts have either early morning or evening debuts. (Oh, did you really think I wrote my posts at 6:30 am? HA!) That's not to say that I write them at work - I write them when I have time. I sometimes do a whole bunch of them in one evening. Then, I schedule them to pop up throughout the following week. But true to my "scare" as a student employee way back in 2005, I always publish before/after hours. Even on the big national wedding website, where my posts show up whenever the editor has scheduled them, I make sure that I have [virtual] proof showing that I actually published those posts during non-work hours. Like I said: I watch my back, yo.
As a sidenote: I haven't told family (or some friends) that I have this blog. A few of my closer coworkers/colleagues know about it, and that's a scary water for me to tread, but at the end of the day I trust those who know about it to be respectful of my wish that others remain unaware. (Sidenote: Those colleagues who know about this blog are also not restricted to "limited profile access" in Facebook. That's a sign of true friendship, right?!)
I feel a little shitty for not having shared my blog with my mom & dad and other relatives. Maybe I should? It would probably go better this time, me being all adult-like and no longer a half-child college student who throws caution to the wind and shares everything with The Internet as if it is her best friend. Especially since they are far from me, they might like to read about my "adventures". However, there is a flip-side. On here, I can write about my stress and my uncertainty and my Horrible Problems That Turn Out To Maybe Not Be So Bad. But that kind of stuff can really worry a mom. Moms are great that way, aren't they? They have to worry. They hate to see their children feel bad. And then they feel like they need to offer the Unsolicited Advice That Is Usually Pretty Good Advice But It's Still Unsolicited. And they also don't like it when you Say Bad Words. I Say Bad Words. I don't do it in front of my mother or [most of] my colleagues, but I do it in front of my friend: the Internet (that's you guys!). So maybe this blog is not the correct forum through which my parents can receive updates on my life. (Most of it's nonsensical garbage anyway, right?) For what it's worth, I do email with my mom EVERY SINGLE DAY. And I also talk to them both on the phone each weekend. So it's not like they don't know what we are up to out here in the frozen north.
So basically, here's where I presently draw the line.
And here's a mind-bender for you - one final thing to exemplify how seriously I take privacy (and blogging!). You see, I inherited a slight bit of paranoia from my mother, and for this I am thankful (even though it sometimes haunts me). So I always look at the worst-case scenario. As you read this post, we are landing at the Grand Forks airport, having just spent our spring break with family in Orcas, Washington. We've been out of town since last Saturday. This post you just read was actually written on March 3. All of the posts you read on this blog over the past week were actually written in late February or early March and scheduled to appear when they did. This blog has been on autopilot, basically, since the 12th. I didn't blog about our trip beforehand because I could hear My Mom's Voice Of Wisdom in my head: "Don't broadcast that you'll be out of town! It's an invitation for robbery!" One of you readers out there might know where we live, after all. If you know that, you probably also would know where we go to school. And if I had previously mentioned our Spring Break travel plans, you'd therefore have known the exact dates we'd be out of town. And then, you could have come to our house and robbed us blind**.
So. I obviously have spent a little bit of time thinking about this privacy thing! I am sure that anyone with some skills could figure out who we are, where we live, what we do, where we do it, etc. My hope is that most people out there are good-hearted, and no one really gives enough of a shit to research our exact whereabouts and stalk us. My job (as a blogger) is to just make it a little harder for those who *might* have ill intentions or conflicted interests to mix up my online life and my "real" life. I can promise you that the stuff I write is honest and real, but I can also promise you that you're only getting as much of the story as I am comfortable to share.
And I can *also* promise you that I have tons of travel pictures just WAITING to get themselves onto this blog! :-) Enjoy your Sunday. I'll catch up with you when I'm unpacked.
**My grandma's saying. She's in her nineties. Everybody's trying to 'rob you blind'.
*P.S. Even though I am no longer answering questions on a regular basis, I am still accepting new ones here. My ongoing plan is to answer them on this blog, whenever I have time, until the inbox is empty. Once it sits empty for a week, I'll disable it. Also, please note: I do skip around when answering questions. I promise I'll get to all of them. If you asked your question a while ago, it's not rejected; I just didn't feel like writing about it today.