A lot of people ask me if they should blog under a pseudonym. They ask me because I started writing under a pseudonym eight years ago, and it ended up being such a mess that I turned it into my real name. So I advise everyone to start out using their real name. Here are the reasons why:
1. Your blog could get very popular, so plan for that. Blogging takes a lot of time. If you’re going to put in the time, you may as well do it assuming that you will gain a very big readership.
Imagine you get phone calls from the New York Times and they ask for you using your pseudonym instead of your name. What do you say? Imagine you get an inquiry from someone who might hire you and you have to explain that you are not exactly the person they’re calling. Mostly, though, imagine that when you use your real name and people don’t know who you are. No one wants to hear a long-winded explanation for a name. They just want you to use a name that works. Take it from me.
2. Blogging is good for your career, if you allow it to be. Picking a topic helps you focus your career energy on the intersection of your strengths and your interests. And really, it’s hard to blog and not become an expert in your topic. You read about the topic all the time, you think about it when you think about your posts, you have conversations about it constantly via links and comments. One of the best benefits of blogging is that it’s a great education. But how can you get credit in your field for this expertise if you blog under a pseudonym?
If you’re worried about how to keep a personal blog while you have a corporate job, check out Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion. He is employed at Edelman and is sort of inventing the wheel as he goes along. He makes mistakes very publicly, and we all learn from them, and he’s a great model for making a blog and a corporate job work together. Other examples of bloggers who have personal blogs and corporate jobs are Tim Bray and Melanie Parsons Gao (both at Sun Microsystems) or the hundreds of bloggers at Microsoft.
3. Blogging is a great way to network – if you are being yourself. Blogs are one, big conversation, so your ability to meet people and make real connections with them increases geometrically through blogging. People were very unsatisfied to hear that they thought they knew me but in fact I was not giving them my real name. And people who were just getting to know me got hung up on the name issue – they couldn’t believe that I was so well known by a name that wasn’t my name. Having a pseudonym is like having a wall up between you and everyone else. It doesn’t have to be that way, but that’s usually how people perceive it when they find out.
4. Technology can make your life feel more coherent, if you plan for that. One of the great things about social media is that we can integrate our work life and personal life so well because we can work remotely and on our own time. But this sense of an integrated life is undermined with dual identities. If you always tell people you have two names then your pseudonym will start to feel fragmented and fake. And if you never tell some people and not others then you won’t remember who knows you as which name, and you will feel inauthentic.
5. A pseudonym will not protect you from sexual harassment. It’s true that women bloggers get harassed online way more than men. Kathy Sierra is an extreme and terrible example, of course, but harassment happens in not so dramatic a way every day .
Online men pick on women because they are women . For example, Mike Arrington, a highly influential technology journalist, inexplicably insulted, the topic (knitting) of a very successful web site aimed at women. And each week I receive many comments on Yahoo Finance rife with misogynist accusations about sex and intelligence that the male columnists at Yahoo Fiance do not endure nearly as often.
But is this a reason to hide? There is a 70% chance that a knowlege worker will be harassed on the job. Women are more likely to be harassed in their office than online. Does it mean women shouldn’t show up to the office? No. Women have gotten good at dealing with harassment. Probably because it’s a fact of life. It starts when we are twelve years old and a guy whistles from a car as he drives by. And it looks to me like it never ends. We cannot stop this. At lest not today.
The best we can do is not suppress ourselves behind a pseudonym as a measure of protection. Otherwise, men get all the benefits of blogging and women don’t, and we create an all-new Web 2.0 version of the gender divide.