I find driving through cities and towns that have experienced rapid growth somewhat disappointing. The copy-paste laziness of urban planning is frustrating and bland. In the words of Win Butler,
Took a drive into the sprawl
To find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away
The absence of some constraints (land,) and the proliferation of others (cost of living, zoning) have changed the way many cities look and feel. Urban sprawl is the default because it is the easiest option. Grow out, rather than up or in.
The modern social web is no different.
The internet was originally fairly constrained for most users. You had to have a computer, a connection, and a working knowledge of the web to create any content. The converse is true today, its impossible to avoid calls to “share” or “join the conversation”. Have you ever asked yourself, why would I ever want to “Like” the Home Depot?
We create profiles and content because it is easy. Sure I’ll join Twitter. YouTube? Why not. Yeah I guess LinkedIn is important. Tumblr is wayyyy better than Blogspot.
The initial investment of a few minutes to sign up is easy, and its the default action for most. Non-surprisingly these forays into content creation seldom get past the ‘trough of disillusionment’. Now this in itself would not be a problem if it the internet was entropic in nature. In the physical world we start and stop projects all the time. Its a natural human condition to not finish. Just take a look in anyone’s shed.
The hitch lies in the fact that the internet doesn’t have garage sales every 5 years to clean up. The information lives on, your digital stop/start’s never really go away. Most people forget they still have a Myspace account hanging around somewhere or a Photobucket account they never use anymore.
This is your personal, digital, urban sprawl.
Be creating disconnected pods of information and content across the online landscape our identity begins to fracture into various irrelevant parts of who we are. When your name (or username) is searched, the seeker may see the punk-rock loving HypeM user or the Europe Vactioner on Flickr. While these findings are non-threatening in and of themselves, both represent an incomplete picture at best.
In architecture, one solution to burgeoning urban environments is the concept of ecodensity. This approach uses strategic density to create a more sustainable living experience. Essentially, the use of constraints to your advantage.
A similar strategy would be well-served online.
By shifting from sprawl to density-focused, your digital identity contracts rather than expands. The default switches from “sign-up” to “ignore”. Strategic density increases the probability that the information you create will become the particulars that are findable, creating a more complete picture than if left to sprawling chance.
Taking control of your digital identify is not a step, its an ongoing decision framework. Creating content on a limited number of networks and sites gives you more editorial control over your search results and your personal brand.
While inherently more work, the results of a well curated online presence help shape your professional, personal and social reputation. Which, all things considered, is time well spent.