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The identity 2.0 conundrum

Increasingly, there's a blurring line between personal and professional identities--and even between multiple compartments within those buckets.

A bunch of us were debating over Twitter yesterday whether it's desirable to have separate personal and professional identities on the service. The consensus seemed to be: "it depends." It depends on your professional situation. It depends on how personal and workplace-safe you want your posts. And so forth.

I find this whole question of what I call "identity 2.0" fascinating. Increasingly, there's a blurring line between personal and professional identities--and even between multiple compartments within those buckets.

As Wendell comments in a post: "It's kinda like living in a small town again." There are a lot of analogs. Just as locality and small size break down barriers between public and private in a small town or village, so, too, do the Internet and the search engine.

This is a trend that we're all going to be wrestling with for years to come. Although things I've written back in my college days are readily available online, if you know where to look, it was mostly stuff written for newspapers or Usenet posts.

There are doubtless matters on which I've changed my thinking, but there is probably nothing that I'd find especially embarrassing. What I don't have online--because it didn't exist back then--is "off the record" commentary written purely for a circle of friends. (In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky describes how many blogs are clearly written for a close circle of friends, even though they can potentially be viewed by anyone.)

Wall Street may not be Main Street. Neither are Silicon Valley and its relatives (Research Triangle Park of North Carolina; Cambridge, Mass.; Austin, Texas, etc.). The general sort of "live and let live" attitude toward activity outside of the workplace that may predominate there--as well as among employees who are highly visible bloggers, pundits, and so forth--isn't really the norm.

Suggestions that we do something about the "ephemerality of the Web" would also, to a certain degree, exacerbate any issues. Old Web sites, comment threads, discussion boards, and so forth do tend to evaporate over time, providing a loose statute of limitations. The better we get at preserving the Web for the sake of history, the less likely that youthful indiscretions will vanish into the mists of time.

Of course, much of the Web's most vacuous inanity--think comments on Digg--is cloaked in effective anonymity. (By "effective," I mean that it can often be pierced by legal action, but is anonymous from the perspective of ordinary searches.) Transient anonymity has its own problems. However, a blogging pseudonym--perhaps known to friends--is doubtless a reasonable response in many circumstances.

I touched on some of these issues, as well as others related to data portability, previously here.

What do you think? Do you keep your personal and professional identities separate?