Public Parts and Lightweight Social Identity

I loved Twitter the moment I first read about it. I was a bit late to the party in Summer of ‘08, but as soon as I heard what it was, I signed up. When I was first getting acclimated to the service, I was awestruck by its potential. I could tweet @ bands I liked, and they would tweet back. I could tweet at investors and entrepreneurs and they’d tweet back. And most interestingly to me, I could see what the world was talking about. It was a public stream of consciousness, but it had context and could be segmented however you liked. Facebook, on the other hand, I didn’t care for. I was one of the last holdouts of my classmates and friends when I got to college in Fall of '05. I was finally forced to join, and I played around with it a bit for a month or two. But I didn’t like how cliquy it felt, and how manufactured the content seemed. When you’re creating content for a specific set of people, you cultivate an image. You try hard to filter things about yourself so you appear a certain way. The photos, status updates, wall posts, comments etc all reflect that tendency. Which is why default-public outlets are so much more interesting.

Fred Wilson had an interesting post yesterday about one’s “Lightweight Identity”, regarding a commenthe made in passing on a panel discussion last month (40-minute mark), and I totally agree that your “public” identity is the best identity you could have online. It’s the most honest. Though it may be filtered (some might say it’s the most filtered because you’re speaking on the lowest common denominator of levels), it’s filtered for everyone, not a specific group. It avoids a lot of the distortion that comes with manipulating your identity to fit a niche. Now, some people do tailor their Twitter identity to be vastly different from their real one, because not everyone reads Twitter yet. But I think increasingly that problem will flatten out as Twitter and other public identities become the new resume, as emphasized by Union Square Ventures during their hiring process. When you realize everyone might be reading your 140 character blurbs, you might want them to match your real personality so there’s not a glaring discrepancy when you walk in for an interview or meeting.

Albert Wegner, another USV partner, talks about “Public Parts” in his post today, referencing Jeff Jarvis’ new book of the same name. Jeff is a “Publicness Advocate,” as opposed to the oft-cited “privacy advocate.” I’m in the same boat, and I think as we see more and more reasons why Twitter is the new norm, more people will hop on board.