Sunday, October 17, 2010

Defending your reputation (for a small fee)

Some time back, when I had a somewhat different vision of this blog, I ruminated about how one might model reputation.  Whether or not the model is any good, taking some time to think about what reputation might be was a useful exercise.  Re-reading the posts in that thread, one of the more useful observations was:
We try to control our reputations (at least)
  • through our actions
  • by controlling access to information about us
  • by influencing people's interpretation of the information (we think) we know
Of those, we have the most control over the first, though perhaps more effort is devoted to the third.  The second has its own special quirk:  It's possible for information to disappear from the web, if all permanent copies can be removed, but the safe assumption is that information only accumulates.

Nonetheless, there are companies in the business of helping people control access to information, and thereby their reputations.  A fool's errand?  Probably not.  There are several services that reputation protection services can and do provide:

  • Monitoring what you look like on the web.  If someone posts something slanderous about you, you may not find out until it's too late, unless you're constantly monitoring the web -- or have someone doing it for you.
  • There are various online lists and databases that you can sometimes have your personal details purged from, but who has the time?
  • You can't erase information from the web, particularly if it's a rumor that's already spread far and wide, but you can respond and try to counter it.  In this sense, protecting a reputation is just old-fashioned PR.
  • If you choose to, say, put all your purchases and reading selections and reading up for your friends to peruse, you might want to use a different identity to mention that you're reading World Domination in Six Easy Evil Steps or to purchase that 1.21 gigawatt laser.  But if you don't already know that, a service may not be of much help.
What's less clear to me is how much any of this is worth to private individuals.  If your ex has just posted those embarrassing videos of you from the last christmas party, it's not going to help much to learn about it in a report form your reputation service.  It would seem it's the PR function that's most useful in such cases, but unless you're directly in the public eye you probably don't have call for that.   If you do need it, you're not going to get it online for a small monthly fee.

I'd liken it to search engine optimization.  If you're doing serious business online, you definitely want it, along with real marketing expertise.  If you're blogging in a web.backwater, probably not so much.

Or so I hope.

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