Online Identity and Brand

In celebration of the return of my avatar to the front page of AVC (and now integrated into the AVC logo), I thought I’d post about online identity and brand today.

I really like this slide from Disqus‘ presentation materials.

disqus slide

Obviously any slide with Fake Grimlock in it is a good slide. But beyond that, the idea that all three of these types of people can co-exist in an online community is important. I would argue that a healthy online community will, by definition, have all three types in it.

Pseudonyms like Fake Grimlock most obviously lead to the use of an avatar. Real names often come with a photo of the person. But I’ve always liked the idea of a real name (I am fredwilson on almost every service out there) plus an avatar. I think it builds brand in a way that a name and a photo cannot.

Like most things, I came to all of this without a lot of advance thinking. I was an early user of AOL and went with fredwilson for my username there. I still maintain [email protected] for some reason, but I never check my mail there. And when the web came along, I started using fredwilson everywhere. I’ve continued to do that and as long as I can get to a service early, I can get that username. It’s an incentive to get to services early which can be an advantage in my business.

The avatar was also an unplanned thing. I’ve posted the story of it here before and you can go read it if you’d like. But over time, I just started using it everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Including LinkedIn.

The combination of my name and my avatar is now my online identity and brand. It could, of course, be faked. And Twitter’s verified accounts are a nice way to deal with that sort of thing. But when you come across a comment, a profile, or some other object online with my username and my avatar next to it, you can pretty much assume that its me. And that’s a really good thing. Because systems need some sort of identity to flourish over the long term. And users benefit from the brand they can build up around their identity over time. The two go hand in hand and work together to make a large global distributed system like the Internet work better for everyone.