Expertise, authorship, and “real” names

Revere of Effects Measure has a great post on expertise, authorship, and "real" names. At this point, after years and years of blogs it's a shame this has to be said explicitly. The general points go like this:

  • there are many legitimate reasons to be pseudonymous in authoring a blog. I describe some of these in my 2007 post but another one is to let your words speak for themselves instead of bolstering them by using your professional reputation, that of your institution, or that of your publication venue.
  • even if you had his name, would that alone allow you trust what he's saying (Mertonian organized skepticism)?
  • people have multiple social identities - the persona of Revere != the identity the person has when writing peer-reviewed journal articles for others in his field

Some of my earliest posts on my blog complained about overly simplistic heuristics that teachers and some librarians teach for evaluating web sources. These really don't work at all for most social computing technologies. I can't seem to find these links now, but in blogs, trust is built up over time as you get to know the blogger (maybe Efimova said this in some of her earlier stuff?).

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For what itâs worth, when I started out reading blogs after a time I moved to using a pseudonym as a deliberate exercise to see if people might focus on my words rather than me.

Anecdotally what I found was that those who respected evidence had little trouble with it, they tended to look to the argument presented, but those who (seemed to) prefer authority figures (those with strong religious backgrounds or other ideological stances, for example) often would try use my "lack of a real name" as way to try dismiss what I was saying despite that it wouldn't have changed my words. Mind you, I suspect those same people would use other things to dismiss words with the pseudonym excuse wasn't available to them!

I agree about the persona thing. Although it's a real-life thing too, reflecting how you interact differently with different people, maybe it's more easily understood by first thinking of a fiction author presenting a narrator in their work. Although obstinately the "voice" of the author, everyone accepts it's a persona. (Well, most people do!) Having established that, point out that all writing really involves use of personas. All this will be horribly familiar to anyone who has written; I'm thinking of those who haven't thought it through before.