Monday, January 08, 2007

Ephemeral profiles

Browsing Apophenia earlier this month I was interested by Danah Boyd's observations on the readiness with which teens create new identities for themselves when using social type websites.
I love the phrase "ephemeral profiles" that she uses to describe such activity.

I am no longer a teen and have such profiles, many of which I will never use again. Many I have forgotten, outgrown or just don't need any more. Some have been created in pursuit of academic research, some for the hell of it and some because a particular web site might have needed me to create a profile (with an email address) so that I can be contacted, spammed, sold to interested parties or just counted. I hope that I have developed a mature(ish) approach to investigating such websites and have created an on line persona for just that purpose.

To be honest like many of the teens, I was finding it difficult to remember the passwords and user names and was reduced to writing them on scraps of paper, post it notes or in my notebook! I considered investing in a password collecting application.

However if there are so many of these abandoned personae lurking in cyberspace what credence can we place in the statistics offered to us about the use of social websites?

Our work here at Glamorgan, reinforces to some extent the observations made by Danah.
A number of students were required to create a blog using Blogger in beta as part of their course work; of those at least 12% created more than one version of their blog before settling on the final version. The ephemeral blogs still exist often containing just one post and can be linked to from the bloggers profile.
Several of our would be bloggers had to start the process of blogging again, having forgotten their user name, blog name or password. Several (far too many) created their blogs in Blogger and had to start the process again. Our small contribution to the blogosphere has littered cyberspace with abandoned profiles and blogs.

When researching Blogger in beta during last summer I created several additional dummy / research blogs with which to simulate student blogging activity. Using these blogs over several days I wrote dummy blog entries, made dummy blog comments and linked blogs together. During this time I additionally deleted and altered the dates of blog entries, tracked my own activity using RSS readers and undertook searches in Technorati, Google, Google blog search and experimented with tagging. All of this was undertaken with an ephemeral profile. I suspect that many other students of the Internet do the same. When I was content and comfortable with the medium I deleted all the dummy blogs. Are they still being counted?

How many of the avatars allegedly wandering through Second Life consuming electricity at the same rate as a Brazillian actually exist?
How many of the blogs allegedly created and tracked every minute actually exist?

I've just noticed that Bill Thompson at the BBC points to Danah's work also and develops a similar argument with a little more style and substance.

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