I have some friends who talk to me exclusively through Facebook. My phone and my e-mail are displayed there for my friends. But most of the time, they talk to me through Facebook. Currently, the number of Facebook friends is somewhere in the 700s. They cover my family, my school, my university, my church, my work, my profession and my community.
I also have a number of friends and acquaintances who are connected to me via LinkedIn. But for whatever reason, the primary interaction I’ve had in LinkedIn is to accept a request to link. I think I’ve had less than 25 messages to do something other than link to people ever since I joined LinkedIn, and that was five years ago. Years. Currently, the number of LinkedIn connections is approaching 500. They’re mainly business contacts and relationships. A small number of the LinkedIn connections are also Facebook friends, primarily colleagues and ex-colleagues. But I would put the overlap at maybe 50. LinkedIn connections can send me emails; my blog is also made known to them, but not my mobile phone or e-mail address.
I’ve given away my business card to hundreds, possibly thousands, of people over the years; since I haven’t been much of a job-hopper (6 companies in three decades) it means that a large number of people can get hold of me if they really tried. I’ve had the same home number for over a decade, and only two mobile phone numbers during that time.
A slightly larger number of people appear to read my blog regularly. There are over three thousand subscribers to my feed, and I appear to get upwards of a thousand unique visitors daily. Some of the uniques are behind enterprise firewalls so the actual number may be a little higher. Some time ago, I had my blog hacked, and for some reason I forgot to put up any contact information when restoring the blog. And it’s been that way for the last three years. Most of the conversation on the blog happens via the comments, and I appear to have about three hundred regular commenters. Over the years I’ve met most of them in person, perhaps as many as two hundred and fifty. It’s a great feeling, when you meet a linker/commenter. Occasionally, someone wants to get in touch with me via the blog; what they do is leave a comment, and, most of the time, I use e-mail to respond to them if that is their preference.
A couple of thousand people now follow me on Twitter. I tend to follow back all real people, manually. (If I haven’t followed you back the most likely reason is human error. Mine. My apologies. Just ping me and I will correct it). As with the blog, maybe some 300 people converse with me regularly via Twitter, sending me @ messages and DMs.
My e-mail and telephone number are visible on Facebook and on my business card, and nowhere else. Nobody really uses LinkedIn to do anything of consequence with me, possibly because I’m rarely hiring or being hired. My Twitter account leads to my blog. And my blog leads nowhere.
None of this was intended or planned, it just happened. But after a while it seemed to make sense.
And so I come to the reason for this post. Whether what I am doing makes sense. [Sometime earlier today I tweeted about this, had a horde of replies, replied back to pretty much every one, and probably lost a few followers as a result.]
You see, I have this theory. That there are two types of people who connect with me, those who have a single preferred way of communicating with me, and those that choose according to the circumstances.
The ones that have a single preferred way are the “exclusives”, the ones who stay strictly within one particular network or communications modality. They seem to associate the choice of network or modality with an expected size and frequency of communication, and are uncomfortable when that changes. So, for example, when I used Twitter to update my facebook status, some of them howled. They weren’t prepared for it. They wanted to choose how to consume me, as it were. So I stopped doing that. Now they can still do so, via the FriendFeed integration into Facebook, but they’re in control when they do that. They choose, not me.
The ones who choose the path according to the circumstances tend to do so across all my so-called networks. And sometimes I get the feeling that it’s the same three hundred. Three hundred who are in my facebook contacts, my twitter followers and my blog commenters. Three hundred who mostly have my cellphone number and my e-mail address, or can get them easily. Three hundred who are my “Dunbar’s Number”. Largely because the cost of grooming such friendships has reduced sharply in this persistent, searchable, Tivo-ised world of communications, rather than because something strange has happened to my neurocranial capacity.
One way of looking at it is this. Those who stay locked in one form of communication with me, serene in their comfort zone, don’t need my e-mail or phone. They can look it up but rarely do.
As against this, those who choose how to communicate with me depending on the context, they also have all my contact methods and are relaxed about using multiples. Sometimes I get a DM and an e-mail and a text message at the same time from the same person!
So who am I really providing contact information for? Sometimes I’m not so sure. The only thing I’ve considered is making sure my Twitter profile is clearly visible on my blog. But then I have 2000 followers without doing very much, so do I really want to increase that number vastly? I don’t think so.
Which brings me to the naming issue. I’m JP Rangaswami, I get called JP, I can be found easily via Google using either. But JP is very hard for me to reserve when signing up to stuff. So I go for the next best thing, “jobsworth”. My private e-mail address, based on the codename for one of my favourite projects, when I sought to replace all the PCs at my place of work with Macs. (Jobs’ worth meets jobsworth, couldn’t resist the pun).
Chris Locke convinced me I should start blogging, way back in 2001. By 2003 I was playing seriously with the medium, and Doc Searls, along with Halley Suitt, encouraged me to start blogging externally. That took me a couple more years, during which time I practised by posting internally within the firm. But when I started, I didn’t feel good about calling it “JP’s Blog” or even “Jobsworth’s Blog”. So I chose Confused of Calcutta, and it’s stayed that way ever since.
JP, jobsworth and confused of calcutta can all be googled easily back to me. One’s me, one’s my twitter id, and one’s my blog. Simple as that. There was no grand plan to create this master brand or anything like that, and there still isn’t one. Nor will there be one.
So today I have three different-ish identities showing up in three different networks. Some friends know me in a narrow context, but not because I hide the rest of the context. I just don’t bother advertising the other contexts actively. Sometimes I include my twitter id in a post; sometimes I include my e-mail in a post, a tweet or even a comment. There’s no hard and fast rule.
I’ve received a large number of comments to my tweeted question. Many say I should make it easier for people to get in touch with me, many say I’m fragmenting and compartmentalising my identity for no good reason.
I don’t really intend to change my name or twitter id or the name of my blog. But if you guys thought that putting down my contact details everywhere and cross-connecting all this is the right thing to do, I will do it.
What’s your experience been? Is any of this making sense to you? How can I be better at this?
The key issue for me is if in some way I was disenfranchising someone. In which case please point it out to me.