Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Blogs, websites, web presense/identity, and other modern marvels

Posted by shannonclark on February 12, 2007

My first computer, one that was at home which I could really use, was an Osborne. Even earlier than that I learned to program in basic on a TRS 80 (“trash 80”) and on Commodore 64’s. We didn’t have a TV growing up, so never had an Atari (perhaps one reason I’ve never been a huge computer or console game player).

In high school I took my first serious programming class, sophomore year, it was a yearlong, AP course where we learned Pascal and FORTRAN, our programming environment was a lab of terminals to a PDP-11 – which though on one end of the school also was connected via wires running the length of the school to the library where the same miniframe ran the computer card catalogue. The school also had some PC’s, mostly used for teaching typing (though I may have been one of the last people to learn typing on a mixture of typewriters and computers – in a short but very useful summer school class). Yes, I was more than a bit of a geek in high school – did I mention I was the captain of the chess team for over 3 years running, on the math and science competitive teams, and not just a member of the school science fiction and fantasy club – but founded a SF convention held annually at the school (which is still happening decades later – making it one of the longer running SF conventions around in fact).

In college my computer was a NeXT cube – purchased after learning Mathematica while working as a summer intern (doing some FORTRAN programming in fact among other things) at Argonne National Labs in the physics department. Among other jobs there I also disassembled a particle accelerator (something I have since usually managed to keep on my resume – as a fact about myself to spark questions and conversation) and I helped with one small accelerator run (on a bigger accelerator than I disassembled).

Besides my NeXT in college I also used the campus unix systems – my first “web” page I visited was at CERN, which I arrived at from gopher space (remember Archie and Veronica searches?). Yes, I’m “old school” Internet/tech geek.

I bring all of this up as I am in the midst of launching a new company (more on that, obviously, when we are ready to discuss it), looking at getting funding for a second related company, and doing a lot of thinking about my own web presence, identity, and that of many friends of mine.

At the moment I have too many web presences – multiple emails, multiple blogs (some like this one having been around since 2002), various domains – some for businesses of mine, some for non-profits, some for projects I want to do but haven’t gotten around to yet. It is not just the websites – there are also various servers, hosting agreements, dns registrars, ISP’s, wifi access providers and much more. All in all I have too many divergent business and personal relationships online (some which I have probably let lie fallow for too long).

Earlier this week a very close friend asked me for my help in setting her up with a website. She has the first step – a domain and a year long hosting agreement with an inexpensive but decent web host. She doesn’t need anything really fancy – just a professional presense on the web as she launches her private practice (she is in a medical field). She plans on finishing a book in the future, her website would eventually also support her book and serve as a point of contact for the very likely press interest in her work (it touches on a number of issues that many people, including various members of the press I think will find fascinating).

As we talked I commented “I’m not good at the getting a site set up stuff” – and in many ways this quite true. In part that is the case because it is no longer really a technology question. Mostly that is “solved” by the blogging software package (such as wordpress which I’m using here) as well as the control panel used by a given web host. Rather the complications come in getting the graphics and text to look and flow – while also encouraging the behaviors that change a basic, mostly valueless web presense into one that adds value to the person responsible for it.

Other than this blog which I update semi-regularly and the MeshForum website which though now in need of an update has at times been fairly widely read – most of my other presenses on the web are not adding a lot of value to myself (and indeed this blog does not by any means pay for my coffee’s – but it does serve a valued role for me and people do read and mention it to me from time to time – though more comments/emails/calls are always welcome).

So along with helping my friend with her site, I also need to seriously work on my own web presences – clean them up, make sure they are all pointing to the right places (and hosted by reliable hosting firms). In a few (very few I hope) days I will be launching the first of what is likely to be two new companies I launch this year.

This week we took a fairly big step of having a live website – for we are not going with a basic (or even advanced web host) rather we have taken servers we already owned and ran and have installed our website on them. Designed not to be a “simple” corporate website or even a demonstration – but designed to be a scaleable, dynamic, web application – accessed by a wide variety of devices and browsers – and scalable – at least by design – to handle potential high volume of links/registrations/usage

Over the next few days I will be refining the web presence for this new firm – adding everything from our corporate blog to initial FAQ’s and documentation. I may also start working on a mock-up of the second company. In both cases hampered only slightly by my lack of skill at design – but thanks to modern interfaces and tools (such as this editor from wordpress.com) I should be able to capture a lot of information and get it updated and available on the website in a very short period.

As I work on the logo for this venture, I am also thinking about how I will be presenting myself to the world – how I will be defining my digital identity (and “offline” what my business card/s will say about me). The problem is that I have too many presences – and as I have learned in the past year having had literally 8 different, valid mailing addresses where at least some mail – especially important mail – would and has been sent. These are “snail” mail addresses – a combination of the places where I have lived, and where I have had business mailing addresses (in just the past year). I suspect that even with the best efforts on my part – there is not a single, fully accurate profile of me anywhere on the web.

Not even in my own personal bios – not that they lie or exagerate – but rather that almost literally by the time they are posted online (and I’m usually the person doing that) something else has changed about my plans. It is, in part at least, the life of an entrepeneur – as challenges arise you address them (keeping in mind that not addressing them or passing the buck to an employee or partner is one way of dealing with them, not always the best but sometimes delegation or saying No is important). My profile(s) on sites such as LinkedIn are in particular prone to these problems – they never fully capture my network, nor does any similar social network, not even ones based on my emails (for one I use a lot of different email streams – for another some of my most crucial conversations cccur outside of email – both via IM/Skype, or even *gasp* in person.

So it is a dilemna how to keep my presence, my identity, the face that I show the world (or the faces) how to keep them accurate, useful and relevant – of course while also getting other jobs done.

But we are living in a really amazing time – on and off line. What we can do trivially today was quite literally only fiction just a few years ago and I recall conversations about how hard it might be to, for example, justify 1 TB of storage (and the costs associated with it). I now have about that sitting here on my desk – and I now assume that my personal machines will have over 1TB of storage in the very near future. Similarly, I know that I can deploy a new blog, a new instance of CRM software (SugarCRM probably) or other complex web apps in a matter of a few minutes – just click the right link on most webhosts and they are installed and ready to go. Of course selecting a template and adding content is the more difficult matter.

Much to think about – now back to updating my sites and presences…

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