April 7, 2004
"Self-Googling is not simply narcissism, though that's certainly part of it," explains Alexander Halavais, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication in the UB School of Informatics. "People should Google themselves for the same reason corporations do, to help to manage their public face.
"Given that everyone from potential employers to potential mates is likely to be Googling you, you should have a good idea of what they will find," he adds.
Halavais, who studies how social networks are formed over the Internet, is currently experimenting with what he calls an extreme form of self-Googling. Halavais recently purchased prime location on Google for his personal Weblog (http://www.alex.halavis.net), using Google's Adwords feature -- a paid advertising program designed primarily for businesses and consultants who want to promote their products or services.
The ad, which reads "Alex HalavaisHe sees all, knows all. Want to Know Why?" pops up prominently whenever someone searches for "Halavais," or variations of his name and university title. Google provides Halavais with daily click-through counts of how many times he is Googled by other people. The count currently is about 60 per week.
"It gives me an idea of how often people are Googling me, but not who or why, he says. "So I know roughly how many times people Google me from day-to-day, and I can, perhaps, guess at 'why.'"
The experiment has reinforced Halavais' belief in the importance of managing and monitoring one's online presence, and it also produced a surprise.
Several weeks after Halavais' ad was posted, Google suddenly canceled the ad because his Weblog contained commentary critical of President Bush. Google reinstated the ad a few days later after reviewing the Weblog, and after Halavais pointed out the existence of hundreds of pro- and anti-Bush Web sites on Google.
Issues of free speech aside, Halavais says the experience is an example of how something you say on the Web can come back to haunt you. He has encountered several other examples of people's Weblogs "biting back," he says.
In one case, a former student had posted commentary accusing a particular company of fraud. More than 100 people responded on the student's Weblog, agreeing with the accusation.
After the student graduated and landed his first job, he scrambled to remove his online accusations, upon the request of his employer, because the company in question was a client. The student's criticisms were prominently displayed on Google whenever someone had searched for the company.
"This is one example of why it's important to actively put your best foot forward on the Web," Halavais says. "At this stage, most people who try to manage their public profile online do so pretty informally.
"As the occupational profile of the U.S. changes and more people perform freelance work, a more strategic use of Web presence is likely to evolve," he contends.
To manage your online image, Halavais recommends regularly Googling yourself, as well as your email address, to see what turns up. If you have a common name, try to find pages that are personally relevant by including keywords related to your profession or hobbies.
If you find negative or inaccurate material on the Web, a polite email to the author often will yield a beneficial result, Halavais says. A threatening letter most likely will result in another negative remark appearing on the Web.
"The best way of controlling your message is by creating it yourself," Halavais says. "Promote your work actively on the Web to help to bolster your online reputation.
"Starting your own Weblog or Web site can help you to shape your public image, and make sure that it accurately reflects your abilities and interests," he concludes.
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