Identity is an Industry

by Mathew Ingram 

Identity on the Internet used to be a fluid concept: something that was difficult to pin down, an idea the New Yorker memorialized in a cartoon depicting the fact that “on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”

But that phenomenon has changed as the web has matured. Advertisers have thrown larger and larger sums of money at companies that can tell them exactly who someone is (or close enough), where they live, and what they like to eat or wear.


This post is one of a series on “How connectivity is revolutionizing everything” on GigaOM. It’s a very good short read and raises questions of concern, the strongest one for me being the overall corporatization of information and self as existing on sites like Facebook and now, Google+. 

Yes, we are tied to who we are perceived to be on these sites, but many people will NOT join or not participate on public SM sites because of the corporate, ad-driven nature of the “business”.

Since web searching and internet scans are increasingly common methods of looking up information about people, of confirming who they say they are, or of just looking for someone who you want to get in touch with, how does this impact those who do NOT want to be participants online, who do NOT want to have a presence on these mega-commercial sites? Is there a (online) place and space suited to those who want to be off commercialized platforms but still wish to have an online presence or an identity on the web?

I’ve been doing assignments since starting grad school and many of them are tied to the author of the concept, article or book in question. The exercise of tracking down information about authors, most of them scholars and experts in very distinct academic fields, has highlighted for me how much the existence of one’s work and track record digitally recorded on the internet in some form, stands as a measure of what one has accomplished.  Yes, this is an arbitrary measure, and some people will not care or as mentioned, choose not to participate online, but for those studying and wanting to utilize the knowledge body left behind by thinkers and scholars, the internet, unfortunately, is the space where most of the ‘search’ will take place. 

These are different questions but all related to the overall notion of online identity.