December 21, 2007

Have you googled yourself today?

Technology-based words have been appearing quite often in Merriam-Webster’s annual “word of the year” list. For example, blog was the word of the year in 2004; google (as a verb, i.e., to google someone) came in second place in 2006; and similarly, facebook (as a verb) came in second place in 2007, behind the online gaming word “w00t.”

Why do I bring this up? The Pew Internet Project’s recent report, “Digital Footprints,” has been receiving a lot of coverage regarding its statistics related to people searching for information about themselves online. Namely, the process of “googling” oneself has more than doubled in the last five years, from 22% to 47%, according to Pew data. Surprisingly, though, just 3% of respondents claim to check their digital footprints on a regular basis, while 74% have only checked their search results once or twice.

Personally, I have found myself googling my name more often during the past year as I enter the realm of the “public personae,” that 11% of adult internet users who have a job requiring some form of self-presentation online. Part of it has been a general concern over the presentation of my online identity, but more and more I have become concerned over the possibility of incorrect or otherwise private information being posted online. In the past year, there have been several reports linking negative information found by potential employers in an online search to a lost job opportunity. And, as referenced in the “Digital Footprints” report, 82% of adults who maintain a social networking profile say it is visible, which means that search engines like Google could post a link to someone’s profile page with other search results. On the other hand, the Pew data suggest this practice by employers may not yet be as widespread as some believe, with just 11% of adult internet users reporting that they have searched online for information about a person they are thinking of hiring or working with.

When I google my name (which is a very uncommon name and generally only provides results related to me when I use quotation marks), most of the search results are related to my work at Pew Internet, as well as links related to my graduate and undergraduate education. However, my LinkedIn profile appears as the third listed search result, and a link to photos of a band I submitted to a fan website nearly 10 years ago appears on the second page of my search results. As with many of the comments in the report, this personal experience goes to show just how long our digital footprints stick around.

For me, one of the most interesting takeaways from this report is that while people are certainly more aware of their virtual identities than they were five years ago, there still remains significant room to grow.

Check out the entire report here.