Online identity at #NapRes17

Yesterday was the Edinburgh Napier University’s Research Conference. Based at our Craiglockhart campus, the conference was designed to bring together research active staff and research degree students from across the university. (Read up about the event on the Twitter hashtag #NapRes17.)

My contribution to the conference was an academic poster (full-size version). The poster was part of my larger doctoral study that investigates how online information is used in the management and evaluation of personal reputations. This work follows the tradition of research into everyday life information seeking (ELIS). My doctoral investigation considers four research questions (below). This poster addressed the first of these questions “How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?”.

Research Questions:

RQ1: How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?

RQ2: How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?

RQ3: How do individuals evaluate the identities and reputations of others based on the information available to them online?

RQ4: To what extent do individuals actively practise identity and reputation building and evaluation online?

The findings consider three areas of identity building. The first is related to the creation and use of online personas and identities. This includes an examination of three broad information behaviours that participants use for the portrayal of online identities. The second area investigates the use of anonymity and pseudonyms through information sharing – or concealment – practices, as well as some of the motivations behind these behaviours. The third and final area presents the ways in which the blurring or merging together of participants’ private and professional selves, as well as their online and offline environments, are used for building identity online.

I provided handouts to the people who engaged with me during the poster session. I was also very pleased that even more people approached me after the session to speak about my research. (They were provided with a copy of the handout, too.)

Whilst my poster was only showcasing a small snapshot of a small part of my thesis, the conversations the poster prompted were wide-reaching. I spoke with other conference-goers about my larger doctoral investigation, online reputation and management practices in general terms, and the idea of altmetrics—which I’ve given two talks about in recent weeks. My poster also served as a conversation starter about my post-PhD plans (still in flux), potential public engagement activities, and even possible grant opportunities.

Personally, I feel that these wider conversations are one of the best reasons to present an academic poster. Yes, it’s about the actual research presented in the visual artefact. But it is also about the conversations and connections that visual artefact creates in a wider sense. And for me, this one little poster made the conference a huge success—because I connected with others.

The rest of the conference was very interesting, too. It included a selection of staff and student presentations, breakout working groups, networking, and a research showcase at the end of the day. Sadly, I didn’t win any amazing prizes (as I did last year) but I did win a bit of confidence about my PhD research and my academic future.

I’ll end there as I have just finished delivering a research symposium and I’m a bit tired after the excitement of the day. But I’ll share a post about that shortly… followed by tales from next week’s conference in Aberdeen.

But if you would like to ask any questions about my poster or my larger doctoral investigation, please feel free to comment below or contact me privately.

Life in a digital fishbowl

2014.08.18.skeptics-talkI gave my first full-on public talk last night and am pretty excited about how it went. The talk, titled “Life in a digital fishbowl: Managing your reputation online”, was part of the 2014 Skeptics on the Fringe line up in the Edinburgh Fringe and was given to a nearly full house. (Thankfully, it was a rather small venue so wasn’t too nerve-racking!)

I was very excited to have been invited to speak and spent the last couple of months slightly anxious about how it would go. After all, this was the first time I’ve done something like this. Though whilst I felt rather awkward the whole time, I’ve been told by others that I didn’t seem nervous at all. (So either I’m going to be a great public speaker one day, or I’ve been told some kind tales to fluff my ego. Or both!)

I broke my talk into three sections: An introduction to my background and my research; some further insights and examples into issues of reputation, identity, and information; and a bit of homework in the form of some tips and tricks for monitoring and managing online information.

I tried to make it a bit relevant, though I’m sure I may have lost or confused one or two people, as I didn’t really know the best way to piece the different bits of information together. The key take-away was that there is more information online than you might realise, and that you are not necessarily in control over it! (Not in a completely scary way.)

I had a couple of supportive friends and PhD supervisors in the audience to lob (easy!) questions to me if no one else asked any. But—thankfully!—the audience seemed more than interested in asking questions of their own.

Overall, the experience was a great opportunity for me to think about how my research fits within my own field as well as society as a whole. Importantly, it was also a great opportunity for me to gain a bit of confidence. (Something I feel I’m lacking at this point in my research career.)

It also gave me the confidence to state my opinions on issues of online reputation management, so I will try to share some of them here with you.

Below are the slides from my presentation. There isn’t too much text, so they won’t really help to give an overview of the talk. But if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

(See write-ups from the Edinburgh Skeptics here or my supervisor, Professor Hazel Hall, here.)

[Photo Copyright Professor Hazel Hall]

Finding some clarity: It’s about reputation (not privacy)

2014.01.25.finding-clarityI’ve spent the past few weeks reading about privacy, identity, and reputation so that I can try to resolve a few questions I have about where I want to take my PhD research. My area of interest is reputation, but with so many elements impacting reputation it can be hard to interpret the map with all of my thoughts and ideas.

I admit that it’s been extremely frustrating because I’ve found myself heading down so many paths that have been filled with more distraction than relevance and I was starting to wonder if I’d ever be able to find a path that could bring me a bit more focus. (I understand this is a common problem at the start of a PhD, so I haven’t felt like a failure because of it—but it hasn’t built up my confidence, either.)

Thankfully, this is where my supervisors come in! They’ve “been there; done that” so are able to help guide me in the right direction. (Yay!)

I developed a very rough draft of an essay on privacy, identity, and reputation—and the relationship between the three—and sent my supervisors a copy ahead of yesterday’s supervision meeting. I was very unhappy with the draft because it seemed so [enter several negative adjectives here], but in the end it was a very useful tool because one of my supervisors took the time to write a summary of key points on a white board for us to discuss—and that discussion led to a great amount of useful waypoints.

By the end of the meeting, I was filled with a renewed sense of excitement because I could see the path a little more clearly. There is still a bit of fog and I’m sure there will be a few rough patches to traverse, but I feel that this path will lead me to a couple of major roads before too long.

Moving forward, I will start to look a bit more at the idea of online identities and their relationship with reputation—and I’ll try to remember that my PhD is not about privacy*. I’ll be investigating issues of multiple identities (personas/personalities) including pseudonyms and anonymous accounts and how they’re used in an online environment—as well as some of the recent discussions around requirements for the use of “real names” by organisations like Google and Huffington Post.

I hope to have a bit more clarity on my research soon, at which time I will try to be a bit less vague in what I’m sharing. In the mean time, if you have any great resources you wish to share with me on reputation and identity, please feel free to contact me or comment below!

* I’ll talk about my desire to keep privacy on the fringe of my research later—after I’ve clarified it all a bit more in my own mind.