More Publicity = Less Privacy

Following up after a recent speech I gave to his group, one attendee contacted me via email and said that while networking online sounds interesting, and even possibly effective, it can also have some downsides if legitimate information being exchanged between the online networkers can get into the hands of “undesirables”. He was very concerned about privacy issues in the context of networking online.

I decided to prove a point to him that if you want to become well-known in your field, to Get Slightly Famous, then you have to accept that your life is going to become much more public. Now, I’m no private detective, and definitely not a hacker, but within five minutes, I knew his address, his phone number, his approximate age, his income bracket, two former employers, the position he held at them, and his bosses’ names there.

Have you typed your phone number into Google lately? Odds are it produces a map to your house. Or your name and city? Unless you’re unlisted (and have been for some time), it produces your phone number, address, and a map. Now, you can request that this information be removed from Google, but that same information is still available on dozens and dozens of other sites, each of whom has to be contacted individually. If you have your own web site, your address, e-mail, and phone number are most likely available to the general public. Once they’ve got your address, many local property tax authorities have all their records online, and people can find out who owns the property you live in.

And that’s just if you haven’t tried to be in the public eye. If you’ve been prominent in your field, your name is probably scattered across dozens, if not hundreds, or even thousands of Web sites. Now, maybe not a lot of personal information is in those references, but the names of your former employers, college, and even high school very likely are. Combine that with the information above, and you can see that unless you’ve been a hermit, your life is already probably more public than you realize.

Given this, you have three possible choices:
a) Don’t worry about it at all.
b) Do everything you possibly can to protect your privacy.
c) Strike some sort of sensible balance in which you take reasonable, low-effort precautions and just get comfortable with the rest of it.

I choose option (c). For me, one of the keys to making peace with this is to realize that none of this information really ever was private in the first place – it just took a lot more work to make the connections. Reverse telephone books were around for years befor the popularity of personal computers. CD-ROMs with that capability were first published in the late 80′s, shortly after the invention of the CD-ROM. Other records have been available at the courthouse or the public library for anyone so inclined to go find it.

The second key was knowing that even as easy the Web makes it to find out personal information about me, it’s just as easy for them to find it out about someone else. It makes me no more likely to be a target than anyone else.

And the third key was to understand that it’s just as easy, if not easier, for criminals to target you in the real world as online. If they want to know when you’re home and when you’re not, they’ll case your house, not try to learn what meetings you go to online. In most cases of credit card fraud, the numbers are stolen by store clerks, not hackers.

Once you’ve come to terms with these limitations on privacy, here are some simple steps you can take to maintain a reasonable degree of privacy:

  • Protect your Social Security Number. There is almost never a valid reason to give it out online.
  • Make sure your home phone is unlisted with your local phone company.
  • Don’t list your home address, home or cell phone numbers in online résumés or other publicly viewable Web sites.
  • If you’re job hunting, especially if you’re currently employed, you should seriously consider whether you want your résumé on the large job boards like Monster at all. If you do post it, be sure to date it.
  • If you office out of your home, get a post office box and use it for your business correspondence, domain name registration, etc.
  • Don’t mention your spouse or children by name in a public forum.
  • Use forms on your website for visitors to e-mail you,rather than direct links to your e-mail address.
  • Use a different e-mail address for public postings than you use for private, trusted correspondence. This is commonly known as a spam-catcher.

With a little effort and thought, you can protect your personal privacy while still maintaining a highly public personal business presence.

Review: Topica

Topica is the primary competitor of Yahoo Groups as a provider of free turn-key email newsletter and online discussion group solutions. Their clients range from multinational media companies to individuals publishing news about a hobby or interest.

Their flagship service, Topica Exchange, is a free email publishing service serving more than 70,000 individual publishers and delivering 100,000 newsletters and online discussion groups on topics as diverse as Java development news, bargain shopping scoops, and pointers for working parents. Topica’s paid newsletter service, Topica Email Publisher, offers a comprehensive publishing, ad serving, and delivery system for professional publishers.

Over 12 million people subscribe to Topica-hosted newsletters. Readers can control their subscription options (subscribe, unsubscribe, vacation hold), find old email content with a newsletter directory, and start newsletters of their own.

Yahoo Groups has more lists by a large margin, primarily because of its association with the popular Yahoo portal. One of the most useful features of Yahoo Groups is that, when you search for a group to join, the groups are sorted by number of members. This allows you to isolate the largest and most active groups. Topica also doesn’t offer file sharing, databases, polls, etc. – this is purely for mailing lists.

However, Topica has fewer ads than Yahoo Groups does; for example, when you visit message archives you see only non-intrusive banner ads instead of full-page ads. In addition, the Topica interface is generally slightly easier to use. Also, the smaller number of lists may actually make it easier to find good lists for you by not sifting through numerous defunct or low-membership lists.

Besides joining existing lists, creating your own list (if you don’t already have one) can be a great networking tool. Topica’s unobtrusive use of advertising and clean, simple interface make it an excellent choice for setting up a personal or business mailing list at little or no cost.

Common Objections to Online Networking

Many people complain that they want to network, they need to network—but they simply do not have the time, the knowledge, the money, or the personality. We address below some of these common objections:

A. I have no time!
We sympathize with this complaint. We would all like to network more, but of course we all have obligations to family and work that keep us from attending every party and participating in every online forum that we find interesting!

The primary remedy for this problem is effective time management. Imagine you were on the bus and saw someone throwing a dollar bill out the window once a minute. You would never do such a crazy thing, correct? However, that is exactly what you are doing if you are wasting time. If you do not relate to the degree of importance of even a single second, we suggest that you ask an Olympic sprinter about the value of even a hundredth of a second.

In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote about the difficulty of doing Type II activities, which which he defined as those activities which are important but not urgent. Networking is like exercising or doing your taxes; you can delay and procrastinate and postpone and reschedule, but in the long run the task must be done. The longer you wait, the more difficult the action becomes. As your waistline becomes flabbier, your Rolodex will grow skinnier.

B. I don’t know how to use the computer!
For 80% of our readers, this is a non-issue. You are already familiar with all of the terms and procedures in this book; nothing that we discuss here requires a particularly high level of computer literacy.

For the 20% of our readers who do not feel comfortable with our computers, we refer you to Carol Teten, who is rapidly approaching senior citizen status. Carol is one of the world’s leading experts in historical dance. A few years ago, she decided that she wanted to become computer literate. She hired a teenager in her neighborhood to tutor her for $10 per hour. With hard work and his help, she rapidly progressed from a computerphobe to woman who spends hours on the web running her successful and profitable online business, DanceTimePublications.com. We assure you that if someone with the handicap of little computer experience can reach that level of proficiency, then all of our readers can do the same.

C. I don’t have the money!
One of the biggest advantages of online business networking is that it can be exceptionally cheap. You can rapidly become a highly visible online networker for under $20/month by following the tips and principles we advocate at TheVirtualHandshake.com.

D. Not sufficiently extroverted
Many people are hesitant to become aggressive offline networkers because they complain that they are not extroverted enough. However, part of the beauty of online networking is that it is very easy for people who are nervous around crowds, or not particularly articulate, to become highly effective networkers.

Review: The Square

TheSquare.com is an online network by which students and alumni of many of the world’s leading colleges and universities reach out to one another for work, romance, news and information. Thousands of members get job listing, lists of private events, personals, alumni sports news, and commentary.

The user interface is clean and easy-to-use. The model is not limited to the internet; TheSquare has local chapters in cities nationwide, which primarily organize social events. Their main revenue streams appear to be corporate advertising (primarily recruiting) and classified advertisements (primarily personals).

The primary attraction of TheSquare is exclusivity: one can network primarily with people who share with you a brand-name educational background. If you want to increase your exposure on TheSquare, just submit a well-written article about almost any topic in which you have expertise; you can likely persuade them to feature it. In addition, the site’s job listings are, as you would expect, of very high quality.

Membership in the network is open to alumni of the following schools: Amherst College, Berkeley, Brown University, CalTech, Cambridge University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, INSEAD, MIT, Northwestern University, Oxford University, Princeton University, Stanford University, Swarthmore College, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Wellesley College, Williams College, and Yale University.