Cybersquatting My Alternate Identity

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Let me say, first of all, that I am completely in sympathy with the goal of the Curator’s Code, to increase attribution across the web. I’m an excessive footnoter and compulsive linker. When I taught history, I told my students that I would never penalize them for too many footnotes, and that there was as much originality and analysis in the way they arranged and presented evidence as in writing sentences about the evidence.

The Curator’s Code’s main innovation, to honor “the rabbit hole of the Internet” and credit the act of discovery by linking the sites that led you to a link, is exceedingly interesting. I’ve occasionally done this myself, for instance including multiple RTs in a tweet to show how the idea circulated, or spelling out my path in a blog post. More support for that would be great. What if Twitter showed “RTed by” as a network tree instead of a flat list, for instance? This is a wonderful idea.

However, I find the site confusing and unconvincing on both a conceptual and visual level.

There are multiple metaphors used and illustrated—the rabbit hole, the universe, the moving eye (the eye is explained in a blog post by Maria Popova, the main creator). It’s difficult to read. Typewriter style fonts do not generally score high in legibility. Trapping that wide bar at the top obscures the textual explanation. In short, it seems like the site creators got carried away with visuals at the expense of making their point.

Most people understand hat tip and via as basically equivalent, to show attribution. Why suddenly try to repurpose one? And the repurposing is counter-intuitive, at that. “Via” is literally a road, a way of travel, and thus would fit indirect discovery far better than a “hat tip”, which is a direct connection between two individuals (similarly, the arrow used for hat tip actually suggests movement like via, while the superscripted waveform used for via resembles the action of a hat tip).

The notion that we should credit not just the place being linked to, but the place that led us to that place, is far less familiar than the idea of citing your sources. So create a new signifier for it, instead of trying to change an existing one. Why not run with the rabbit hole metaphor, especially since Lewis Carroll already did all the work of making that charming and attractive? Use a rabbit icon. Make rabbit a verb. Or something.

If “the goal here is not to mandate how to attribute, but to encourage to attribute” (from the FAQ), then why devote so much time to explaining how to use the unicode symbols, and so little to expressing what it means to credit indirect discovery? Why make the pledge conflate the act and using the standards?

The site’s goal is to get readers to buy into a system. I wish the creators had done a better job of selling it.

Just the only good place to put stuff longer than twitter. I don’t really use this blog obviously, and post was written quickly, not really for circulation, just for Katrina.

Let me note that “daiyami” is not a pseudonym, in my opinion. It’s google-proofed, sure, but it’s a phonetic variation on my legal name; the avatar I use for it is all over my personal university website; and anybody who knows me, including my students, would recognize me in a heartbeat. Any outsider who wanted to identify which historian in Eugene Oregon was daiyami would probably figure it out in about five minutes, quicker if they were regular followers on twitter. So that’s not a pseudonym. It’s actually not even much of a persona. However, I do strongly believe in the choice to use a pseudonym—there are many contexts in which I choose to use one—and I’m interested in how names and identities work, and how that’s changed in the age of the internet.

So, twelve paragraph blog post by Katrina Gulliver. All I’m trying to do here is explain what’s in there that would piss off pseudonymous bloggers.

A really good strong claim that blogging under your own name can lead to fame and fortune, supported with great examples of Sharon Howard, Lucy Inglis, etc. That’s paragraphs 5, 6, 10, 11. That’s excellent. No one contests that. This point could have been made without ever referring to pseudonymous blogging, incidentally.

But, there’s a lot of other stuff in the post as well.

Paragraph 1: just an intro, but sets up the notion that eponym versus pseudonym is the theme of the post.

Paragraph 2: suffused with the notion that the only reason to use a pseudonym is fear. Pseudonymous bloggers have debunked this over and over again.

Paragraph 3: interesting but undeveloped ideas about three different topics: googling candidates (really, the idea it’s unethical has faded away? If you can’t ask if people are married, how can you google them? I’m skeptical); the value of blogging as writing; the question of privacy.

Paragraph 4: “A blog is not a personal notebook.” Um, why not? Who says it can’t be? Where did that come from? What’s with this notion there’s only one definition of a blog?

“It is a form that exists for the purpose of broadcasting one’s thoughts (fully-formed or otherwise) to an audience.” Sure. But nothing says that broadcast has to be in the service of building a career, except this post.

Really really interesting but undeveloped and quite insulting metaphor that a pseudonymous blog is like a stripper pretending not to be a stripper. (I would have really liked to see this fleshed out more.) Total silence on the reality that there are multiple audiences for every blog, and that some are desired and some are not, and those dynamics have nothing to do with eponym vs. pseudonym. Ta-Nehesi Coates doesn’t want tea party members posting talking points about affirmative action on his thoughtful posts about race.

Paragraph 7: really interesting but undeveloped idea about gender imposture, but still trapped in the notion that the only reason people use pseudonyms is fear.

Paragraph 8: interesting and developed ideas about personas, that prove that people using their real names are no less personas than people using pseudonyms, thus undermining the notion that there is something more “real” or “honest” about eponymous blogging.

Paragraph 9: bizarre notion that people who have built pseudonyms and communities around them over years might nevertheless feel free to just delete their blog when under attack. No cited examples of ever having seen this happen. Again, shows ignorance of all the ways that pseudonymous bloggers have written about that choice and the reasons for it, all of which preclude just abruptly walking away.

Paragraph 12: call for “democratic levelling” of blogs. This is either a conclusion totally unrelated to the name issue, or, in the context of the overall post, might be read as claiming that bloggers need to use their real names to reach a non-academic audience, which makes no sense.


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