Preview: * Power
Tales of a quest for a meaningful, persistent online identity
Your email address
For most people, their primary online touchpoint is their email address. Good old fashioned email ... the Internet's original killer app. Yet for all its importance and usefulness, it's amazing how cavalier most people are about their email address.
Will you have the same email address 20 years from now? Do you care? Or maybe it's just one of those annoying things that you have to "manage" through life, like signing up for utilities and notifying friends when you move to a new home address.
If you could pick any email address to identify you, would you pick the one you have now? Is it tied to a particular mail application (hotmail.com, gmail.com)? Or your current Internet provider (aol.com, sbcglobal.net, comcast.net)?
What was your email address in 1999? Can you search through your old email to find that one B&B in Napa that your old neighbors recommended?
I think that for a lot of people, most of these questions are kind of annoying because of our history with "addresses". "Of course it would be nice to have the same email address ... I'd also like to never have to send in a change of address card, change my phone number, or update my credit card info. How realistic is that? You think that if I change to DSL that Comcast is just gonna let me keep my comcast.net email address?" Typically, things we think of as addresses are ephermal and tied to some kind of physical presence. Why do we have to drag those limitations into addresses in the online world?
It may be surprising for most people to realize that it's really not all that hard to choose whatever email address(es) you'd like and to keep it for life. The benefits are many and real. The problem is, no online services are incented to help you do this. Why would AT&T want you to have an email address not tied to their domain? They wouldn't: it represents a real switching cost and probably causes you to think twice before investigating a new service provider. Why would Yahoo! want you to have a non-yahoo.com email address? They wouldn't: then you might stop using their web application and stop seeing their ads.
Nope, you're not going to get a lot of help from these "service providers", so as a result a lot of this is more confusing that it really needs to be. I'd like to walk you through some of the steps you need to do to secure a permanent email address. It's a bit of work and it's not free, but the first step is the most important and actually will pay dividends way beyond your email address: securing your own domain name. Owning your own domain is the critical component for managing your online identity.
To be continued...
I just want to assure you that there is a point to all of this. It's not, I hope, just navel-gazing meta-blogging. I can hear the voices in the chorus: "Doesn't he know that Plaxo tried to do this identity thing years ago?" ... and: "Oh, how cute. He's trying to invent Facebook from first principles." I hope this is not the case, but truthfully I don't really know exactly where this is heading. It'll just take some time to develop the themes we want to talk about. Now that I'm not working I can take the time!
But just like no one visits the same Las Vegas, no one visits the same Internet. My experiences are just that: my experiences. Yet I will boldly share my opinions as if they are facts. You, gentle reader, need to figure out which is which -- and call my attention when I'm ignoring something obvious.
My previous post
was not really part of the central mission of this blog, was it? So we're faced with another decision: how do you share different aspects of your personality, or expose different facets of your online identity? Should I keep this blog tightly focused on the tales of developing a persistent online indentity and then start up another blog for more personal stuff? Or should I have posted that on facebook? What about when I want to share other passions of mine, like music or programming or gadgets -- should I start up separate blogs for those too?
I think a better solution is to use tags and expand the mission of the blog somewhat. So that's what I've done ... I've attached tags (or as Blogger calls then, "labels") to each of my previous posts, and you can see in the right margin that there's a little directory of the different tags. Of course, that's placing a little bit more of a burden on downstream consumers (that would be "you"). It would be nice to be able to pick and choose which aspects of me you'd like to follow. But that's more of a universal problem, and it's all part of this discussion.
I guess one way to think about it is that maybe I'm just treating this blog as a medium, not a message. Perhaps this blog is just a hosting vehicle for serving and categorizing 500-word posts that spans all kinds of subjects. I don't think that's completely true, but we'll see how things evolve. For now, we'll just tag this as a "meta-blogging" post and move along.
Time for the next stage
After giving it a lot of thought and consideration, tomorrow is going to be my last day at Google. I've been working on FeedBurner
since 2003 and I feel that the product is heading in a great direction with a fantastic, talented team that will take it to the next level, so it just feels like the right time to hand over the keys. I'm going to be taking some time off, then I'll probably try to think of something new to start up in the fall or winter.
I have worked with many amazing people and learned a ton over the last two years at Google. I certainly can't imagine working for another big company -- I think I'm pretty much spoiled there. A few amazing things about the company that I value and will bring to any future endeavors are Google's climate of trust and transparency, how the internal communication and the external communication are perfectly aligned, and how projects anticipate and design for success and scale. And the food ... I won't forget about the food.
FeedBurner was acquired by Google in June 2007, and we spent the better part of the last two years porting the application to the Google technology stack. At times it was a painful process, but we did it, and the product is better for it. I know it seems like we've been stagnant, but FeedBurner is now positioned to start adding cool features again -- to not only improve the feed analytics and monetization options for publishers, but also to help publishers accelerate the distribution of their content, and to become a key component of the real-time web. The team really has some exciting things planned, so please stay tuned
As for me, I'm going to spend some time to decompress, flush cache, and continue to use this blog to "research out loud". I'm excited to see where it all leads.
Decline of Instant Messaging
Remember how big instant messenging used to be? I mean, maybe it still is for some of you, but usage has really fallen off the past few years for me and my friends. Releases of new IM clients used to be big news, and interoperability between AOL IM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger was a major issue. So what happened?
There are a number of factors that may have contributed to the decline of instant messaging.The rise of SMS
The near-ubiquity of mobile devices and affordable texting plans has driven many to consider SMS the primary means to connect with someone -- if you want a communication channel that's less intrusive than a phone call but more immediate than an email. Why?
- No interoperability concerns. SMS is the LCD. You know your message is going to get through no matter what "network" the receiver is on. (By network we mean not only "wireless carrier", but also "IM network").
- Greater deliverability probability. If you IM someone, if they're not sitting at their computer, they're not going to answer. If you text someone, chances are they're going to get it, no matter the receiver's context. (Yes, I'm simplifying ... IM can extend beyond the desktop, but work with me here).
- One less online touchpoint. If you already have someone's phone number, that also serves as their SMS address. You don't need to hold onto and manage yet another "address" for the receiver.
Chat as an application feature
As social networks expand to attempt to capture all of your attention, it makes sense that they would offer chat as an application feature. You're already friends on Facebook, and you're both obviously spending all your time on the site, so why leave to some other place to have a real-time conversation
? Web-based applications are now technically sophisticated enough to support this as a usable feature, which leads us to...
Even before services started moving to the cloud, the installed IM applications were getting more and more bloated. People were no longer using the AOL client to access the Internet, for example, and the company was desperate to recage their users. So they foobar'd the client and started adding all sorts of junk: why of course you'd want the latest celebrity headlines and download the most popular ringtones! Turns out that people (well, at least this people) don't like it when you treat them like chattel to be shuttled off to the highest bidder.
Availability of other communication channels
Finally, there are just more ways to communicate, and other channels just might be more nuanced and suitable than the chat protocol. Perhaps a comment on a Facebook status update is a more appropriate exchange, or an @reply on Twitter. There are just more choices, with many choices better than an intrusive IM session.
Certainly, there's still a place for IM and chat. I still have a couple of IM accounts (one on AOL and a Google Talk account or two) and use them almost daily, but I'm generally hesistant to publicize them. Why? It feels too intrusive ... a little too synchronous. I think it's a great medium for communicating with a colleague or chatting with the family, but seeing unsolicited invites to chat from unknown contacts is too jarring for me personally.
How about you? Have you IM/chat habits changed over the past couple of years? Any theories as to why it has changed (or not change) for you?
So, for me, instant messaging represents non-public semi-synchronous communication channel for a close social circle. Put it on the map.
One thing that we really haven't talked about is the fact that this blog itself represents one of my online touchpoints. It's primarily a one-way communication channel (I publish, you read), but like most blogs it also supports comments on each post, so there's a return channel.
As a reader, though, how do you remember to read? How do you know if there's a new post? Well, in the old days, you'd bookmark a link to this blog in your browser and every once in a while you'd come back and visit to see if there's anything new ... until you eventually kind of forgot about it. Tedious! Well, put those bookmarks away, because there's a better way.
There is a "feed" associated with this blog that is your ticket to keep up-to-date with * Power. What is a feed? I've actually spent the last 5 1/2 years of my life helping publishers promote their feeds, so the fact that you have to ask means I've done a terrible job. A feed is something that you subscribe to, so that whenever a blog (in this case) updates, you are notified. The nice thing is that you're in complete control: you can unsubscribe at any time, so spam is not an issue.
To read this blog using a feed, I'd recommend one of three methods:
- Use Google Reader, which is by far the best online "feed reader". It's kind of like GMail, except that instead of reading emails, it's filled with all the blogs and news and other information that you have subscribed to. I personally think it's worth the initial investment in time to get it set up.
- If you use Internet Explorer to browse the Internet, see that little feed icon (image) up in the toolbar? That means that there's a feed on this page that you can subscribe to. Go ahead and click on it and then say "Subscribe to this feed". Similarly if you use Firefox, there's something called a "Live Bookmark" you can subscribe to. I don't like this method as much as using a feed reader simply because it just creates a glorified bookmark -- it lights up when there's a new post, but you still have to remember to check it.
- You can also get new posts via email by providing your email address in that little form in the right-hand sidebar. If you're like me, you're probably leery of providing your email address, but I can personally vouch for this email service. Actually, in a later post, I'll tell you a technique that I use to detect where a spammer got your email address so you know who's leaking your info. [sneak peek]
So, those are some ways that you can follow this blog. I suppose another option is that I could carpet bomb all the social networks to which I belong whenever I create a new post, but I personally find that to be crass and annoying when I'm on the other end of it (note to Future Eric: talk about "social data normalization" as it applies to online touchpoints).
If you'd like to learn a little more about feeds, check out Feed 101
from our good friends at FeedBurner
For those keeping score at home: yes, the Feed URL represents another online touchpoint. I've added it to the list.
Welcome Facebook friends
If you just found this from Facebook, welcome!
We're taking a look in this blog about all the little scattered pieces of you that exist across the Internet. Let's take a look at Facebook
: you can find me there at http://facebook.com/elunt
. Yep, another URL to keep track of.
What's the difference between Twitter (which we looked at yesterday
) and Facebook? Well, lots, actually. To start with, Facebook appears to be a much more ambitous effort. Facebook's mission is:
Giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
Contrast this with Twitter's stated
Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"
These differing views of the social world are certainly reflected in the applications themselves. Facebook is really trying to build an expansive edifice with one's social graph
as the foundation, with varying degrees of success. Twitter is more of a lean, mean, communicating machine. Twitter is about asymmetric "I follow you" relationships, while Facebook is primarily about symmetric "we are friends" relationships (although that seems to be shifting lately
I use both services for different purposes, which I think is the natural extrapolation of the fundamental relationship models. I'm pretty protective of who I let into my circle of friends on Facebook and pretty much restrict membership to people I have offline relationships with. I'm not looking to make friends on Facebook, but rather to strengthen or enrich existing friendships.
Many people hook up their accounts so that when they post something to Twitter it automatically shows up as a Facebook status update. I've chosen not to do that because I really treat them as separate channels with separate audiences. I tend to share more personal information and edit myself a bit more when I share a status update on Facebook vs. a tweet. It's the difference between being on stage and being in a small room with family and friends.
Anyway, let's put a thumbtack up on the online identity map: "Facebook". We still have many more territories to visit.
If you just found this blog via Twitter, welcome! If not, maybe you're wondering why or how you should use Twitter. There are tons of valid uses for the service, but I'll try to share why I tweet.
Twitter is one part of my online identity: I'm @elunt
. If you "follow" me, you'll be able to see whatever pithy comments I might share throughout the day. It's an outbound communication vehicle for me: I tweet and anyone who follows me may receive it (with a priority of their choosing). Also, if you include "@elunt" in one of your tweets, I'll probably see it, even if I don't follow you. So, in this way, it's a semi-public two-way non-guaranteed communication mechanism, with each message being limited to 140 characters.
What's the point? Tony Hsieh (@zappos
), CEO of Zappos.com, wrote a great post entitled "How Twitter Can Make You A Better (and Happier) Person
". He shares some of his thoughts about why Twitter is an effective communication medium for himself and his customers. I totally subscribe to the Tony-Twitter Doctrine. I especially like this quote:
There are many ways to be thankful, and many things to be thankful for, but one technique is to make a more conscious effort to notice and appreciate the little things in life.
For me, because I try to tweet every day, I've found that I'm always looking for opportunities to have something to tweet about. So I end up noticing and appreciating things that I would normally not even give a second thought to.
That's pretty cool, and that's kind of how I treat Twitter (say that five times fast). I generally just try to tweet random observations (some personal, most not) that I hope are humorous, but really it's a low-expectation medium. One of my personal credos that I try to live by is "I don't care if 99 people think I'm an idiot as long as 1 person gets the joke"; Twitter is a great medium to allow me to be an idiot.
There are more things to say about Twitter: how it enables ambient awareness or social proprioception
, how its open API encourages adoption, and how its usage is molded by its users ... but that's stuff for later posts. For now, let's just say that it's another one of my online touchpoints.
If you don't currently use the service, I recommend you give it a try for at least a week to get a feel for it. Each online service has it's own vibe and it's own conventions ... some may resonate with you more than others. You may really get into it, or you may just find it to be pointless. But you really can't make that determination from the outside -- you've got to give it a try.
One more point before signing off here: should I have a gadget on this blog that shows my tweets in the sidebar? Ah, now we're getting into some interesting territory -- is the purpose of this blog to be an aggregated view of all of my online touchpoints, or is it just a hosting vehicle for 500-word posts? I'm going to go ahead and leave the sidebar off for now and we'll defer this discussion for a while.
Until next time, happy tweeting!
Your fractured online identity
One of the motivations behind starting this blog is that I'd really like to take a look at what it takes to establish and maintain a persistent online identity. I don't mean identity as in "identity theft", or an academic treatment of identity formation
, or some kind of personal SEO strategy -- I have a much more prosaic interest. I guess I really think of your online identity as being the sum of all the touchpoints on the Internet where you communicate and where others communicate with you. What are your inputs and outputs and how easy is it for others to find these touchpoints?
What are some of these touchpoints? Well, definitely your email address (or addresses) -- that's a main input and output for most online residents. A Facebook account? A blog? An old blog? Comments on blogs? Flickr, Picasa Web Albums, SmugMug? Do you have a wishlist on Amazon.com? How about an Xbox Live account? Ever contribute reviews on yelp? Do you have a Google Profile page? Or use Google Reader to read and share items? Do you tweet? Have you now, or have you ever, shared your location on Google Latitude or foursquare?
Is the sum of that activity "you"? Do you want it to be? How do you manage all that, or have you ever even thought of this as something that needed to be "managed"?
So that's kind of the purpose of this blog: I want to try to figure out what my online identity is and how to wrangle it into something that 1) I can manage, wholly, and have for the rest of my life and 2) can be found and discovered by others that want to find it.
Why would you care about my online identity? You probably don't, but maybe we'll figure out some things that you can apply to your own online life. Maybe you're not so sure that you want firstname.lastname@example.org to be your identity 10 years from now, or you're kind of bumming that your friends think you've fallen off the earth because you moved to Facebook and don't update your MySpace page anymore.
I'm not sure where this will lead, but I'm hoping it'll be a fun journey.
Hello, my name is ...
Why hello there! It's been a while since we've connected. Welcome to my new blog, "* Power" (I call it "star power", but if you want to call it "splat power" I won't stop you). Why is it called that? We'll get into that some other time. In the meantime, please allow myself to introduce ... myself.
My name is Eric Lunt, and here are some vitals:
- Live in Tower Lakes, IL
- Currently work at Google in Chicago
- Co-founder of FeedBurner in the CTO role
- Lucky to have a supportive wife and three great kids
- Graduated from Barrington High School in 1988, Princeton University in 1992
- Been coding in Java pretty much non-stop since 1996
- Previous companies: Accenture (back when it was Andersen Consulting), Burning Door, Digital Knowledge Assets, Spyonit.com, 724 Solutions
There, is that enough SEO seeding?
I had a blog for a while called "Dancing About Architecture
" that is in cryognic storage. I think all of the links still work, but none of the comment stuff works since it's just a snapshot. I'm going to point my blog feed
over to this blog after I get this post done, so if you're seeing this as a new post in your feed from an old subscription: nice to see you again!
I'm just going to let this be a short introduction post for now and I'll get into my motivation for starting a new blog with a subsequent post. Thanks!