or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 8/30/09

   September 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MySpace for smartttI hesitated to post this question, because I don't mean to be picking on this kid. But then I thought that if the kid involves reads this, it might help him.

So with that in mind, I present this week's reference question as yet another example of how personal flippancy on the internet can affect someone's professional life.

Here's the story: an elderly woman called the desk one day, asking me to look up a company for her. She lives alone and needed yard work done, so she called a company that a friend recommended to her. They arrived to give an estimate, but she wanted to know more about the company because:

  • the crew consisted of just two kids (no adults)
  • the kids didn't write anything down, and only provided a verbal estimate
  • there was no sign on their truck, but the company's logo was on their t-shirts
  • when she went in the house to answer the phone, she saw them through the window "goofing around in the street"

So, she wanted to know if it was a real business - she was partly worried about being scammed, but moreso was concerned about kids using power equipment on her property without them having insurance.

The company name she gave me was Smart Choice Landscaping. They weren't listed in the yellow pages, so I searched for "smart choice landscaping" chelmsford, and the results were promising. One was the company's website, one was a lawnmower forum posting, and a third was a 2007 article in the local paper about an ambitious high school kid starting his own landscaping business.

So far, so good, right? Everything supported what the patron said - it just seemed like a kid taking his summer job very seriously, and had been at it for two years.

But then I clicked on the final result - the kid's MySpace page. Which is a fine thing for a 20 year old to express himself with, but since he listed the company name, I could easily see that the owner of Smart Choice Landscaping, among other things, enjoys listening to "nigga beats."

I've certainly seen worse, but this might offend some people, or at least taint his professional image a bit.

I left this out when describing my findings to the patron on the phone. She said he was very nice, and was happy to hear he's been doing this for two years, even if he was young. I suggested she ask for proof of insurance, and also get the estimate and invoice in writing - she agreed and said she was going to hire them.

But if this hadn't been a mediated search, and the patron had seen his MySpace page, it very well could have cost him the job. Again, I've certainly seen more questionable MySpace pages, but this one does, probably without realizing it, cross the line between personal and professional.



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A Brian By Any Other Name

   September 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

Did you read recently about MIT's Personas tool, that visualizes what the internet knows about you? The profile for my name looks like this (click for bigger):

Brian Herzog's Profile

Interesting, but what does it mean? I'm not quite sure. Especially when I realized it grouped all Brian Herzogs together.

Which reminded me there's more than one Brian Herzog out there. Of course, there's lots of us on MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn (but not me on the first two), and I'm following all the Brian Herzogs on Twitter, just to see what I was up to.

Occasionally I look myself up on WhitePages to remember past addresses I've had, and recently (?) they added a neat national name distribution map, to show where I am most densely populated (I'm the only me in MA). ZabaSearch links to a compilation of my past addresses - well, some of them, and some listed weren't mine (I know this is their business, but I was surprised to see it - it must come from Post Office Change Of Address forms?).

In the spirit of Me or Not Me?, I started pulling together all of the Me Brian Herzog information out there at herzogbr.net. Also, here's a few Not Me Brian Herzogs:

And finally, here's a few other name-related/internet-profile bits and bobs:

Give it a try - find out how much can be found about you and not yous.



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