This week we’ve been exploring what a digital identity is and how and why you should control it. In other words, we’ve looked at how your personal lives and your own pasts (histories) are being created and maintained on the Internet.
Today in class I showed you the famous cartoon printed in the New Yorker in 1993 when the Internet was new and anonymity was assumed. The cartoon features two dogs in front of the computer, one telling the other “On the Internet nobody knows your a dog.” And to some extent that sentiment is still true, the Internet does allow some form of anonymity, think cat fishing, comment trolling, and chat rooms all make it easy to be someone you’re not on the Internet.
But we also maintain relationships online, social media, email, chat rooms all allow us to create and maintain friendships and other relationships. In those relationships especially with those we believe are our friends and relations we offer up “our true selves,” or do we? Who are you on the Internet? What you do you create online? Who are you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Tumblr, Vine, Meetup, Fickr, Snapchat, Tinder, Yik Yak, Tagged, Google+, Linkedin, or other social media, blogs or even just a simple Google search? These questions were the focus of our class discussion and something you all should give more thought to.
What conclusions about your past and current life can people drawn from the information about you on the Internet? Are these conclusions correct? Are we the sum of our Internet lives and they life we post online?
Your answers to these question may not even matter, it’s possible that every day someone is looking you up online, new friends or acquaintances, professors and professional contacts, employers, school administrators, scholarship committees, new boyfriends or girlfriends, their parents, someone will have an interest in you and look you up online. Each will come to different conclusions about you, each will create a narrative about your past and like it or not you probably won’t be able to control the impressions they form. In a way they, you, are doing what historians do when they explore the past, using primary sources (in this case your digital life) to assess and draw conclusions about your life. They are interpreting you based on what you, your friends, colleagues, parents and others have posted online about you.
Is there anything you can do? As we talked about in class, many tech industry experts believe that there are strategies for protecting both your online reputation and your online identity. As I said the easiest way is to manage and maintain your own person/professional website where you control the information. Below find some resources to help you do this.
Build your own website for free
Free website builders
Remember that these sites are third party solutions and you don’t control your information here. While reliable you’re giving up a bit of control and offering personal information to corporate entities
Paid all in one services
Weebly, Wix and others offer paid services that will provide domain names, hosting and site building capabilities, but if you want to go that route I’d suggest squarespace.com who offer beautifully designed easy to use templates, hosting and a free domain for about 8.00 a month. Great and easy option.
Build and host your own site
This is your best bet for building and policing your own online presence. I encourage you all to purchase your own URL and build your own site on a privately hosted server. To do this the first thing you’ll do is get a personal url.
Purchase a URL
My favorite web registrar is Hover.com not the cheapest, but a very reliable company who offer a ton of support.
NameCheap is as their name promises a very cheap URL registrar, they will try to up sell you different products, and support is spotty. Despite that they are popular and reliable.
Google Domains what doesn’t Google do?
1&1 very cheap and registrations include a simple five-page starter website (consider it a “super” domain parking package), an email account with 2GB of storage, and free private domain registration to shield your personal information.
Choose a host
Now that you have a URL you will need a place to host your website 1&1 and many other registrars offer hosting services as well as domain registration and you can kill two birds with one stone by ordering service from them. Or you can get hosting from another service provider. Like I said in class, for a simple site you can get hosting for as little as a couple dollars a month.
A favorite of a lot of tech publications Dreamhost offers a free URL/Domain Name with their hosting.
iPage, cheap and I don’t know much about them, but they come recommended by other digital historians.
A Small Orange, the service I use for all of my projects and any web development project I’m involved in.
justhost, the first site that came up when I typed “cheap web host” into Google.
Once you have a host you’ll have to build your site from scratch. You can do this in simple HTML and CSS (Here’s a great introduction to an important set of skills), upload the files to your host, point your url at your host and you’re good to go. If learning HTML and CSS isn’t your cup of tea, you might want to use a templated Content Management System (CMS) like wordpress. If you want to install wordpress come see me and I’ll show you how. With a wordpress template you could be up and running in about 30 minutes and it’s easy to maintain and update.
Come see me in office hours and I can walk you through all of these steps and help you create you’re own online presence or create a site where you can showcase your work and projects both digital and traditional.