Nov 082011
Digital Identity

Digital Identity

Have you checked in on your digital identity lately?  Seen how it is coming along? What it is revealing about you? You are aware of your digital identity, right?  I am pretty sure you have built it for a while.

I seriously doubt you would be reading this blog if today was your first day on the Internet, (and if so – kudos to you for discovering this blog on your very first day online.  You are a genius!) so I am going to safely assume you have been online long enough to be tracked by Google and Yahoo and Bing.

The search results someone gets when “your name” (or moniker) are searched are a key part of your digital identity.  (I will talk about other components of digital identity in another blog post.)

Everything you do online is recorded in a database somewhere (even in private forums your comments are searchable the private forum). Google and other platforms are relentless in their pursuit of data. Our online actions create results to be consumed, categorized, and analyzed for demographic, marketing, and searchable purposes.

You may not have built your digital identity INTENTIONALLY, but regardless of your intentions, you have built it.

So, how does your digital identity compare with the real life “personal brand” you try to convey?

  • You carefully craft your résumé.
  • Your digital identity captures your unguarded thoughts and feelings about your job, your boss, your career.
  • You painstakingly design your promotional materials.
  • Your business is revealed by everything you, your employees, and your customers say online about your company.
  • In real life, your professional and personal life rarely mix.
  • Online, they can blend to the point that your customers easily know what your cat looks like on Flickr or Instagram, where you like to eat dinner on Yelp or FourSquare, and which political party you support on Facebook or Twitter.

When we use social media, our digital identity grows exponentially. It is insane how social media crafts our digital identity relentlessly and unabashedly promotes who we are online 24 hours-a-day to anybody searching.

I hadn’t checked on mine lately.  Thought I would give it a gander on Google.  In fact, I got curious about the first references to myself I could find within Google.

Using a “custom range” in my search, I found this little entry from 2000.

Family Tree Maker’s Genealogy Site: User Home Pages:
Sep 6, 2000 – Mindy Lee Koch 9048-E Nathan Hale Court Wahiawa, Hawaii 96786. United States 808-624-4142

None of that information except my name is still correct. But there it is. September 6, 2000. A scrap of information about my life from 11 years ago.

My first online marketing article appeared on Feb 1, 2001 – way back in the infancy of online marketing!

Being The Best In The Biz! – Franchise Mentality!
Feb 1, 2001 – By Mindy Koch. I have a cousin who just bought a Subway … Mindy Koch has been in Sales and Marketing for over 10 years. Having joined Internet…

And there it begins, the beginning of my digital identity. Genealogy. Yup. Online Marketing. Yup. Definitely me.

Sure, I did things online before 2000 but most of it was chat rooms, forums, email and static html websites that didn’t accept comments except for the few that put up guest books.  (Remember guest books?? Anyone? Anyone?  Bueller??)

Now, it is much, much harder to be online and not build a digital identity. In fact, not creating one is WORK.  Avoiding creating a digital identity requires juggling usernames, consistently being mindful of privacy settings, not connecting social media platforms in any way, and complete separation of online personas and real life interactions. (Once an online moniker becomes recognizable it has created a digital identity.  It isn’t based on a real name, but it is an identity nonetheless. If that moniker is ever attached to its’ real life digital identity counterpart, they are intertwined and the anonymity of the moniker is lost.)

For everyone else, not interested in jumping through all those hoops, creating a publicly viewable digital identity is the natural result of being online.

If you are using social media platforms, you are constantly creating a steady stream of data that builds your digital identity at an accelerated rate.

Digital Identity and Social Media Example

As far as I can tell, there are 28 people named Mindy Koch in the US. There are 12,100 results in Google for “Mindy Koch”. Of the top 100 results, 71 of the results are me. And each one of the 71 results involves social media. Each one. Granted, I have been online since 2000 (obviously, since I showed you the very first entry in Google already) but so were one or two of the other “Mindy Kochs” in the list.

If you are interested in the social media sites I showed up in the first 100 pages, they are listed at the very bottom of this article.

On top of the 71 search results that were about me specifically, there were  8 white page listing type pages that listed “Mindy Koch” across the US which I was on as well.

71 results about me plus 8 more about me and other Mindy Kochs. Total of 79.

The other 21 results not connected to me:

  • Mindy Koch FL – 3/100 (not social media)
  • Mindy Koch MI – 8/100 (1 wiki, 1 Flickr, 6 not social media)
  • Melinda Koch OH – 1/100 (not social media)
  • Mindy Koch NM – 2/100 (not social media)
  • Mindy Koch IL – 3 /100 (1 Ning, 2 directories)
  • Mindy Koch PA – 3/100 (directories)
  • Mindy Koch CA  - 1/100 – (not social media)

Am I trying to say, “Oh look, social media is ROCKING for SEO?? Look how I am in 79 of the first 100 references to me in Google just for the year 2011?”

No. That is not my point. Ranking for an uncommon name has little to do with SEO so it isn’t about that at all.  Also, I am online a great deal more than the other Mindy Kochs apparently.

What I am saying is “Look how social media puts my online activity on display!” My digital identity is very easily discovered.

Do I mind? No. To me, this isn’t a problem because I want to be found in Google and I want to have a robust digital identity. I use social media to BE SEEN online.

But, someone who isn’t mindful of what they are doing or saying when using social media, is probably not aware they are creating a digital identity that is very, very long lasting.

Don’t Be Surprised By Your Digital Identity

Anyone under 25 has grown up pretty aware of the fact that their lives are on display over the internet. They may not truly comprehend the long-lasting impact their social media actions can have on their digital identity, but they are aware that they are creating one.

For people over 25, (especially considerably older than 25) it can be a big shock to see what their digital identity is.  Many people are unaware of their digital identity hidden with in search engine results.

When my father retired as a Lt. Col of the military and was putting together his résumé, he was stunned to find that a political action group had slandered him and other people like him on numerous websites. He was given an epithetical label that no one who knows my Dad would ever attribute to him. Since my Dad only used the Internet (besides for work) to check email, buy airline tickets, and shop for a house, he was completely blindsided by the fact that he had a digital identity that he had not built in any way. It took me quite a while to clean up his digital identity and cover the slander with positive information.  The slander is still out there, but luckily, employers would have to go several pages into the search results to find it now.

Everyone needs to check their digital identity.

Social media marketers and entrepreneurs need to more than monitor their digital identity.  They need to shape it intentionally.  Businesses need to do the same.  Individuals looking for jobs need to shape their online identity purposefully so their expertise is clearly established.

My next blog posts will be about how to check and shape your digital identity using social media.

Until then, let’s see if you can find your earliest reference in Google!  Search your name in Google, from the left hand side select “More Search Tools” and from there select “Custom Range”.  Put in dates to search.  I did mine in years.  1/1/1998 – 1/1/1999 but you could do a bigger range.

If you do this, what was your earliest contribution to your digital identity in Google??

 Mindy Koch
My entire social presence ->
Digital Identity Photo, “Costume Characters” by Alaskan Dude, used by Creative Commons License

  30 Responses to “Digital Identity and Search”

  1. I was actually surprised that I couldn’t find earlier mentions than I did. But I think even though I have been online since 1995 (maybe even 1994) most of this was on a corporate network and doesn’t show. So my earliest shown date is 2006.

  2. Mindy, you made me curious. I never thought about searching way way back in the Internet stone age, and totally forgot about guest books and forums content. So I put in dates in search – afraid that there will be findings in 1996 when I started in the Internet biz. I found a discussion in 2000 – a nice mentioning and comments from shareholders about a shareholder meeting and the way we established a close and informative investor relation.

    Just for the fun – to see your very first tweets – there is a little tool called

    My very first tweet from Dec 10, 2007 says: ” Want to check out the hype about twitter” I think I got the answer ;-)

    Looking forward to your next post about how to check and shape digital identity


  3. Fascinating. I’d like to know how to do a methodical check on my digital identity.

    I googled my name and got back as 1994. Then I remembered a seven part article I wrote for the Christmas holidays called “Modern Pagans.”

    Searching on that brought me to 1992.

    But my search is haphazard and google findings seem to be haphazard as well. I don’t know why listings appear in the order that they do. They certainly are not chronological

    I look forward to learning more about this subject in your future postings.

    Thank you.

    Joanna Poppink, MFT
    Los Angeles psychotherapist
    author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder
    Conari Press, 2011

    • I did a custom search year by year to limit the results. Is that what you did Joanna?

      That is cool that you found that article from 1992!! I certainly wasn’t online in 1992! WOW – talk about early adopter! I didn’t get online until 1996. But nothing shows up until 2000 for some reason.

      Part of that is that many of the websites I owned now belong to other people. Wonder if I should check the wayback machine?

  4. Wow – this is a real in depth post on identity issues.
    Timely and a good wake up call for many I guess.

    (my complete social presence)

  5. Mindy, I am so glad to you wrote this. It is an important reminder to be mindful and intentional about your social presence. This week when I spoke to a professional group I was introduced by the MC as “This is Carece she is an Business and Financial Coach, She… well you can Google her to see what all she does, there’s 15 pages of stuff about her.” At that moment I felt a little twinge of concern. What?! 15 pages? I realized how quickly yet permanently information is gathered, stored and ultimately shared… with anyone and everyone.

  6. Great article Mindy. I used to look all the time, but haven’t lately. It is amazing when you look and are reminded of things you have done in the past. It is also very interesting to see how many people with your name are online, and what they do for a living.

  7. Thank you Carece, great article, important information for all of us. Surprises me how many people don’t seem to realize how ‘exposed’ they are. Ric – orglearn

  8. Truth and informative post! I’ve been around the internet for a few years now and at some point decided to start using my real name when I searched and found others with my unique name doing things I would not be known to associate with. I figured, if anyone searched for me and didn’t know what I looked like, there was greater than 50% chance they would associate me with what they found as there are not that many Nakeva’s in the world.

    Enter social media and now there is a whole new ball game to play in the parks of SEO and search! I check on my identity often and see what things pop up and how it would look to family, friends, clients, potentials or anyone just wanting look for where to find that picture I took of them the day before :) Its important to look into the digital mirror and see what others see and if its something you, yourself, can be proud of. Its not egotistical nor is it about SEO, its knowing you inside, out and digitally.

    Have you checked out the concept of Trusted networks and Open Identity Exchange behind the new site? Interesting information.

    P.S. Thanks for Carece Slaughter for pointing me to this post via Empire Avenue. Excellent read!

  9. I have had a google and yahoo alert on my name since 2005. About 6 years ago my son’s floortime therapist mentioned to me that she had googled me and she found more links for me than herself. I still do not know why she googled me. I did tell her I wrote articles online about autism so maybe she was looking for them.

    I started writing reviews on back in Jan of 2000 and after a few years there I got email from a lady with the same name. She had run for some office in Idaho I think and wanted to get links to articles but all she got was me. She did not like some comments others left on my articles and they came up for our name so she wrote the company to get them removed.

    I would like to learn how to go back to see older things by me.

  10. Good article.
    Found first of mine:
    Social Hansa Mitgliederliste – Išversti šį puslapį
    Failų formatas: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – Sparčioji peržiūra
    20 spalio 2004 – +370 5 2477544 +370 5 2477542.

  11. Pro-active management is crucial me thinks. As also shows. One hardly can prevent others to slander and cleaning the web from such entries is hard work if not hopeless. Better go and create more stuff you want to be seen about yourself and make everything else disappear on google page #10+

    Thanks for this post.

  12. Thank you, very useful. Off to check my id now.

  13. I didn’t know you started a blog Mindy! I like how you’ve formatted it as a Social Media Experiment.

    Something that is sometimes good, sometimes bad, but at least worth noting is that the Internet self cleanses itself, or at least it used to (We’ll see if it still does in 10 years). People let the domains go out, if there is no other copies of the content it doesn’t even show up in search.

    In 1999 I ran a website that got around 100,000 hits per day. It was a hobby website, and a lot of the traffic came in through a Top Site list I had up, but we made a pretty big digital footprint at the time, and since it was a niche website we tended to affiliate with each other and link to one another. My site the AWS was probably the 3rd largest website of it’s kind, even larger than the Network we were hosted on.

    If you search for the website today, it’s long gone. I can only find 2 traces that it ever existed, one is a backup of the Network site the ddwww that someone had saved to an angelfire page here: . The AWS is linked in the menu and there is a mention of it in the updates (I should note that these websites were top of the line bar none in graphic design and scripting in 1999). The other is a Fantasy Wrestling Wiki that was made years after my site shut down.

    Google has been saving data indefinately lately, but they still cleanse their search results when servers go down or people don’t pay their hosting accounts. You’d be hard pressed to find the websites I owned in February of this year mentioned in Google, and the guy that owns had his site active 2 months ago, but after he dropped his hosting his #1 search ranking disappeared within a week (I’ll definitely try to park that domain in 2013 when it expires :) ) . It’s still possible to make this stuff disappear, but it makes me wonder how long it will be before every shred of content and data is stored indefinately. Here is an interesting article about web preservationsist that actually downloaded the entire web content of the Geo Cities Domain (A precursor to Myspace and social networks you could say, but more of a free web host that had too many ads).

    I used a Pseudonym up until a year ago, and it kept my Identity pretty much clear of the web until Google picked up my myspace page (which was private, but still linked). After that I gave up, and as you can see I’ve decided to disclose my full Identity now.

    Moot, the creator of 4chan had a really good speech at the Web 2.0 summit this year, I’d suggest looking that up if you’re about to do a multi part post on Digital Identity. I believe he was the Keynote, so it shouldn’t be hard to find, but I’d highly recommend watching it. There will always be ways to surf the net anonymously, if you’re aware, it’s still a choice! Great job of spreading awareness Mindy.

    I’ll be back for your next post! I might miss your sharing, so send me a message next time.

  14. How did you get access to the new comment luv Premium Mindy? I thought it wasn’t released yet?

    • Also, I just wrote an excruciatingly long comment, and it didn’t publish, got lost. I’m kinda sad about it. I may try to re-create some of it tomorrow to make conversation on your post, but I got to sleep now. It’s hard to say what kept it from posting. Good night!

  15. I followed your recommendation and went way back in time – I totally forgot about the “old” internet days with forums and guest books with all the digital footprints. Going through a 1996 – 2000 search process I found nice comments in a forum in 2000 during my time in investor relations in Europe. Made my day! I also did a search in MyTweet16 to read my very first tweets in 2007 – which says — wondering what’s the hype about Twitter. I guess I figured it out.

    Thanks a lot Mindy for your inputs.


  16. Interesting post. Google search not very successful this evening, so I’ll revisit in future. Look forward to reading instructions on how to go about things from you:)

  17. I’m always surprised by what comes up when I do a search but this was interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Great reminders…we all need to stay on top of this.

  19. Great info everyone should be mindful of these days. My name (Shannon Smith) is so common that I find it difficult to find my digital identity…which could be a good thing ;-)

  20. Great post and definitely essential tips! With everyone online these days, it’s so important to maintain your digital identity.

  21. The earliest I could find was February 10, 1991, and I had to goto page 2 of the range search to find it. It would seem that there are too many Mike Shields’ out there that have more relevant page rank than me. Hiding in plain sight continues to work!!!

    Oh, there’s an ATPM article mention that ranks two or three ahead of my very first IMDb entry, however, that occurs later in life. And I contributed to ATPM from almost the beginning….

  22. The experience of your dad is quite alarming. I can’t imagine how many people almost experienced same thing. I just can’t imagine how our technology can destroy ones image nowadays.

    • Diana, it was truly awful. He was soo stunned. We (his six kids) were horrified when he showed us. Seriously, he is the nicest man I know and is my hero. He lives by that motto, “If you are right you have no need to be angry, if you are wrong you have no right to be angry” and is truly nearly never angry. To see him slandered by a political action group that didn’t know him in any way was just heartbreaking.

      • @ Mindy

        I totally understand how you feel. Personally, me seeing my parents get into trouble without them doing something wrong to anybody would really make me angry. It’s a normal feeling anyway because we love our parents. I hope others should be very careful on making their statements online because it can really destroy a person’s image.

  23. Sometimes it freaks me out knowing how much of my info could possibly be out there. It’s a good reminder for me to go take a second look at what I’m allowing to be published.

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