Posted by: Jenn Deering Davis | May 10, 2008

the decreasing value of anonymity

Does it seem like the web is trending toward the less anonymous? This is probably one of those questions that can be answered with a “maybe to some extent, but maybe you’re also just paying more attention to it” type answer. So, let’s discuss it a bit.

It does seem like in the early days of the internet, there was lots of talk about the equalizing force of the web, where people could log on and be anyone they wanted to be. They could create completely new identities online and express themselves in ways their physical bodies never let them. You could log into a chat room and be anonymous or at the very least, pseudonymous. This was often encouraged for a variety of reasons – freedom, flexibility, safety, etc…

But now, in the new web age of social networking and interactive media, who you are online is often not that different from who you are in real life. In fact, some of the hottest new applications are all about connecting people in the real world. Take services like Dodgeball and Brightkite, for example. Their sole purpose is to share a user’s physical location with friends. (Sidenote: that happened to me today. I was in a coffee shop, and someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Are you jdeeringdavis?” I was a bit startled, but it turns out this guy lives in the neighborhood and saw that I checked in here on Brightkite. He wasn’t a stalker, just a friendly guy who said hi, got his smoothie and left. I see he’s now swimming at Bull Creek Park.)

Do more people use their real names and actual photos for profiles more now than they used to? I don’t know. But it sure seems like people are more willing to share actual real-life information about themselves online. Maybe we’re more secure, more trusting with the web in general than we used to be. Maybe we’ve come to realize that online social networking and profiles are actually pretty powerful personal public relations tools, and it makes sense to link them to our physical identities.

Or maybe I’m making this all up and nothing has changed. Actual social trends are pretty hard to identify. And to think, I posted all this under my real name. How potentially embarrassing.

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