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Blogging Anonymously – A painful experience – Saturday Morning Surfing

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I’ve just had a very painful blogging experience, involving someone whose work I rather like: I’m refusing to publish an article submitted for guest posting.

Let’s back up a bit…

Long time readers (bofem) know that blogging (whatever that means) is only a part of what I do. I spend a fair amount of time programming, learning new technology, and working with my clients. Anyone who has connected with me on LinkedIn also knows I have far too much education, and my professional connections span an unlikely range of people from Berkeley professors to Florida tanning salon owners to boiled peanut salesmen from Georgia.

All good in my book.

Long time readers also know I have published articles on Website In A Weekend by anonymous and – this is important – pseudonymous authors.

These authors are anonymous to you, but not to me. I have a policy of connecting via LinkedIn with all authors who I publish here.

I have made no exception.

And that’s what’s painful.

Because I really want to make an exception in this case.

But I’m not going to and here’s why.

My personal goal for Website In A Weekend is to use it as a platform for developing real, absolute expertise with respect to WordPress, blogging and to a lesser extent, online sales and marketing. Now, I don’t especially care for the terms “guru” or “expert,” and you won’t find me claiming to be an expert on much of anything, but I do want people think of me when they have a problem to solve in this space.

In short, I’m building authority.

When I publish something from an “anonymous” author with whom I’ve connected on LinkedIn, I can assert that I know who that person is, and why I’m willing to vouch for that person’s authority and credibility.

As stated above, I maintain professional relationships with a wide range of people, spanning a number of communities. By communities, I’m also implying a subculture with many unwritten rules governing social behavior within the community.

Anonymity has no place in those communities.

The article I want to publish is really very good. It’s covering breaking technology, right on the heels of Scoble. It’s well written. The material is useful and interesting to readers of Website In A Weekend.

So what’s the problem?

The author of the article requests full anonymity and won’t connect on LinkedIn.

I had to think about this one. Should I break policy just this once? The article is excellent. I like the author, and in fact have spent some time mentoring that author. But think. It’s a slippery slope, and what’s the long term upside for me? A blog post? At the expense of credibility?

Publishing on Website In A Weekend may not seem like a very big deal. And perhaps it isn’t. But it’s still publishing. And publishing in the large is a partly matter of doing a lot more publishing in the small.

At the least, blogging is “good practice for the real thing.”

Folks, this stuff is as a real as you make it. As serious as you want it to be. Anonymity surely has a place in the wider scheme of things, of that there’s no doubt.

But where is anonymity’s place in the content and relationship market place of blogging?

And how do anonymous authors get paid?

I’m asking these questions in good faith. This has been painful. However, while I’ve made up mind for now, I’d like to hear what others have to say. Given the current brouhaha erupting around anonymity’s kissin’ cousin privacy, this discussion is timely and relevant.

~~~~

For what it’s worth, I instituted the LinkedIn policy after having an article submitted by a somewhat controversial blogger who, at the time, was publishing anonymously. I accepted on the condition of a real head shot and a LinkedIn connection.

Going forward, I’ll be making LinkedIn connections mandatory for mentoring as well. I’m not charging anything for mentoring (probably another gross mistake), but seriously, I need to know who I’m spending my time with.

Comments

  1. I think you probably made the right choice.

    It’s ok to want anonymity on the net, and a lot of people do, but when you want to publish content you need to be willing to put forth a little information about yourself. Even if its just to one person.

    Otherwise, why should anyone take your work seriously? On here it works because you know who they are, and you’re trustworthy. In the wild open spaces of the internet, I can’t see that working so well.

    • This has been a good experience overall. Anonymity used to the rule on the net; _nobody_ *ever* used their real name. It used to be that using your real name was a sure sign that you didn’t “get it.” Outside of what’s clearly simulation, ie. gaming, etc,, those days are gone permanently.

  2. So you like the article and the author wants to be completely anonymous.

    He wants no credit, links, nothing?

    And..your readers benefit from the information and there’s no repercussions of any kind.

    So why not post it? (or did I miss some major point, which is quite possible)

    BTW, I don’t have a LinkedIn account, or Twitter, or Facebook.

    • I have to agree with Rob here…I’m not sure if your policy is to the ultimate benefit of your readers.

      “The article is excellent. I like the author, and in fact have spent some time mentoring that author.”

      If you did know who the author was, so well that you’d mentored him in the past, what was left for you to be able to vouch for them?

      I guess, as a fellow blogger, I don’t understand the connection you draw between the SF area job market’s use of LinkedIn and writers who guest post on a blog about building websites.

      I’ve enjoyed your blog in the past and hope to continue to in the future but I do wish I was able to better understand not only the decision you made here but also the fact that you published a post about it.

      What’s the take-away message? Because it sounds like “Don’t bother me if you aren’t on LinkedIn.” which I’m sure is not what you’re intending to communicate…
      Jenny´s last post ..I Haz Surpizes…

      • Jenny,

        Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your time, and it makes me happy you have found Website In A Weekend useful in the past.

        What I’m intending to communicate, politely, is “Without a real profile on LinkedIn, I will not accept a guest post for publication.”

        Couple of things:

        1. I do not know who this person is. It’s not necessary for mentoring by email.

        2. Everyone assumes this person is male. Why is that? In truth, I can’t say I know whether this person is male or female. Frankly, it doesn’t matter anyway.

        Your decision to read Website In A Weekend in the future is, of course, yours. I would invite you participate more often! Truly, in this one-to-many venue, without leaving a comment or sending an email (or subscribing of course), I have no idea who is out there, nor what their interests are, nor how I can best help them succeed in their small business IT, website and WordPress projects.
        Dave Doolin´s last post ..Get some face time- WordPress 31 @ Techliminal Oakland

      • “I guess, as a fellow blogger, I don’t understand the connection you draw between the SF area job market’s use of LinkedIn and writers who guest post on a blog about building websites.”

        Ah… this is worth a little more explanation…

        For the kind of work I do (building scalable web applications), recruiters and hiring managers want 2 things:

        1. LinkedIn profile link.

        2. Github link.

        My 7page CV (ask if you’re interested) is loaded with academic and military honors, multiple degrees, certifications and services to the community, publications in prestigious peer-reviewed journal and patents and carries no weight at all. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Totally irrelevant for the 2011 economy. Bummah!
        Dave Doolin´s last post ..Keep Trying to Write Better

  3. My questions is what kind of guy wants to be faceless and why am I interested in any information from a guy who’s prime objective is to be faceless. I might possibly be interested in hearing the features and benefits of facelessness from a faceless guy but otherwise, I don’t understand what is his objective. And if I don’t understand his objective and he doesn’t want me to know, then it is probably not anything I want. In other words, there is something off-kilter and devious, whether the guy knows it or not. Apparently this guy is only selectively faceless since you know him from somewhere. He is an unlikely boiled peanut salesman so it is probably a Berkeley prof of the like working on something secret and probably evil. Run like hell!

    • Not devious, probably not off-kilter, just choosing a different blogging road than I am.

      Blogging anonymously is fine, really. It just doesn’t work for me because I’m building a network of people with whom I can do business. LinkedIn provides a lot of leverage. In the SF area, LinkedIn is critical, you’re on it or you’re invisible. Resumes don’t really matter so much anymore.

  4. Not that I do this – I am who I am – but why bother with anonymity when pretending to be someone else on the internet is so easy/more effective for keeping your real identity secret?

    • As it turns out, the original person (not from this article) who prompted the LinkedIn policy was doing just that: using a “real alias” on LinkedIn. Which I won’t say any more about, but it does give one pause.

  5. I think it depends on what your blog is all about.

    If it imparts technical information, as this blog does, I agree that anonymous stuff is a no-no. Either be completely public about who you are or, at the least, be public to the site owner you are writing for so readers have something that says “this is a legit authority”, either by his own identity or through a source we trust, in this case you, Dave. If you vouch for someone’s bonafides readers expect you to have vetted them.

    On the other hand, if it’s entertainment, like ThePioneerWoman.com or the Eureka Moments section of my blog…who cares? If it’s supposed to be funny it doesn’t matter who wrote it or if thy have comedy writing bonafides…it matters if it makes me laugh, period.

    • True, but even Rae Drummond isn’t exactly anonymous.

      • No…but it wouldn’t matter if she was…folks like her site or they don’t, regardless of her bonafides. Hell…she’s a stay-at-home mom homeschooler who started blogging out of 1.) a desire to stay in touch with friends and family (sorta a close-knit Facebook), and 2.) boredom.

        Now she gets 20-something million hits a month, was on Fox and Friends, Good Morning America, and The View in one month, has done the Bobby Flay Throwdown in reverse…she challenged him…has a best selling cookbook, has a romance-novel-meets-life-story book out this month that has the movie (starring Ben Afflack and Gwinneth Paltrow) already in production…

        All…ALL…based on no bonafides. Folks just enjoy reading her stuff.

        P.S. Has won Bloggies top blog on the net the last three years…and her blog is less than 5 years old.

        Writing…it’s about writing…good shit on a regular basis.

  6. So isn’t this actually about whether somebody is willing to join LinkedIn or not? You obviously know who they are, so what difference does it make whether they belong to a specific social networking site or not?

    It’s your choice, of course, but it does seem like a rather arbitrary way of deciding whether somone is legit, according solely to whether they have the same social media preferences as you.

    • Ruby,

      I have no idea who this person really is!

      Not even sure if they are male or female or something in between. (I do live in San Fran; no need to unnecessarily offend with gender assumptions here.)

      Thanks, -dave

      ps: LinkedIn is professional networking, not social networking. Big difference.
      Dave Doolin´s last post ..10 undeniable- unspoken truths about blogging

      • “LinkedIn is professional networking, not social networking. Big difference.”

        No, not really. There are professional applications on many social networking sites (eg Facebook), you may as well say someone must be registered there before you recognise that they are a real person. LinkedIn isn’t the only ‘work biased’ network either. Why not choose Ecademy for example?

        As I said, it’s an absolutely arbitrary specification, which you are entitled to make of course, but that doesn’t stop it being arbitrary (and a little bit unprofessional. If you were, say, Mashable, I could understand it – though I’d still think it bizarre – but WIAW isn’t really in that league).

        What’s really odd is that from what I have heard you do know whether this person is male or female, not least because they are a paying customer of yours (as well as a mentoring client), and so you not only know their real name, you know their address as well, from your own records.

        Which is why it kind of seems odd to me that you will only take the word of an arbitrarily nominated social network of your own choosing over your own files and experience.

        But you’re King of your own Empire, such as it is, and the choice is of course yours. I (and others) are entitled to hold the opinion that it’s comical, though.

        • Yes, exactly, and there’s no way to aspire to be “Mashable” without holding myself to similar standards!

          Ruby, you have nailed this point *precisely*, thanks!

          • Well, expect that Mashable (et al) don’t have this requirement.

            Interested as to why you chose LinkedIn over Ecademy or any other site though. I notice you didn’t explain your choice, was there a reason, or was it just random?

          • I feel comfortable with the LinkedIn system.

            From your comment, I just signed up with Ecademy. Thanks for the pointer, I’ll check it out.

            I’m also on EFactor, but haven’t used it much yet.

          • Unfortunately, if someone else *isn’t* ‘comfortable’ with LinkedIn, it rules them out in your book because you consider them ‘unverifiable’, even though there are many other ways you can veryify a person’s identity (and in this case knew it anyway).

            Again, it’s your website and you do as you please, but don’t dress it up as ‘professional verification’, because it really isn’t.

          • Yes, you’re quite correct: if someone isn’t comfortable on LinkedIn, it rules them out.

            If this renders me “unprofessional” in your opinion, I’m sorry to hear that.

            Perhaps my policy is a mistake. But if it’s a mistake, it harms no one but myself. It certainly does not harm either you or the person discussed in this article; they are free to submit guest posts anywhere else they choose.

            You are adamant that I know this person. Why? I’m curious.

            I’m also curious why you’re so vehement about criticizing me personally (“unprofessional”) about my editorial guidelines. I don’t go around to anyone else’s website criticizing or complaining about their editorial guidelines. Never really occurred to me it was in my place so to do.

          • Sorry, I read this in the post:

            “I’d like to hear what others have to say”

            And took you at your word. Was I not supposed to take that literally?

            I’m not criticising you personally, I’m saying that your ‘editorial guidelines’ are arbitrary, do not serve the purpose of ‘verifying’ anything, and that there are other, much more rational ways of verifying people which you appear to have discounted due to some unexplained preference for LinkedIn membership.

            I’m kind of surprised at your insinuation that I am wrong in criticising your verification methodology choice, when you asked for comments. And especially after your email saying how much you hate ‘group think’ and welcome difference of opinion.

            Or does that only apply when the person expressing a different opinion doesn’t hold their ground?

          • What, in your opinion, is the most rational way to verify someone online?

          • Depends on who they are and what you want to verify.

            Start with a Google search, follow up on what you find (if anything). By all means check out their social networks, but be aware that anything you read is unverified.

            Whois their domain. If they are using Domain Privacy, why? If they aren’t, then does their registration info check out? Are they willing to give you their domain-based email address with open Whois, or an ISP email address that fits with where they say the live?

            Make a landline phone call and talk to them. Do a reverse lookup on the phone number.

            Check your payment receipts if they have purchased something from you. Was their PayPal address confirmed (if applicable)?

            Does their IP address (and time zone) match where they say they are?

            Take references and follow them up.

            Any of these measures will produce far more reliable results than looking to see whether someone is registered on a social network.

          • @Ruby, this is guest post worthy! And it’s perfect! Just let me know.

          • Too stacked up busy right now Dave, but do feel free to snag the points and use them in a post yourself, if you want.

          • Count on it!

    • Ruby…is the decision arbitrary? Sure it is, but arbitrary is not automatically bad.

      The fact is this is Dave’s site, and he can make decisions about how and what is included as h pleases. I do on my site and you probably do on yours. At last with Dave the standards to be met are “out there” and one doesn’t walk around scratching their ass wondering why something doesn’t make the grade.

      Were Dave a hired gun, maintaining this site for someone else, I might agree that imposing his personal and arbitrary standards was bad, but that isn’t the case.

      Hell…on my site I arbitrarily ban UCBezerkly types.

      Except Dave, of course. There should always be one, just to show what one is…LOL

      • “The fact is this is Dave’s site, and he can make decisions about how and what is included”

        Yes, I know, which is why I said ‘it’s your choice’ :)

        • As for choosing LinkedIn over ecademy…well, outside of that being the main choice of many in Dave/s geographical area, as a general, brief inspection shows, LinkedIn has an Alexa of 19, while ecademy is around 7,000…and this after 13 years of existence. Hell, I know a homeschooling blogger mom that has a 5200 Alexa.

          On the surface at least, it appears that comparing LinkedIn to ecademy is like comparing Facebook to…er…what’s that other site that was gonna be so big? You know…the one Rupert Murdoch owns…?

          Get the point?

          • Sure, LinkedIn is currently bigger, but it’s by no means the only one, or the one with the longest pedigree. That’s kind of the point, why pick one over another, other than you’re ‘comfortable’ with it so everyone else has to be too.

            If you actually had to verify everything you put on LinkedIn I could kind of see the point, but you don’t. You can use any address, claim any experience or educational achievements, even a complete pseudonym. Like everywhere else, all LinkedIn verifies is your email address.

            Which is why using LinkedIn membership as any kind of proof of identity or qualification as a ‘real person’ is at best naive.

          • I’m ok with being naive.

            LinkedIn was the best option at the time, when I needed to solve a particular identity problem, and it’s worked really well since then.

            What do you suggest, Ruby? What’s the best way to verify someone online, given LinkedIn can be spoofed?

  7. Arguing the other side, I do see Ruby’s point about LinkedIn…or ANY particular joint. Hell, LinkedIn even has a redneck boiled p-nut salesman as a member. What kind of reputable site would let HIM join?

  8. Dave…was that an open question, or Ruby specific?

    • I’m open to any suggestions to verify online.

      I’m also willing to predict LinkedIn will be offering verification services in the near future. It makes sense given the number of recruiters using LinkedIn.

    • When I read “Ruby specific” I thought “Does he mean language syntax or programming context?”

      Heh… spent the last 4 months teaching myself Ruby on Rails. Whenever I see the word “Ruby” I’m thinking “web application.”

      • You’re not the only one. I get job offers every day from agencies looking for Ruby on Rails developers. Sadly, I know not the first thing about ROR. Much as they know not the first thing about how to do a database search, I guess.

  9. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that LinkedIn is the best way to verify someone’s identity, but it sure is convenient, especially for people who know someone I know personally.

    I’d like to see the guest post or a discussion around identity verification. There was a kerfuffle on Quora about this very topic recently: http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/14/quora-to-oddly-named-users-papers-please/

    • Quora…

      My first and only experience with Quora was a reply someone’s query about work philosophy or some crap.

      Within a couple of minutes, my totally accurate (albeit very slightly insouciant) reply had been tooled by some refugee from usenet lambasting me with ad hominem attacks.

      “Smells like usenet” I thought to myself, as I deleted my original reply and my account. Never went back.

      You have it nailed with LinkedIn. I’d go further though: for paid users, it’s pretty good verification. In fact, I’d pay a couple of bucks to LinkedIn for a “Verified” tag.