Will We Know it When You Leave?

    February 1, 2007

Someone I met on the Internet went M.I.A. He recently turned up again, to explain he had been in a serious accident in which he suffered a life threatening injury.

He wanted to let the people in our group know he was still around, but his priorities had definitely changed. His Internet business was no longer taking center stage. His life and his family were more important now.

For a long time I’ve pondered the Internet and how it has changed my life. I marveled at being able to type conversations to complete strangers via AOL in 1995. Back then, it was rare to use your real name. My name was “Dancing Thunder” and I loved it. For years I was affectionately addressed as “DT”. My mom joined an email list I belonged to, and even she referred to me as “DT”. She’s always been very cool.

Today, we don’t hide ourselves as much. Rather, we experiment with avatars and re-creations of ourselves in SecondLife. We may be a brand. Our identities may be closely blended with what we do, sell or write about. It’s as if we are one with our creation online. Off the Internet, we are a person. On the Internet, we are a book, website, company, blog or a forum.

Who really knows us, when we are a book or a brand? If someone were to quiz you by a name association game, what would you say jumps out at you as your first thought for people you only know from the Internet? Would it be something that person wants to be remembered for, if they are remembered at all?

What happens when someone we know only on the Internet dies?

Will we even hear about it?

Who will tell us about you and your fate?

Years ago, I had a new moderator who came on board to help at Cre8asiteforums. Not long after, after not hearing from her for a long time, her husband finally took the time to explain to me that she was in a bad accident. He had taken the liberty of handling her email and realized she was missed by us. He may not have known she was helping us.

Does everyone in your life know where you might be missed?

I often wonder about forums. Some have been around a very long time. I’ll never forget the shock of learning that Jim Wilson, of JimWorld and Virtual Promote had passed on suddenly. His popular forums continued on, shaky at first, with an emotionally devastated staff. I later was to have the benefit of one of them, Diane Vigil, come to spend several years helping Cre8asiteforums to grow. I like to think a small spark of his vibrant energy now lives on at Cre8asiteforums, thanks to her contributions there.

When we start something online, such as a blog, website or forums, we don’t often have any idea how long it will last. We don’t know how long we will want to do this thing we start. What if we want to quit? Some of my friends are doing this now. They have started things online and are now moving on. They just say goodbye and we are left with questions.

At Cre8asiteforums we sometimes get this question. “I want to start a forum. How do I get people to it?”

My question for them, that I never ask, is “Do you have any freaking idea what you’re getting yourself into?” Forums are a commitment, no different than parenting. It’s an every day job. No vacation. No holiday. Sometimes, little sleep. And, it’s a labor of love for most of them. Most forums are not revenue models.

When you create something that lives and breathes on the Internet, how many years do you expect it to live there? Will it outlast you? Will you get bored and leave it and if so, how do you pull the plug on yourself?

What do you leave behind nowadays?

A dozen years ago, no one would have thought that an obituary would have website URLS in it. Today, you can search on people and read what they wrote and find where they wrote it. Your pictures are on the Internet. So is a map to your house. And yet, if you were to suddenly disappear from forums where you post regularly, would someone think to ask what happened to you?

I’ve been asking questions like this because I’m noticing some things I don’t like about where the direction the Internet is going. There is an extreme presence of ego. There is an odd new permission that it’s acceptable to be unkind, even to people you know. Advertising is drawing in user generated content. Some of it is hilarious and amusing. Not all of it is about the product however. The incentive for user generated content is to be seen.

It’s as if everyone is so fed up with being invisible and unnoticed that they’ll resort to any kind of tactic to be recognized and validated.

If you think the Geico commercial cavemen are doing it for Geico, think again. It’s far cooler to be known as a caveman right now. Advertisers are not stupid. They love and appreciate human ego and especially, vanity and greed.

How did it happen that the Internet, which conveniently makes it possible for people from around the world able to talk to each other, has suddenly made everyone insignificant unless they do something spectacular online? You haven’t made it unless you have been Dugg, spoofed, videotaped, sued, or gossiped about online.

Do you want to be remembered for the video of you naked or photo of you doing something stupid with your friends or for the time you wrote something half-cocked in anger, posted it and were unable to take back your words?

On the Internet, you never really know for sure what anyone will do next, or if they will even be here tomorrow. I wonder how many give thought to how they want to be remembered. How many have plans in place for their web property if they meet a sudden demise?

I find myself thinking about the man whose life threatening injuries caused him to return to the physical world, to people he can see and talk to in person.

I question the connections we make online and the differences they may be from those we make in our personal lives off-line. While saying goodbye to a search engine marketing friend recently, he kissed my cheek as we hugged our farewells. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. It was a surprise gesture and not one I’m used to because the majority of people I correspond with are people I type to everyday. I never hear their voices. Never shake their hand.

It just felt so good to feel a human connection.


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Uability Consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of UsabilityEffect.com, Cre8pc.com, and Cre8asiteForums. Her background in organic search engine optimization, combined with web site usability consulting, offers unique insight into web site development.