April 11, 2008

Keeping tabs on our Google twins

A recent New York Times article suggests another reason why people are motivated to search for content connected to their names online: to check up on how their “Google twins” are doing from time to time.

The article points to a psychological theory which suggests that we are drawn to things that remind us of ourselves; in particular, we have a special affinity for the letters in our own names. We feel somehow connected to those who share our name—even if we have never met those on the other side of our search results.

However, it’s also the case that we may come to follow our Google twins’ footprints online out of a desire to prevent confusion in our lives. In an online survey conducted in conjunction with our “Digital Footprints” report, we asked:

“Have you ever been confused with someone else because of information that was posted online? If so, please tell us about that experience…”

In the open-ended responses that followed, respondents shared a wide array of anecdotes—ranging from incidents that were humorous to those that became quite annoying.

Below are a few highlights:

“Friends have thought that bad poetry written by someone with my name was actually written by me.”

“There is another person online with my name, and most of her information is related to her participation in the sport of hot air ballooning. My fiance’s family Googled me and they thought that was me!”

“It has happened numerous times. The most egregious series of incidents involved that other person’s jilted lover phoning me in the middle of the night, once every six months or so over several years, thinking that I was him.”

In an age when it’s becoming increasingly important to communicate who we are to others online, perhaps it will become equally important to communicate who we are not.

As an example, see emerging applications like Claim ID that offer innovative ways to manage the content we want to be associated with our names online.