I started doing some research on search engine results and online identities this morning for a presentation I’m preparing for later in the year. Like anyone, I was interested to see what comes up when I type in my own name.
Searching ‘Andrew McNicol’ in Duck Duck Go gives many results, but as it’s a common enough name there’s nothing about me until entry 12, which points to a small article about dried papaya that I helped edit once for my local food co-op. I have no idea why this is deemed of higher relevance than all the other instances of me, using my full name, on the Internet. The next entry relevant to me is 26 which mentions my participation in my faculty’s three minute thesis competition earlier this year.
I use the Duck duck Go search engine because I appreciate its focus on user privacy. An effect of this is that results aren’t reordered for an assumed relevance to me. This helps me to see here what an average person would if they searched the same terms.
More related to me than my full name is the username ‘mcnicolandrew’ which I’ve used for various services. The first five results in Duck Duck Go relate to me.
Just over two months ago, I wrote about this new blog and how I chose ‘exhipigeonist’ as my new username for various services. At the time, searching the name in Google returned zero results! Since then I’ve blogged here a little, and changed account names on Twitter and various software forums. Right now, google.com returns 218 results for the query; Duck Duck Go returns 5. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see what happens to a username after its recent introduction to the Internet.
Google, obviously, has more thorough and/or intrusive webcrawlers. For everyday searches this makes little difference to me, but here it it valuable in giving me a picture of what my username has been doing, quietly in the background while I’m not looking. Twitter is the first result in both search engines. I’m not certain why, but it’s perhaps safe to say it’s because I had been fairly active there soon after changing my account name. My blog comes up shortly after, followed by a few forum discussions on OpenOffice.org and Linux Mint. My new website (not active yet, I’ll keep you updated) appears eventually. Twitter accounts for even more results because posts are public and are easily cached by services wanting to record conversations (I’ve occasionally participated in the weekly #privchat discussion, which apparently qualifies me to be on ‘legal professionals’ lists) or map user connections. Then I get a few more unexpected hits.
Perhaps the strangest is a post on us.hotmai.org that has copied the content of one of my entries and posted it. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that, even if they did credit me at the top. I guess it’s alright, but notice would have been nice. (Do I have trackbacks enabled? I’ll have to check.) There does not appear to be a way to easily contact the blog owner about it if I wanted to.
I also see many results from sites which appear to cache blogs which talk about Dell computers, linking to my post about my home computer setup.
Lastly, there appears to be a very specific WordPress category entitled ‘Community Paranoia Surveillance Socialengagement Unsw Computers’ which highlights a recent entry of mine as a ‘featured blog’. I have no idea how these categories are decided on and this appears more than a little odd.
Most of these hits and the order they appear are unsurprising. It’s a recently created pseudonym and it fairly accurately describes my Internet activity and relevance using this name over the past two months. What will be more interesting to watch is how these results change over time, and how easily older activity gets lost in the results pages to prioritise current activity. How relevant does Google consider temporality to be when calculating search term result order? This is what is going to be integral to my research.