Friday, December 21, 2007

Web Branding

I made this domain name and blog instead of my previous semi-anonymous one to take charge of my online persona. Many times when I meet new interviewees or potential roommates, I google them. I didn't particularly like the mess that came up when I googled my name. One prank that a couple of my friends played on me, way back in the hay day of the internet was post a comment on a certain website falsely under my name. It wasn't offensive or anything, but it has appeared relatively high on google search for the better part of this decade. I can't seem to wipe that away. There are also one or two other Firas Wehbe's that I befriended on Facebook (and incidentally, if you are reading this, let me know if I can do anything to help out with disambiguating our collective online presence). I want to collect and curate online pointers to my name under the brand and clearly endorse those that are mine. I am planning on making a static page on the main site that lists and explains all my official and unofficial online profiles.

An intended side-effect of this effort is to keep my life in the US transparent to the authorities. I am after all a visitor, and my stay here is very much dependent on the assessments of immigration officials. My personal opinion about privacy is irrelevant and will have no effect in case one day I face the misfortune of having my name falsely entangled in something nefarious. What CAN help, though, is if I have an established, up-to-date, well-kept online presences linking me to the reputable institutions and activities that I am affiliated with.

Read here about how having a "bad name" got Hasan Elahi in trouble and how he countered by putting his whole life online. Again, I am being a realist. This is not about what I think the world should be with respect to privacy. This is about taking preemptive ownership of my online presence and making it work to my advantage rather than against it.

Elahi's site is the perfect alibi. Or an audacious art project. Or both. The Bangladeshi-born American says the US government mistakenly listed him on its terrorist watch list — and once you're on, it's hard to get off. To convince the Feds of his innocence, Elahi has made his life an open book. Whenever they want, officials can go to his site and see where he is and what he's doing. Indeed, his server logs show hits from the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, and the Executive Office of the President, among others.

PS: I found Google's Webmaster Tools to be a great resource for keeping track of who links to your domain, and how it appears to Googlebot (a.k.a. GOD). I also recommend using robots.txt and sitemap.xml files to tweak how your domain interacts with search engines. Google Analytics will help you analyze traffic sources and visitor profiles.

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