Rambling on Digital Personas

I think that it’s interesting to note that in transitioning towards a digital world, we are increasingly carrying numerous digital personas which affect how people contact us, how we communicate our personal media, and how we consume personalized media.

There are numerous ways to contact me digitally, and each aspect of “me” corresponds to a different way. The “personal me” can be contacted on my gmail address, my mobile number, and my personal IM. My “work me” can be contacted on my work number, my work e-mail address, my work IM, Skype, through LinkedIn, etc. And the “blogger me” also has a separate e-mail address. The funny thing is that all of these so-called separate contact methods all end up in the same place – whichever all-encompassing digital device I happen to be using at the time. Accordingly, it seems that there’s signal value in the digital method you choose to communicate in addition to the message in it. (As an aside, I can assign semi-disposable different e-mail, IM, and Skype names/addresses to different “me’s.” Wouldn’t it be great if I could do that with mobile numbers as well?)

But my digital personas affect more than just the way people reach me, it also affects how I outwardly communicate. Of course, any digital forum which I communicate directly with one individual person, the adopted persona is clear. But what about more public communications? Is the blogger me representative of the personal me or the work me – or somewhere in between? What about photos of me on Flickr? You can certainly find some work-related photos of me on it, and there are quite a few non-professional personal ones as well. Many of them were even posted by others. This leads to the question of your own online reputation, whether or not it is what you want it to be. It’s fairly innocuous when my own 12K race results from a few years back are readily accessible, but it’s another when college students’ Facebook/MySpace profiles weren’t intended to be viewed by a professional audience. Because bits have a tendency to flow unencumbered, our different digital personas don’t always have bright lines between them.

Finally, which digital persona I am wearing affects the type of information which I want to receive. A personalized Findory page works very well to customize my tech news while I am at work, but what about when I am home and want to read about sports? And my media preferences change depending on if I am consuming by myself, in a group of friends, or with my family. The media which I want to consume depends on where and “who” I am at the time. Perhaps it’s a theoretical question, but do I want one true personalized information stream or several personalized information streams corresponding to each digital persona?

In all three of these cases in the digital world, the question of “Who am I?” takes on a richer set of meaning and complexity.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by About.com where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.

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