MIT’s Personas project and owning your brand equity online

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One of the latest projects from the MIT Media Lab is Personas. The concept is simple and the results are impressive. Just input your name and it searches the web for mentions of this name to put it in context. It then analyses each of these instances of your name to build a profile of how the web sees you. Are you more ‘sports” or more ‘books’, more ‘military’ or more ‘music’? Of course, if you happen to share your name with other people, your results will be subject to what is perhaps best thought of as ‘noise’. Take a look at my profile below to see what happens (it’s useful to know that I share my name with American Footballers, an artist and a singer in a band).

Matt Rhodes Persona

The main problem that the Personas project faces is the same problem that many of us face online: names are not unique identifiers. There are many many Matt Rhodes in the world, using the Internet and being written about for what they do. To me, the Matt Rhodes who is an American Footballer is ‘noise’. To him, the Matt Rhodes in London who write about social media and marketing is also ‘noise’. We need something cleverer than names to identify people and something cleverer than names to identify people and to enable them to bring together everything that they do and that is written about them online.

This is even more important with the growth of online communities and the use of social media. People have moved from being written about to being writers. And as everybody is now able to create, add to and organise content online, so the number of people being written about has increased.

This is where shared credentials like Facebook Connect or OpenID come in. Rather than relying on your name to connect your online presence, you can associate everything that you do online by using the same account details to log-in to different social media site, social networks or online communities. You can associate everything and be the curator of your own online brand. At FreshNetworks we use both of these credentials, if appropriate, to enable people to log into an online community with their Facebook details, for example. To pass activity between the two sites to start to bring together in one place your brand online, or at least some elements of it.

As the web grows, and the use of social media and social sites grows even more rapidly, the need to sort and search for information on individuals will become even more important. And, as MIT Media Lab’s Personas project shows, that cannot be left to something as un-unique as your name.

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2 Responses
  • Aug 23, 2009

    Interesting topic. I’m scratching my head over this. I think there is a fundamental difference between someone organising their online presences for convenience (for example, by using OpenID to log in), and satisfying external needs (or pressures) to identify the same individuals on different networks.

    Personally, I have a lingering suspicion of the motives of the various people who want to to put all my IDs in one place. If I want it, fine; but often I’m offered it and I don’t always see what’s in it for me. I’d actually worry quite a lot if a research company wanted me to use my Facebook ID…but then maybe suspicion is my personal default…

    There’s an assumption in social media that everyone must want their identities to be obvious and out there, but it’s always struck me that there is an opposite force, the desire for privacy and ring-fencing, that makes people hesitant about sharing.

    Maybe there is a gender element in here? I never use my married name online, although (because?) it would make me far more easy to Google. There are hundreds of venerable Alison Macleods, though, and that suits me fine.

    Alison Macleod Aug 23, 2009
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  • Aug 25, 2009

    It’s not just people’s names that can be used here. Single words or brand names such as “Marmite” and “Hoola Hoops” reveal interesting associations.

    Clerkendweller Aug 25, 2009
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