A Public Life

Google - Web HistoryMany people don’t realise it, but if you use Google’s search services while signed into your Google account (which you already have if you use Gmail) then your entire search history is automatically archived for you, along with statistics about how often you searched, for what, and when. It will track how many times a day you’ve Googled something, and even displays a little colour coded calendar to show you your overall search patterns. Some people may find the whole thing a little scary, a little Big Brother-ish maybe.

Perhaps it is, although it doesn’t actually bother me at all. I find it useful to have a complete history of what I’ve previously looked for, and there have been a number of times that being able to go back through my search history has been very useful. If there are negative aspects to this sort of tracking, then, for me anyway, the positives have far outweighed them. I pretty sure that I  function far more effectively by being able to turn to a search service to ask questions (and get answers), and I really don’t mind that there is a history kept of them. I’ve nothing to be embarrassed about, and seeing the hundreds of questions I’ve asked each month really does make me wonder to whom these questions were directed in pre-Google days.

Whether this sort of thing bothers you or not might depend, in part, on what the search history shows. I’m reasonably confident that I could pick a random date from my search history and have it displayed publicly and not worry too much about what it might show.

I’d like to think that the same would apply with my overall online presence, my “digital footprint” as they call it. For the last several years I’ve been pretty open about sharing a good deal of my personal life in public online places, and although I can only speak for myself, the opportunities that “publicness” has brought into my life have been overwhelmingly positive.

Whether we like it or not, in a digital age we all leave a trail behind us.

Something we constantly remind our students about is the need to leave a positive digital trail behind them. I wrote a post recently about a lesson I had with a Year 6 group. In this lesson I asked them to Google their own name and many of them were surprised that there was already considerable evidence of their existence in the Google database – evidence that they didn’t put there and that they were unaware of. As I said to them at the time, the question is not “Will I appear in search results?” but rather “What will the search results say about me?”

While working with a small group of teachers the other day, we did a similar exercise. I’ll write more about this in another post, but suffice to say that some of these teachers were shocked when they Googled their own names. One found a fairly nasty comment about herself on RateMyTeachers.com, (a site she was completely unaware of) while others found no evidence of themselves at all in the search results. I’d suggest that both of these outcomes are not desirable. Having something negative turn up about you in a search is clearly not a good thing, but having nothing at all turn up about you is probably just as bad. I know some people who go to great lengths to avoid having an online presence – usually because they want to maintain a sense of privacy – but they need to realise that not turning up in a search result also says a lot. Unfortunately, not having a digital footprint makes a statement about you too.

Like it or not, in an age where “if it’s not on Google it may as well not exist”, we need to be really mindful about what our digital footprint says about us.

The notion of a personal resumé is quickly being replaced with the digital footprint. Do you have a positive online presence? How “Googleable” are you? Are you on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Do you participate in online communities? What projects have you been involved in that support your professional practice, and are they visible to the world? If your next employer was to Google you before asking you to come for an interview, would you be proud of what they’d find, or embarrassed?

These are realities we need to teach our students, and I’d suggest we can’t do a good job of it unless we  start with ourselves. When someone wants to know a little more about you, you need to be able to proudly say “Just Google me” and know that what they find will be the right stuff.

CC BY-SA 4.0 A Public Life by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

14 Replies to “A Public Life”

  1. *Applauding loudly* Schools are starting to get the idea that kids can leave permanent footprints on the web, unfortunately the fear reaction seems to mostly be encouraging avoiding such tools instead of managing them wisely. I love being so ‘Googable’ because I can let my kids look me up in our media classes and they get a kick out of seeing how much can come up about you.

  2. Thanks for this article Chris. I wasn’t aware that Google kept my search history but, as a forgetful old girl, will find it a useful tool to see where I have been in my searches for ancestors.

  3. Great post Chris,
    I was looking for a person to fill a new position in our school about 12 months ago. I Googled all the applicants and found none of them had a digital footprint at all. Consequently, none were considered for the position which required the right person to be at the forefront of social media, be connected to other educators, and to be a leader in the info literacy field. How can you be any of those things without a positive online presence?

    This type of footprint shows consistency and depth of what one is involved in that cannot be expressed effectively in a CV.

    I would be very disappointed if my next prospective employer did not Google me.

  4. @Charmaine Thanks. I guess that was really the point of writing this post… schools that manage by fear, and restrict access to these tools that allow kids to build their online presence, do an enormous disservice to students because they effectively encourage them to have either a) no digital footprint by not allowing them to create one responsibly, or b) a negative digital footprint by not teaching them responsibly how to create one.

    @Geniaus No worries. It’s a useful thing to know. The more I learn about what Google does the more amazed I am.

    @Dianne Thanks for that comment. I’d be disappointed too if people didn’t Google me before they employed me. One of those teachers I mentioned in this post, the one that had no digital footprint at all, was stunned when I told her that employers would be Googling people prior to offering interviews. She was quite unaware that such practises existed and I think it really made her stop and consider how important having a positive online presence really is.

  5. Hi Chris,

    Another great post! I like the way you pointed out that no online presence is almost as bad as having a negative online presence. I think a lot of people think if they just hide from the online world, they’re doing well. That’s just not so!

    It’s important that teachers understand this message so they can assist students to understand digital footprints too. I think a lot of teachers that you and I know have little understanding of the concept. I look forward to your future post about that!

    It has been interesting going from having a fairly unique name (Kathleen McGeady) to a more common name (Kathleen Morris). It used to be handy that people could google me to find my blogs and all sorts of other work online. Now it’s easy to get lost in the crowd! I’ll just have to keep working on my digital footprint 🙂


  6. Hi Chris, interesting post. I think it is very effective and powerful to get students to search themselves on google and see what they find – it might prompt them to go home and adjust some privacy settings on facebook. But I disagree that not having a digital footprint is a bad thing. Yes, employers may google potential interviewees but surely not having a digital footprint does not automatically disqualify you from getting an interview (unless you’re not that qualified to begin with)… I guess it also depends on the kind of job you’re going for…

  7. I don’t agree. I think it’s critical to have some evidence online of what you’ve done. Certainly in any school I’d be interested in working at (or employing someone at), if I couldn’t find any evidence of someone on Google they would not even get an interview. See the comment above from Dianne, and it appears I’m not the only one that feels this way.

    One of the teachers who had nothing showing up on a search of her name also said the same thing, that she doubted it really made a difference, that sure people didn’t really Google you before an interview. I think she was being rather naive (and I told her so). She then said that she had been applying for jobs recently and had not been having much success with getting anywhere, despite being a good teacher with lots of experience. On reflection, she even cited an example of someone getting a job ahead of her despite having less experience but a much stronger digital footprint.

    Is this right? Is it fair? I don’t know… but I do know it happens.

  8. hmmm.. i’ll have to check with my head teacher to see if he googled me before I got the job 🙂

  9. Great post Chris.

    Did you see the recent article in new scientist about managing e-reputation? The print version has a great info-graphic.

    Keeping up e-ppearances: How to bury your digital dirt – tech – 23 February 2011 – New Scientist http://t.co/sSEvX2c

    I think you’re spot on.

    So perhaps this should be part of our cybersafety indoctrination kits. Managing your online presence and reputation, rather than worrying about it?

  10. If you use Google Latitude it does the same thing. Based on your location and how long you spend there and what time it can identify home, work, transport, what dates you went to a particular address, when you were at the airport and where you went, etc.

    It even gives you trend graphs and charts.

    I don’t mind. If I go missing someone will know where to find me!

    1. Hey Dan, I’ll have to remember that next time you go missing. 😉

      And speaking of missing, if you send me that missing invoice for the WordPress work you did for the school, I can send you some money!

  11. Kathleen Morris suggested I read this post/blog, and I can see why. First off, I didn’t realize Google could track your search history. What a fabulous feature, especially if you couldn’t remember where you saw something but remembered reading about it (a very familiar thing for me) — and with the history available, it would be easier to retrace the steps knowing what key words I used etc.  Sweet!

    I also like how you pointed out the question of not if my name will appear, but rather what will appear and the implications of what that means. Even though all of this is so new to me, I am compelled to share with others. Next week I am taking a staff through PD all day, and I will include this exercise because it is so valuable. Thanks!

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

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