Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

June 2, 2009 at 12:37pm

Hazardous Business

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Hazardous Business Last month I applied for a job at a local company. The second question of the interview was “On a recent comment thread on a local blog, you wrote ...” followed by a quotation of what I’d written.

Ouch. I think I would have preferred we discussed my greatest weakness.

My comment wasn’t critical of the company but it came up because it was critical of one the company’s clients. The interviewer, perhaps seeing a look of panic cross my face, told me not to worry about it and added that “the staff had a lot of fun Googling me.”

Again, not exactly the words I wanted to hear. I went home after the interview, typed Erik Hanberg into Google, and started searching.

My previous vanity searches had been limited to checking out the top few results, mainly looking for what comes first--my blog, my twitter feed, a few random profiles here and there. Nothing too surprising.

But start getting down to the 2nd and 3rd pages and things began to get ... weird. An argument on 5views.com about the USS Ranger. A short Tell Tacoma post claiming RR Anderson wishes he were as cool as me (I doubt it). Even a comment thread about whether you would download your consciousness to a robot (I wouldn’t) on The Atlantic.

It suddenly made me long for the days--about 7 years ago--when the only thing a search for my name turned up was my entry as a participant in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. It was super-geeky, but at least no one could say that searching for massive prime numbers was objectionable.

After the most intensive vanity search I’d ever conducted, one thing was certain: I couldn’t take it back. I have 2210 blog posts, 1195 tweets, and who-knows-how-many comments on other websites. By page 20, you start to get results from aggregator websites reposting some of my blog posts from certain keywords, which meant that even taking down my own entries wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem.

The most obvious solution to these problems is to go pseudo-anonymous. Even if a lot of people know your online handle--a scenario you might call “open secret anonymous”--at least you know your comments aren’t going to show up in search results for your name.

And most people in on the “secret” respect the divide between the online and real world. Awhile ago, I noticed on my own blog that I got hits from people searching for my friends’ names. In fact one of the top 10 searches that directed people to my blog was for someone I went to high school with. I realized there was no reason to list my friends’ full names. No matter how innocuous the context, they didn’t ask to be found on my site. So I deleted all last names.

For myself, I’ve decided that it’s too late to change now. I haven’t been anonymous, and with so much that I’ve published already, it might look odd to have all Erik Hanberg searches turn up nothing after May of 2009.

So I’ve taken to actively managing my online persona better. I’ve taken advantage of the new Google Profile tool that lets me create an official page for myself. I’ve revised my profiles on some old sites I used. And I continue to remind myself before I post anything: this will be around forever.


The Internet is starting to bring new meaning to the word.

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News and entertainment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s most awesome weekly newspapers - The Ranger, Northwest Airlifter and Weekly Volcano.

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