“I was reminded of a scene in the second series of The Thick Of It, where Peter Mannion, an old-school Tory MP, is told by his Steve Hilton-style spin doctor that he needs to start embracing the internet. ‘Have you ever tried Googling your own name?’ he asks. ‘It’s like opening the door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are.’ I think this nicely encapsulates the relative merits of Googling yourself: namely, that there are none” (from an article by journalist Bryony Gordon, Daily Telegraph, February 29, 2012).
Last year, the actor Dominic West let it be known to the mass media that he regularly Googles himself and was reported as saying: “I like to have chats about myself with people – mainly putting forward the case for the defence. I use my own name but nobody ever believes me”. I have never worked out why it is such a social faux pas to Google yourself and why it is so derided. I’m quite happy to admit that I regularly Google myself, and that I probably do it more than most other people. In my defence, I am regularly interviewed by the print media and I like to check on what gets reported (particularly as it’s not unknown for me to get misquoted or for my words to be taken out of context. In an article published in the Online Journalism Review, Patrick Dent writes in defence of egosurfing:
“If you are a Web professional – whether an online instructor or journalist, Web developer or marketer – you should be aware of your presence on the Web. And perhaps more importantly, the existence of Web namesakes. And if you are active in the job market, being aware of your nom-de-plume’s cyberexistence is crucial. You should be aware of any nefarious deeds or ill impressions Internet namesakes may be performing… This all goes to illustrate that searching for your name on the Internet is more than the self-serving, vanity endeavor that the label ‘ego-surfing’ implies. Beyond being an interesting exercise, and yes in some cases stroking your ego, it is a prudent – if not downright necessary – activity in today’s Web-aware professional world”.
As an academic, being cited by others is something that is seen positively. As of this morning, I had 14,564 citations on Google Scholar (which for the non-academics reading this means that my papers, articles and books have been cited 14,564 times in other papers, articles, and books). Googling myself is just another variation of seeing how I’ve been cited and I do not think there is anything wrong with it. I suppose I just like knowing about the digital footprint I am leaving online. According to the entry on Wikipedia:
“Egosurfing (also referred to as Googling yourself and less frequently called vanity searching, egosearching, egogoogling, autogoogling, self-googling, master-googling, google-bating) is the practice of searching for one’s own given name, surname, full name, pseudonym, or screen name on a popular search engine in order to review the results. Similarly, an egosurfer is one who surfs the Internet for his or her own name to see what information appears. It has become increasingly popular with the rise of internet search engines, as well as free blogging and web-hosting services”.
So, there you have it. According to Wikipedia’s definition I am officially an egosurfer. The same article also claims that the word ‘egosurfing’ was first coined in 1995 by Sean Carton (who’s written many books about online technology) and then featured in a March 1995 issue of Wired magazine (although the Wired definition of egosurfing is more encompassing and says it is “scanning the Net, databases, print media, or research papers looking for mentions of your own name”).
According to a short 1999 article in the British Medical Journal by Professor James Drife, looking yourself up online is “arguably the naffest way of coping with boredom”. Professor Drife’s whole article was a simple account of what he had found by Googling his own name. By doing so, he claimed to have expanded his horizons, and “strengthened [his] belief that the world is not quite ready to do without paper. Nevertheless, universities could be making plans to judge academics on their internet hits and the response rate”. (Something that I believe is already happening and is one of the reason I like to egosurf). Exactly the same thing was carried out by JoAnne Lehman, one of the editors of Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources and published in 2004. She also listed all the things she had discovered egosurfing and concluded:
“If there’s a point to my telling of this story here – beyond the desire to promote a woman writer’s work – perhaps it’s about the satisfaction of connecting with kindred spirits, and how those connections can be made in surprising ways. Oh, and maybe that Internet surfing, even the ego kind, isn’t necessarily a waste of time”.
Writing about ego-surfing appears to be a popular way of writing an article not just in academic journals but also in non-academic publications such as the national press. Bryony Gordon (the journalist I cited at the beginning of this blog) wrote that:
“Now, I am not Dominic West (Hollywood star; 5,030,000 Google results in just 0.18 seconds). I am Bryony Gordon (newspaper journalist; 431,000 Google results in a glacial 0.21 seconds). But I don’t think it matters whether you are a world famous actor or Joe Bloggs; the fact remains that Googling yourself is a dangerous and egoistical exercise that will never end well. The best case scenario for Joe Bloggs is that he finds nothing, thus making him feel like a nobody; the worst that he finds a group of his mates bitching about him on a social networking site. Ditto, on a good day the likes of Dominic West will come away from a self-Googling session with an even bigger sense of self-importance, on a bad one with a miserable neediness that their agents and lackeys will have to pull them out of. As Reese Witherspoon says, ‘it’s an affirmation of every horrible feeling you have about yourself’”.
Articles in Tech Crunch (by Duncan Riley), and Tech News World (by Katherine Noyes) reported that 47% of Americans had Googled themselves based on a study carried out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (up from the previous study in 2002). Using a telephone survey, the study sampled 2,373 adults (of which 1,623 were internet users). Only a very small minority (3%) Googled themselves regularly (and there was nothing on excessive self-Googling). The main reasons given for egosurfing were (i) for entertainment purposes, (ii) as a means of online reputation management (which is probably the category that I would fall under), and (iii) self-promotion and maintenance of a positive online reputation (e.g., locating online inaccuracies and ‘data spills’ and correcting them).
This is certainly an area worthy of further empirical investigation – even if it’s just to examine stereotypes around the kind of person who ego-surfs.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Dent, P. (2000). ‘Ego-Surfing’ derides valid, prudent activity. Online Journalism Review. Located at: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1017964102.php
Drife, J.O. (1999). Egosurfing. British Medical Journal, 318, 203.
Gordon, B. (2012). Google and be damned. Daily Telegraph, February 29. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9111193/Google-and-be-damned.html
Lehman, J. (2004). From the editors. Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, 26, ii.
Nicolai, T. Kirchhoff, L., Bruns, A., Wilson, J. & Barry Saunders, B. (2008). Google Yourself! Measuring the performance of personalized information resources. Proceedings Association of Internet Researchers 2008: Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Place, Copenhagen, Denmark. Located at: http://en.scientificcommons.org/31968134
Noyes, K. (2007). Pew study: Self-Googling on the rise. Tech News World, December 17. Located at: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/Pew-Study-Self-Googling-on-the-Rise-60810.html
Riley, D. (2007). Do you use Google for vanity searching? You’re not alone. Tech Crunch, December 16. Located at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2007/Do-You-Use-Google-For-Vanity-Searching-Youre-Not-Alone.aspx
Wikipedia (2012). Egosurfing. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egosurfing