Managing your identity on the internet is a tricky thing.
In the old days, I picked a nickname and used it on various bulletin boards and forums. I used the same one for years on AIM, Yahoo Messenger, etc. The idea was that a certain level of anonymity was desirable as you’re talking about the latest XTC reissue CD or how much memory you could put on that Asus motherboard you just bought.
As social networking became more popular and– dare I say it– useful, it became okay to be out there with more of your “real” identity. Sites like LinkedIn and Plaxo allow you to create a professional profile with your resume, etc., which could potentially help in networking.
Then you have Facebook and MySpace, which are more for goofing around. My wife and kids are on Facebook, so I decided I’d take the plunge and create an account. I decided that this would be my “personal” social media site, while LinkedIn would be my “professional” place, and I’ve been very careful not to mix the two.
Well, that lasted for only so long. Soon, coworkers began to mention their Facebook pages and I started to connect with them in limited numbers. And for the first few months, everything was pretty cool: the updates I saw from my coworkers consisted of the standard mundane stuff about going to the zoo with the kids or hanging out watching a movie at home. Occasionally there would be a note about “working until 5 today on an upgrade, but then it’s off to the casino.” All normal stuff.
The other day, a line was crossed. This past Sunday, a coworker who’s a bit of a workaholic posted the fact that he was having a problem with a database server at the office, and gave the name of the server. The problem here is that this particular system is under my team’s direction– so in other words, I learned of a problem at my office through Facebook.
I checked my work email and sure enough, there was a problem. I got my team engaged and resolved the issue. I’m sure this individual wasn’t trying to reach out to me in a backhanded way, but I felt that my personal space had somehow been violated.
So for the very first time, I “un-friended” someone on Facebook. I’m not sure if he even noticed.
As the lines between the personal and professional lives become increasingly blurred, I feel it’s critically important to maintain that balance, especially online. I don’t have any of my personal stuff on LinkedIn, and I never talk about my work on Facebook (or, until now, in this blog).
I may end up dropping the Facebook thing altogether, but then my online friends won’t be able to see what I’m making for breakfast on Saturday mornings.
Then again, they could just follow me on Twitter.