The Permanent Record: Reputation Management for Teens

The vanity search: who hasn’t performed one? Type your own name into your search engine of choice; see what comes up. For most adults, the internet has become an essential arena of reputation creation and management. Personal blogs, profiles on social networks, and even message board posts can all provide windows into a person’s identity and activities, linked by the common denominator of a name. But this isn’t true only for adults. It’s true for everybody, no matter their age.

When we’re talking about young people, this gets to be a tricky proposition. As I was reading Lifehacker’s recent post on reputation management, I realized that teenagers and their parents need a parallel set of guidelines. The internet, so far, looks like it’s going to stick around. Everything you put up there—every blog post, every picture posted to Flickr, every video posted to YouTube—has the potential to stay up in the cloud indefinitely. And today’s teens, no matter how conscientious they are, probably don’t think long-term every time they click “post” or “submit.” With that in mind, here are a two tips I’ve found very useful in my own transition from teen to starter adult:

1) Avoid using your full name on the Internet at all costs, at least until you’re in college. Stick to nicknames. Your full name is definitely what future searchers will type into search engines, and as such, it’s incredibly valuable. If you can possibly help it, save your full name for a point in the future when you’re likely to be thinking about jobs, schools, etc. Nicknames or handles can still be tracked, it’s true. But you’ve only got one real name, and once you start using it, you start creating your digital “permanent record.”
And just as you wouldn’t want future employers rummaging through your elementary school records, you’ll be glad to have some barrier between your future adult identity and your youthful pursuits. Until I started college, I went almost exclusively by “d” on the internet—a nearly unsearchable letter!

2) Once you’re ready, become the source. Half of reputation management is protecting the information you’d rather people not see; the other half is publishing the information you’d rather they did. The best way to make sure that you’re the number one authority on you is to become a top hit for a search of your name on Google. And the best way to do THAT is to purchase your own domain name, if it’s still available. This is an incredibly worthwhile investment; you can easily purchase your domain through a service like Blogger, which will then automatically publish a Blogger blog to that domain name. It’s completely painless, and as of now costs only $10 a year.

I recommend this for even the parents of young children; assuming that domain names remain the address book of the internet for the foreseeable future, having a personal domain name is going to become more and more valuable. Having your own blog on your own domain name doesn’t mean you need to publish all the details of your life, especially if you’re still a teenager. What it does mean is that you have a wealth of options for managing your online reputation. You’re the number one authority on you; the internet should know this, too!

I just purchased my own domain name,, through Blogger last summer. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to rise to the top of Google’s search results for my name. All of a sudden, the number one hit was no longer a team roster from that one season of Ultimate Frisbee I played back home, but a perpetually editable record of my endeavors and interests. I don’t update it every day, or even every week. But it’s nice to know that I could, that the internet—the everyman’s oracle—has the story straight, and that the story is mine to straighten.

How do you manage your online reputation? What should every young person know about the information they put up on the Internet? Horror stories? Success stories? We want to hear them all. Sound off in the comments!

Boston Silent Dance Experiment

A thoroughly modern event took place at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall this Saturday. Braving the snow and the cold, about 400 people turned up for Boston’s First Silent Dance Experiment!

Silent dances, also called flash mobbing or mobile clubbing, have been organized in cities all over the world to great success. They are a particular consequence of digital technology. Organized and publicized entirely through the Internet, carried out with mp3 players, silent dances are only possible because of our technology.

Unlike most other silent dances though, the participants here in Boston weren’t dancing each to their own music. Bandito, Misteriosos, the group organizing the event, put out an mp3 that gave out directions to all the dancers — pose like The Thinker, swim, swing dance, march….. Amazingly, everyone was in sync. iPods are usually thought of as isolating — we plug in our earbuds and tune out the rest of the world — but here they went into creating a sense of community.

If you’re in the Boston area and interested in such future experiments, look at the Banditos Misteriosos‘ homepage. (A past pillow fight was a great success too.) Also up is the original mp3 for those curious as well as photos and videos from the Silent Dance. Our own Digital Natives video to come soon!

The void of an afternoon without internet and a life without cellphones

Last Friday as I was researching for my blog during the 54th session of Harvard National Model United Nations, the unexpected happened, the Wireless Network collapsed. I felt powerless, useless. What could I possibly do without internet? Immediately after having posed this question to myself, I realized that I was dependent. I couldn’t believe how lost I could feel, just because my mails were piling up and I was not able to answer them.
Thinking back five years I remembered the time, when internet was a novelty to me, something new to discover and to study. I would have never thought that being out of it for even such a short time as 2h would make me feel sad. It is impressive how fast one becomes digitally dependent and our perceptions are distorted by social values as well as gadgets. It reminded me of the conversation I had with my dad couple of years ago when I told him that I would want to use a cell phone when I am grown up. He then rationally pointed out that having a cell phone will not be important in the future and it is better to not always be reachable. Now he owns a Blackberry, sends emails and uses it for work.

With these thoughts in my mind, I closed the computer and enjoyed the silence around me.

– Francesco Iberg

Digital Natives in the Press

Today’s New York Times features an article about differences in content creation among girls and boys:  Pew reports that girls in the US are bigger bloggers and upload more photos, while boys are bigger vidders.  Why?

Just follow socializing of gender for generations – it’s still the same, just migrated online.  As quoted in the NYT:

“With young women it’s much more about expressing yourself to others in the way that wearing certain clothes to school does,” said John Palfrey, the executive director of the Berkman Center. “It ties into identity expression in the real world.”

Harvard Magazine reports about Urs Gasser and John Palfrey’s upcoming book, Born Digital.  Here, Palfrey highlights the issue of the digital dossier:

Palfrey believes companies should be required to disclose—either in plain English or on an icon resembling a nutritional label—what they do with the information they collect. “What is it that you collect and store about me?” he would ask. “Is it only what I put in, or is it my browsing habits? Do you share [data] with any third parties? How long do you keep all of [it]?”

– Miriam Simun

No Boys Allowed, or, DN in the News

Poking around yesterday, trying to settle on a topic for a blog post, I took a quick break to peruse the New York Times Style section online. Scanning the headlines, one article in particular caught my eye—a piece titled “Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain,” about the prominence of young girls as content creators on the Internet.

So far, so good. Clicking through, I realized I had hit the jackpot. Perfect! This is an issue we often discuss at Digital Natives, since patterns of youth creativity on the Internet are deeply important to the arguments we hope to make about the positive (and negative) potential of youth engagement with online media. The fact that far more young girls than boys write blogs helps us to problematize the idea of a homogenous “digital generation.” If girls feel more at home on blogs, while boys feel more at home on YouTube, then they are already erecting boundaries within the fluid Internet between separate, gendered spheres. Compelling stuff. I kept reading.

As I read further, though, something strange happened. There I was, reading an article in the New York Times, getting ready to write all about it on the Digital Natives blog. And then, the New York Times started writing about Digital Natives.

Turns out, the New York Times interviewed our very own John Palfrey concerning his thoughts on this issue of young girls producing more online content than boys do. He has some fascinating insights, and I think they’re representative of some of the broader trends we’re seeing in the data the Digital Natives team here has collected over the past many months. At any rate: congratulations to the whole team, thank you to the New York Times for this pleasant but somewhat disorienting surprise, and I highly recommend checking the article out for yourself!

Deleting Facebook

After getting a fair amount of criticism in the mainstream press, Facebook has finally made it possible to delete a Facebook account. Prior to this, users could only “deactivate” accounts, in which case their personal information was no longer available on Facebook but was still stored on the company’s servers.

Despite much ado in the media, most of the college-age friends I’ve talked to have found the issue trivial. “Why would you even want to delete your Facebook account?” was their flippant response. Yet that is exactly why this issue is important. The fear is that because Facebook has become so ingrained in the lives of young people, it then establishes the norm for digital privacy. Unlike Beacon or News Feed, Facebook’s permanent storage of personal information doesn’t readily jump out as a violation of privacy. And because it is not obvious, it has taken over 3 years for it to change, in contrast to the much more immediate responses to Beacon and News Feed.

What is most disturbing then, is Facebook’s pattern of behavior. Although Facebook often emphasizes privacy as one of its strengths (compared to MySpace at least), its actions have proved otherwise. It has consistently pushed the limits of privacy, only step back in the face of a backlash. Perhaps it’s not so out of line to say that Facebook would not have put controls on Beacon if not for the media attention it received.

A few months ago, when Beacon was making its debut, I had the opportunity to sit in a guest lecture by Chris Kelly, the chief privacy officer of Facebook. He spoke a lot on the need to balance business decisions with PR, which the company, given its success, has done quite well. I’m inclined to believe it won’t have this type of popularity forever though. So at point will users become disenchanted with Facebook? But will this be a matter of privacy or convenience? Will Facebook have permanently changed our conceptions of privacy by then?

-Sarah Zhang

Digital Natives glossary now up!

Ever wondered what bitTorrent means?  Tired of explaining MySpace to your grandmother?  Want to weigh in on how online predator is defined?

Please go ahead…Digital Natives’ glossary is up now!  We’ve made it a part of our wiki, so we look forward to YOU helping us refine these definitions, and add new ones!

Young People Who Rock: Alexander Heffner

(cross posted from John Palfrey’s blog)

One of the big questions in the digital world is whether the way people use the Internet will lead to stronger democracies — or, in fact, have the opposite effect. This debate is playing out in the United States and around the world. In China, activists use online bulletin boards to organize themselves for the first time across geographic boundaries. In Iran, young people are using blogs to make their voice heard when the state is shutting down established media outlets. At the same time, China and Iran are using the same technologies for quite different aims: to censor what political activists are saying, listening in on their conversations, and putting activists in jail for what they’ve said and done online. The vibrant political blogosphere in the United States has become a political force, to be sure, but many question whether its influence is for good or for ill.

Alexander Heffner and his team at Scoop08 are proving that we have reason for hope. CNN, appropriately, has just made him one of its “Young People Who Rock.” Alexander’s leadership, and the engagement of more than 400 young people, is an inspiration to those of us who have been pushing hard to ensure that the Internet has a positive impact, not a negative one, on politics in the long-term. There’s been a lot written about them: here, here, and here. Alexander has a radio program, too.

Alexander’s work is so important because he is providing a means for young people to prove to themselves that they can have an impact through social action. The Internet is secondary to this story, in a way: the point is that Scoop08 draws young people into a public, civic space. It enables young people to have a voice that is heard all around the world. It demonstrates the power of collective action. It can help teach the responsibility and accountability that come with power, as young people come to see the impact of their words when they have a digital megaphone and are participating in a high-profile public debate.

The output of what Alexander and Scoop08 also gives us reason for hope. Scoop08 is a vibrant community that is helping to bring new and greater perspectives to election coverage around the country. One of the fears about the Internet and democracy is that we’ll each just surround ourselves with words and images from those with whom we’ll agree, famously called the “Daily Me” in the words of law professor Cass Sunstein. Scoop08 doesn’t fall into this trap. The student writers, based around the world, are telling their stories in a positive, careful, generally balanced way. Their coverage is serious and authentic. Their effort is to focus on substantive issues (policy, character-driven) — and distinctive and unconventional beats to generate new interest among young people — rather than exclusively horse-race-oriented coverage. The students writing up the reports are grappling with what it means to write without an exaggerated slant, presenting facts in a more or less neutral way, learning by doing in the process.

I look forward to Scoop08’s first big scoop. It will be a great day when one of Alexander’s extended team breaks a big story in this election, or an election to come somewhere else around the world.

But even before that day, it’s easy to say that Alexander Heffner and his colleagues have already succeeded beyond any reasonable expectations. What they’ve done, and what the good people at Generation Engage and other similar organizations, is no mean feat. Many have failed to get young people involved in politics. As the youth vote continues to rock — upwards — Scoop08 deserves credit for helping to create and sustain the enthusiasm of young people entering the political process for the first time. And the way they’re going about it stands a terrific chance of having a lasting impact on democracy.

(Disclosure: I am an unpaid advisor to Scoop08.)

XO: At the Intersection of Play and Learning

Here in Cambridge, the XO laptop is everywhere. Or at least it can seem that way, what with the steady flurry of press coverage that attends the global One Laptop Per Child initiative and its sturdy green-and-white wonder machine. Founded by Nicholas Negroponte and “a core of [MIT] Media Lab veterans,” OLPC last fall finally realized its vision of building an affordable, creative laptop that could potentially galvanize education worldwide. At least, that’s the hope.

The XO laptop really is a wonder machine. Its practical features stagger: the laptop is heat-resistant, water-resistant, and dust-resistant; boasts unusually long battery life; has an easy-to-read screen; and a host of other features, not the least of which is its remarkably low cost. And yet, its most public testing ground demands none of these capabilities. Last fall’s Give1Get1 program raised enough money to ship thousands of laptops to children in need. As a side-effect, though, a nearly equivalent number of laptops made their way to the living rooms of families across the United States who “gave one to get one.”

Reports from these living room testing scenes have been pumping through the blogosphere for months now. However, I was especially intrigued to read Virginia Heffernan’s take on the XO laptop in the New York Times Magazine. Heffernan watched a group of kids, born and bred in the U.S. digital milieu, explore the laptop for themselves. She observed that these young people were drawn into the practical aspects of the laptop by its toy-like qualities; that in order to hold their attention, the laptop needed to be almost overtly flashy. Her conclusion is surprising and illuminating, especially in illustrating the way one adult perceives children’s interactions with technology:

If Negroponte wants to convert kids to the global information economy, he might consider the chief virtue of the XO laptop: its lights and sounds. Even Western kids, whose toys flash and squeal, are drawn with primitive wonderment to the peculiar phenomena of this computer — the distinctive hums and blinks that seem like evidence of its soul.

Is this an oversimplification? How can educational technology usefully appropriate the flash and dazzle of toys? Does technology have an inherent flash and dazzle that, as Heffernan suggests, persists even for children in an environment saturated with electronic gadgets? This intersection of play and learning is fascinating, especially since this is precisely the intersection that Negroponte and his collaborators wish to take advantage of. How do you perceive the intersection of play and learning in a digital age?

How to Engage Students?

Diana had a great post last week about Ben Chun’s use of Moodle in his classroom. While there has been a lot of talk about teachers finding innovative ways to use technology, the conversation seems to often focus on motivating teachers rather than students. The prevailing attitude seems to be that students will automatically flock to an online discussion forum to discuss schoolwork.

There are many inspiring successes out there (click for an example),but I think the availability heuristic is a source of some bias. When classrooms don’t successfully use new technology, we don’t hear about it. And if we do, it’s easy to put the blame on the adults with generalizations like this:

From Corporate Power

Information technology causes stress on the campus, simply because no one can always keep up at the cutting edge of technology. Even younger faculty members who have grown up with the Internet feel stressed due to the fact that information technology is not user-friendly.

In my own admittedly limited experience, I would argue the same could be said of students who have grown up with the Internet. It is often students who are reluctant to engage in discussion in online forums. Several of my classes have had online blogs, forums, or wikis, which are all very easily incorporated on the official course website. Despite mandatory online discussions, the infrequency of student participation was a source of frustration among professors. Students would often pose their own questions, but few took the time to respond to others’ questions. The interaction that makes such technology so great was sorely lacking.

Without getting into the controversy of the term, perhaps we, the current college students, are not Digital Native enough? Certainly few, if any of us, were accustomed to posting homework online in elementary or middle school. Maybe there’s this line in our heads that the classroom ends when we step out the door. I pose these questions because this is an issue that has bothered me for some time. What are some ways to get students to participate in online academic discussions? Is this less of a problem for younger students who are more in tune with digital learning?

-Sarah Z.