Years before web-based mail like Hotmail and Gmail became the norm; I was a big fan of a product called Eudora. This email client ran on your desktop and allowed you to easily switch between different email accounts. One could literally send emails with different email addresses, email signatures, and check for new mail across all accounts at once – you didn’t have to login and logout of each account individually. In essence you could be two, three, four or more different people.
I wasn’t suffering from schizophrenia; what I was trying to do was project a professional image for the various interests I had. I was doing real estate part-time and I wanted my clients to see me as a professional Realtor and not the person who was an engineer by day – after all, I earned the my real estate license and had the ability to effectively represent them. But, just like real life, perception online is everything. Sending an email from my personal address or work address would undermine the image I was trying to project. Eudora allowed me to quickly do this.
This is not about deceiving people; it is about people being complex beings and every person having multiple interests, friends and hence multiple networks. It is about people growing and changing as the live their lives – my friends from the “old neighborhood” are different than those in college and even more removed from the friends I met at work. Moving on, maintaining some relationships while losing others is a good thing; it’s part of life. Yet and still powerhouse social media companies like Facebook and Twitter prefer to not accommodate a user having multiple profiles. While these companies are slowly coming around, and Google+ has the concept of groups, managing your multiple lives is still a little dicey. Some things you just don’t want to share with other parts of your social network. While you can create multiple accounts by just faking a new email address like many people do, or create groups within your one Facebook account, these mechanisms just mask the problem and create extra work for the user who has good reason to have split identities. I once tried to create a group in Facebook so that I could only send messages to that one group, what I did not realize is that it notified everyone that I was putting in that group. Within minutes, people were sending me curious comments on what my group meant and they could also see who else was in the group.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Some days I just want to be Mr. Hyde. Social networks make this more and more difficult because of this one person concept. Twitter is equally guilty of this. I have one account that I use to provide small businesses advice on web site design and online user experience. I have a second Twitter account, because I aggregate and share great quotes from a variety of sources, from books to bumper stickers. My small business Twitter subscribers would not appreciate me sending cynical quotes from obscure 80’s movies. So I am forced to pretend I am two people. This Twitter example is even more compelling, because unlike Facebook, where you may truly want to hide the fact that you don’t like dogs with your dog-loving director, on Twitter, people subscribe because they’re interested in your topic and may not care at all about the other topics you want to post about. Why talk about dogs to cat lovers? This problem occurs all across the web - look at LinkedIn and The Ladders. The first career advice I was ever given was to tailor your resume to show the skills that are applicable to the job you are interviewing for. Yet, LinkedIn and The Ladders (as of March 2012) do not allow you to have multiple profiles or resumes, respectively. The implications on LinkedIn are very complicated to doing this, but certainly it would be nice if The Ladders allowed you to store multiple versions of your resume. For now, it’s an all or nothing proposition. Put everything in or deliberately leave pieces of your self out which may help or hurt you depending on whose viewing your profile or resume that day.
The Blogging Dilemma - Why I Like Tumblr
To be completely fair, I first must say that I have used Typepad, WordPress and Blogger extensively. All of these platforms are extremely powerful and great applications. But after several years of going back and forth I have finally started to lean towards Tumblr. For posting updates from my Windows Phone to creating highly customizable sites, WordPress rules. Typepad’s network of blogs and broadcasting features are also impressive. Both allow you to create multiple blogs, but Tumblr allows you to consume blogs from a variety of interests all in one feed - kinda like Twitter without the 140 character text limit. But where it really shines is in letting me create a post and then choose which blog I want to share it on. It is not a perfect solution to managing the multiple lives of Brian, but it comes pretty close and it does it in a very easy way. As time doesn’t allow me to write as much as I used to, I find myself sharing more and more. Tumblr makes sharing much easier than the other platforms which are really robust for people creating a lot of content from scratch. In the end, sharing content (rather than creating) and managing my multiple interests is why I am starting to use Tumblr a lot more. I hope other platforms start to think more openly about our more open society and how we allow people to be “people” online as we do offline.