Will this Wendell?
March 31, 2007 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Should I 'sell' my online identity? Or maybe just rent it out?

Communication from another MeFite (not a lurker but not not a familiar MetaPersonality) complaining after I stopped updating my "Photoslop" photocomics has led to an interesting offer. Believing that they could do a better job of being "wendell" than wendell, this person is offering to pay me for most of the unused or under-used domains I own. But this person also wants my "wendell" persona, including the WendellWit.com blog and my accounts at MeFi and elsewhere as "wendell" or "wendellwit", believing that it carries some value in goodwill that would make the sites more successful. It never worked that way for me, but the other party thinks it's important. I could then go back to MeFi and other places with a new nick and reveal myself as "the Old Wendell" but not use anything with "wendell" as part of a username while the "new" wendell would keep their true identity totally secret. Based on a good suggestion I got elsewhere, I'm pushing for a kind of "licensing" contract that would give me the chance to take it all back later if the New Wendell turns out to be a bigger loser than the Old Wendell (which I consider definitely possible). But based on all our communication and my research on this person, I don't expect to be embarrassed by anything they'd do with my "name". (If you didn't know, Wendell is not my REAL name) This does not involve a sell-my-soul amount of money, (and the more strings I put on it, the smaller it gets) but it is tempting, partly just for the chance to 're-invent' myself while somebody else keeps my old 'name' going. But still... it's weird.

Should I make the deal? (The person wants to start at the beginning of a month, which means either Tomorrow or May 1st) Would YOU take such an offer? Are there any legal issues I should be seriously thinking about? Is this person nuts? Am I nuts?
posted by wendell to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Nope. It would take me some time and typing to articulate, but my very strong gut reaction is NO. I think you would regret it bitterly, even for a lot of cash.
posted by theora55 at 6:59 AM on March 31, 2007

Yes, do it! Take the money and carry on with your life as usual. Whoever is paying you sounds like a kook and they'll probably never get anywhere with it.
posted by bonheur at 7:02 AM on March 31, 2007

No. The person's actions could be traced back to you. Plus they sound like a nut.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:02 AM on March 31, 2007

No, I wouldn't do it.

A few years ago I ran a pretty successful writing web site and some jackass(es?) decided to take on my identity (without me knowing). Basically, because I wrote about sex and was completely anonymous (no photo on site, age, etc.), the guy(s) started passing himself off as me and picking up women. It was a freaking nightmare. I started getting emails from women who were left in the lurch wondering why I was such a dick in RL.

The police were called but, in essence, I was told that there was little I could do as there were no finances involved and no real "theft". They also suggested I could end the thing quite quickly by simply posting a photo of myself to myself which I was unwilling to do.

Though what you're proposing is obviously considerably different as it involves online life and permission, the experience was so dreadful I can't imagine any scenario in which someone could come ahead from trying it. The thing left me physically ill and I killed the project as an ultimate result and kept quiet on personal sites for almost 3 years.
posted by dobbs at 7:02 AM on March 31, 2007

bonheur could be a sockpuppet for your buyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:03 AM on March 31, 2007

myself to myself should obviously be "myself to my site"
posted by dobbs at 7:04 AM on March 31, 2007

You can reinvent yourself anytime on the internet with a whole new identity without needing to trade-in your old identity. So what's the benefit to you really?
posted by harmless at 7:26 AM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

harmless makes the pertinent point. And from the other side, I reckon that whatever 'goodwill' this potential owner might have gained from owning your online identity has been pretty much obliterated by the fact that you've posted this question, and that the handover would be public in the very circles in which the new owner seeks to garner goodwill. It sounds like a bad deal all round.
posted by chrismear at 7:37 AM on March 31, 2007

Is your wendell identity totally separate from your real name? Or would it be possible for someone, with a bit of digging, to discover your real name? If wendell can't be traced back to your real life identity at all, I'd say go for it. If it can, don't.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:39 AM on March 31, 2007

If I were considering this I would touch base with mathowie regarding his feelings on transferring accounts (this part of the discussion really belongs on MeTa...) Since membership is pretty much at His Administrator's Pleasure and he has no obligation to the terms of any deal you might make with your mystery man, it would be good to know if he would be inclined to, say, delete the account if it were transferred. I don't know if this issue has been addressed before. Obviously if he assumes the account, following the rules and not getting banned thereafter is his business.

Also, in fairness mystery man should probably know that this thread exists and that there is a very good chance that there's likely to be a lot of "that's not the Real Wendell" metacommentary attached to his activity around here. There's little doubt he will be known as the dude who bought Wendell's identity.

Beyond that, I don't see there is much to lose beyond the reputation of an online persona, the value of which is, well, a little tough to figure. The value of one's actual identity, as we know, is pretty well established, as compared to which one's purse (which if one buys it is merely trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas yours, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. Whereas he that purchases your good name buys that which not enriches him and makes you very poor indeed). Personally my persona is too deeply linked to my actual and personal identity, I would not feel confident I could sufficiently protect myself from identification with the new owner, so I guess I'm stuck with nanojath (and nanojath is stuck with Jonathan).

But for your case, I'd check those terms of service on outside accounts, check in with management here, do some worst case scenario thinking WRT the new owner (hint: if I were considering being a nasty spammy dink with someone else's identity, I wouldn't tell them what my real plans are - and regarding the escape clause, most such plans ARE made with a burnt bridges sort of policy in mind, to wit, you might get your identities back, but they wouldn't be good for much anymore, reputation being a commodity not easily restored)

If a basic question is will people think less of you personally, knowing the transaction you made, well, I would about any account on a site such as this one. We are trying to have a community here.
posted by nanojath at 7:40 AM on March 31, 2007

MeTa while I'm at it.
posted by nanojath at 7:45 AM on March 31, 2007

Umm... just because you have a funny username in a mefi in-joke and a predictable response type doesn't mean you're that famous.

Something is badly askew here.

I would say take the fools money and run.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:57 AM on March 31, 2007

if the New Wendell turns out to be a bigger loser than the Old Wendell

in your proposed contract, who decides this?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: For the record, part of any deal is that I get to be public about everything except the identity of "new wendell". It wouldn't break my heart (or bank account) if objections by MeFi (and maybe other places where the wendell name is used) killed the deal.
posted by wendell at 8:14 AM on March 31, 2007

Why not let him use your identity on a monthly trial basis?
This could lend well.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:20 AM on March 31, 2007 [3 favorites]

Don't you write for Slate under the Wendell name?
posted by klangklangston at 8:23 AM on March 31, 2007

posted by delmoi at 8:49 AM on March 31, 2007

Aren't you also an MSNBC contributor? Or maybe there is another WW?
posted by jeanmari at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2007

For example, are you also THIS Wendell Wittler?
posted by jeanmari at 8:56 AM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, jeanmari, but I haven't written anything for them since December, my 'by-line' uses my real last name, and there was always some hassle involved in using what they called my "on-line alias", so changing to my 'other' name in my writing for them or other markets shouldn't be a big deal.

And klang, I wish...
posted by wendell at 9:01 AM on March 31, 2007

Wendell is just tweaking us. Now we'll all second guess whether it's the real wendell. This will not, as they say, oh fuck it
posted by phrontist at 10:23 AM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think it would be an interesting experiment, if you could arrange a deal you could back out of at some point. My prediction is that this will not [This Space For Rent].
posted by Rock Steady at 10:38 AM on March 31, 2007

To try and channel Randy Cohen here, I feel like taking this deal would be unethical. Part of media, whether we like it or not, is in the identity as well as the substance. Van Gogh paintings don't just sell for gajillions of dollars because they're pretty: it helps that they are by Van Gogh. When a work of art turns out to be a forgery, it doesn't matter that it looks the same: it now turns out to lack something that people used to think it had.

Even if you're not Van Gogh, it's clear that you've implicitly or explicitly put your readers under the impression that the content you publish comes from a single person: you. They trust that when they read something from 'wendell', it comes from wendell. (This doesn't have to be the case: the various people who wrote Nancy Drew books all went by 'Carolyn Keene' but it was pretty clear from the outset that this wasn't just one person). So by secretly violating this assumption, you're violating your readers' trust: you'd be selling "forged" wendell.
posted by goingonit at 11:21 AM on March 31, 2007

Interaction on the web, even if it's not done under real names, is still person to person. If I was someone who was accustomed to communicating with you, under the nick wendell, I would be angry to discover that you had given that nick up to someone else without making it abundantly clear to absolutely everyone you might have previously come in contact with that that was the case--and unless I saw whatever public announcement was made, at the time it was made, I could quite likely not know. If you value, even in the slightest, the personal connections that you've made on the web, don't sell them to someone else.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:41 AM on March 31, 2007

how much $$$$ is he offering you?

also, i can envision instances where it would be worthwhile to buy someone's nick just to shut it down and stop him from posting anymore.
posted by bruce at 1:11 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wendell, are you familiar with Faust?
posted by Cranberry at 1:15 PM on March 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm sure mathowie could find a way around this if he's ok with the deal, but I recall reading that you can't ever change your MeFi password. If you're planning on just handing your MeFi password over to the new wendell, you better be darn sure it doesn't coincide with any passwords you use anywhere else.
posted by vytae at 1:31 PM on March 31, 2007

Hasn't the fact that you've let everyone in on it sort have poisoned the whole thing? If we know it's not wendell anymore, then where's the value in it for the new guy? It will just be "fake wendell."
posted by chococat at 1:59 PM on March 31, 2007

sort of poisoned the whole thing
posted by chococat at 2:00 PM on March 31, 2007

I would advise against it.
posted by dong_resin at 3:17 PM on March 31, 2007

I would advise against it.
posted by dong_resin at 5:17 PM on March 31

And just think: if someone can sully the good name of "dong_resin", just consider what they could do to you!
posted by ColdChef at 4:56 PM on March 31, 2007

The deal's not quite poisoned yet...the new wendell can just claim that they're the old wendell, and that they didn't go through with the deal...and that the guy claiming to be the old wendell is lying!

Ah well, we'll find out tomorrow I'm sure.
posted by goingonit at 7:40 PM on March 31, 2007

You're not selling your identity to this guy, are you?
posted by me & my monkey at 10:35 AM on April 1, 2007

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