How valuable is your online identity? It’s a question that I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I’ve had the same email account about as long as I can remember, but over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to realize that your email address is only one small part of your “brand identity.” Oh yeah. I said it. You have a brand, just like Nike, Coca-Cola, or McDonald’s.
With the advent of Web 2.0 services like Twitter, Facebook, and Windows Live, it’s becoming just as critical to have a recognizable @username as it is to have an email address that your friends and followers can easily associate with you.
My first (personal) email address was firstname.lastname@example.org (don’t bother trying to send anything to me there, XTN has been bought, sold, and closed since then). “Valin” was a character; a little in-reference that made sense to no one but me and a handful of friends. At the time, it was really cool to have an online persona, like I was a secret agent or something equally cloak and dagger. The Internet was such a new technology, and frankly, I wasn’t sure just how much I could trust it. Besides, it was an opportunity to create a barrier and remove myself from my online activity. As the old saying goes, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Now, it just seems like 180º from what I want: a simple straightforward identity that communicates my presence to my family, friends, and fans. These days, I’d feel more than a little silly promoting myself online as Valin.
Anyone who follows me on Windows Live should know that my email address is my name, as I’m pretty wide open about it. It’s listed on my Windows Live Space, in the signature line of my email messages, and in my Windows Live Profile. I also generally throw my space’s personalized URL (my so-called vanity URL, also my name) into most blog comments and other communications I send these days. I’ve found that it’s a great way to drive traffic to my content, and it promotes an atmosphere of “trust” (and I use that term loosely) between myself and my network.
I know that I’m much more inclined to communicate with email@example.com than firstname.lastname@example.org (both addresses pulled completely out of the ether, so follow at your own discretion). Yes, I realize that it’s just as likely that Jim isn’t really Jim at all, but my point is that I prefer communicating with someone who at least seems like a real person and not someone hiding behind the wall of an invented persona.
So, recently I’ve found myself on something of a quest to stake my claim to my brand in a variety of locales ‘round the Internet. Comcast, Yahoo, Twitter, FriendFeed, WordPress, Blogger, Flickr, Yammer, Ping.fm, just to name a few…I got ‘em all. I even got my preferred Facebook URL this past weekend. So far, the only one that has really eluded me is Gmail. Oh, I have a Gmail account, but it’s not my name, at least not in quite the format I’d like it to be. I guess I’d also like to have my dotcom, but let’s face it, having your own vanity dotcom (especially for an individual) isn’t nearly as relevant as it used to be.
I started by sending a courteous email to the owner of my coveted Gmail account and was promptly informed that he’s not interested in giving it up just yet. I have no idea whether he’s just squatting on it, or whether he’s really using it a lot. For the moment, it seems I’ve been thwarted. Where do I go from here? What do you think an email address is worth? Would you be willing to pay someone to get an email address you want? What would it take for you to sell your address, a piece of your brand, to someone else?