How anonymous is anonymous blogging?

Dec 29 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

Last night I had my 1000th visitor, which is about 995 more than I ever thought would read anything here, so I thought I would take the occasion to write about something that has been in the back of my head to post for a while.
I walked into this all a bit naive about the blogging community and it has taken me a while to get settled in and feel a bit like I know what the hell I am doing. What I'm doing here is still all a bit amateur-hour compared to the more committed out there, but I'm stumbling along, happy to do what I can. I wanted to do this blog as a way to discuss my experiences as a new faculty member in the hopes that it would help others anticipate some of the challenges they would face if they have the good fortune to find themselves in a similar situation.
One thing I did not anticipate was the variety of tools available for bloggers to monitor who visits their site when and for how long. Even creepier, I can easily figure out details of a visitor, including their server, location, even the platform, OS and browser used to access my blog. Whereas this information really does me no good, an interested blogger could easily determine, at the very least, the university home of anyone who left a comment on their blog. Initially, I had set out to introduce as little information about myself and my university into the blog but over time I have gotten lazier about details. Armed with the knowledge of my university, a couple of details gleaned from what I have written and a little bit of curiosity, one could quite easily figure out who I am. I'm not saying this happens, just that it could. For my own part, I assume that anyone else doing this is less interested in who other bloggers are in person than what they have to say in this odd little community. Plus, as someone who would prefer to remain nameless here, I extend that courtesy to others and hope they do the same. Nevertheless, I already mentioned that I came here like a country boy to the city....
So, that got me thinking whether or not I would care if someone took the time to track down who I am and I don't really have an answer yet. I know that, in an effort not to be too obvious about what I do, I have avoid writing about some things that I would really like to. Perhaps that is the sacrifice for taking this approach, but I have decided to post a bit more about science in 2009 even if it means reducing the pool of scientists to hide in. After all, what's the point of discussing a science job if you can't pepper in a bit of the science you love along the way?

5 responses so far

  • gnuma says:

    Totally don't stop posting. I'm searching for jobs right now, so this is seriously good information -- while I have advisors that I can ask random questions, having the anonymous input is also extremely helpful. I was curious about your identity when I first read the blog -- but only in a fleeting sense. The ability to read relatively unfettered thoughts from a random person dealing with what I hopefully will in the not-to-distant future is more important then knowing your non-blog identity. I roughly know your field, but only bc I found the blog thru a job search it's possible we've met in person, or might in the future. However, that's inconsequential, really, because first, we don't wear screen names on conference badges, and second, blogging seems to me to be another and separate format for interaction. I think another question you might add to your list is, doesn't blogging allow various aspects of your personality exist in a public format that wouldn't otherwise? So, leading from that line of inquiry, does it make sense to worry about non-blog identity of the people you interact with in silico? I don't think so.

  • Professor in Training says:

    Check out the discussions and links over at DrugMonkey about pseudonymous blogging and the responsibilities of bloggers to maintain visitor and commenter anonymity. We're all in the same boat and some bloggers are happy to have their identities known to the general public and others (me included) are not. Several regular bloggers know who I am outside the blogosphere and vice versa but we all share a mutual trust and respect. A lot of us could be readily identifiable with some selective googling and how much personal info you divulge on your blog is completely up to you - the science blogging community will respect your pseudonymity.

  • Arlenna says:

    Like PiT said, there seems to be a pretty strong sense of respect for pseudonymity here around the blogs. However, if details become too obvious people can figure out who we are. I don't personally mind if people figure it out, but like Isis, would rather that my lab web page is the first google hit for my real name, rather than my blog where I talk about all kinds of navel-gazing, introspective things that I don't need potential students learning about me until they actually JOIN the lab. (Then is all comes out anyway, hah).The biggest danger is that there still are just some things it is never safe to complain about or wax profanic about--unless you truly don't care if the targets of your profanities read what you said and know it is you. But frankly, I think most of those kinds of personal complaints are best left to drunken nights out with your best friends, anyway, not posting to a publicly available website, no matter who you are or call yourself.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Well, I guess I should have assumed that DrugMonkey and others would already have discussed this topic. It doesn't really bother me all that much considering that I don't generally post anything that others might find offensive. Nevertheless, it was a topic that I have been thinking about for a bit, particularly because I would like to talk more about science than I have been. In any case, thanks for the feedback.

  • gnuma says:

    I am glad that you brought this up here -- relatively new to blogs and I only read Isis somewhat religiously. I have been thinking of starting my own blog, but am holding off for now for some of the reasons you mention and both PiT and Arienna bring up -- mainly, that I am not so good at withholding details, especially when writing. One could always blog about being on job market, but, meh is my interest factor given likelihood of anonymity loss....

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