Should I blog under my real name?
February 24, 2008 9:14 AM   Subscribe

To be, or not to be? The benefits and costs of blogging under your real name. Is it worth it?


For the last several years I've been blogging using a pseudonym (guess which one) but am considering establishing a new blog using my real identity. I recently moved overseas and would like to start writing about political and economic developments in East Asia (something I have a background in) using my real name.

What are some of the pluses and minuses of blogging openly?

Thankie thankie,
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Minor anonymous blogger here. Great question.

One advantage to using your name would be to build a name for yourself in your area of interest. If political and economic issues interest you, this body of sustained commentary and analysis under your real name could be parlayed (along with your background) into more substantial involvement in those fields in the future. A news source would be more likely to link to or approach Dr. James Orin Incandenza, for example, on a given issue than HotDog777 or whoever they think is behind Put a name and a Dr. and a nice clean design and a nice black and white thumbnail headshot on there and suddenly you're Somebody, not Anybody. People listen to Somebody more than Anybody or Nobody.

It could also make you make sure your game is tight and your commentary is well thought out. If you're just HotDog777, you could be lazy or slack or not cite sources or even post stupid or nasty stuff, because who will ever track it back to you? This way you have a built-in editor.

That same thing could be a downside if you want more freedom or want to be more casual or want to develop a tone and persona online that's different than the normal you.

Another downside might be harassment by people who disagree with you, possibly including any governments over there that are less tolerant of criticism (meh). A fixated troll would also have substantially more Google Power over you if they decided to seek you out and set you straight on your views or undermine you by dragging other info from your life into your blog.

I googled "Blog under your real name" and found some thoughts that might be helpful. Plenty more where that came from. I'm sure this has been covered a lot. Probably you could also find stuff in regard to use of social networks vs. not using. Some of the same issues are involved there.

Hey, Rex Sorgatz (if that IS his real name!) of makes no secret of his identity. That dude is totally visible. He has contact points and identities for various sites posted in his contacts section (though he used to have more, I think... that might be worth asking about), travels all over the place, tells people what he's doing, and invites people to contact him wherever he goes. He posts here once in a while so maybe he could be persuaded to comment on this.
posted by Askr at 9:51 AM on February 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Minor blogger, under my real name.

I like it because it gives me a sense of responsibility for my words, and also because it gives whoever might be reading my blog a good idea of my interests and preoccupations. But I don't blog about my personal life at all, only different types of intellectual wankery, so YMMV.
posted by nasreddin at 9:56 AM on February 24, 2008

Hi James,

I think I might be able to answer this one. I am a political science Ph.D. student and have been blogging (and as you can see, doing everything else) under my own name for a few years now.

The major benefit is social networking. I cannot tell you how many great people I have gotten to know entirely because I blog. Under a pseudonym your connections with people only go so far. That is, they can't develop into a true (in person) relationship. Someone might love your idea on x and wants to work with you or meet you at a conference, but can't because you are using a pseudonym.

A secondary benefit is that blogging is a great extended resume. In political-science-speak, it is a "costly signal" to employers that you are a knowledgeable in your area of expertise (since you write about it everyday).

posted by chrisalbon at 9:57 AM on February 24, 2008

I agree with what's been said, just make sure that too much transparency isn't a worry in your field. I'm going into law, and since attorneys work with the most confidential of issues in many instances, that keeps me from blogging (or posting) under my real name. It doesn't matter that I would never post anything confidential (or even intensely personal), it's the tendency toward public disclosure that employers don't like.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:04 AM on February 24, 2008

I've gotten a lot of opportunities by blogging under my real name, mostly related to writing for pay. Mind you, I rarely talk about me, instead I talk about things. Since this sounds like what you're doing, it'd be a good fit.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 10:09 AM on February 24, 2008

Why would you blog not under your own name, if you have something interesting to say? The networking benefits can be substantial, no question.

I would go so far as to say that every single blog I read regularly is an own-name blog, or one which is not coy about the identity of the author; and what's more, every one, to a significant degree, is a spin-off from the blogger's main occupation.
posted by londongeezer at 10:52 AM on February 24, 2008

Response by poster: Great advice, keep it coming.

Before moving to Taiwan I was working in Washington, DC where I specialized in US/Taiwan/China political/economic issues. It was important to my employer(s) that staff not write on these topics in order to ensure organizational cohesion on policy. As such, I kept my personal views on some of the issues to myself, blogged under a pseudonym, and kept the content light.

I left DC about two months ago and moved to Taiwan to study Mandarin for a year before I enroll in grad school. I think that blogging on these subjects would help me further hone my opinions, keep me up to speed on developments, and further expend my knowledge base (that’s why I moved out here after all).

That being said, I also worry about pushing up against the ideas and stances of former employers. But I suppose keeping the posts as objective as possible and reinforcing them with reputable citations might alleviate that problem a bit.

This is becoming very therapeutic – I think I should go ahead and do it. Please continue leaving feedback – especially on things I may not have thought about yet…
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza at 10:58 AM on February 24, 2008

I wanted to chime in again with a subtle, but important point.

When you blogs under their own name. You are defining themselves in the minds of others as an "expert on x" that just happens to be working at institution y rather than "knowledgeable on x BECAUSE they work at institution y".

The point is that expressing your knowledge / opinion in a topic highlights your individual expertise, rather than your institution's expertise. For example, I care about what a USAID spokesman says because he is speaking for USAID. But, I care what Chris Blattman says because he is Chris Blattman. This individual expertise is transferable to articles, books, new positions, etc... and thus has value.
posted by chrisalbon at 11:38 AM on February 24, 2008

Ugh.. I need coffee.. The first sentense should read:

"When you blogs under YOUR own name. You are defining YOURSELF in the minds of others...."
posted by chrisalbon at 11:48 AM on February 24, 2008

I blog under my real name. I also own three of the top four Google results for that name. If someone wants to find me, they can.

The topic about which I blog is one which, for some people, has a social stigma attached to it, and while it's not exactly deserving of that stigma, I recognize it exists. However, I haven't suffered professionally as a result. I work in a somewhat conservative environment, too. For what it's worth, there's only the most minor of connections between what I do for a living and what I write about on my blog.

Because I blog under my real name, I put a lot of effort into making sure I don't say anything particularly offensive or controversial. At the same time, I don't apologize for or downplay my passion for the subject about which I write. In other words, I show restraint, but I don't overdo it. I feel like I get more protection from having confidence in myself than I would lurking in the shadows. After all, if I'm not doing anything wrong, why act like it?

The biggest problem I have is that the topic about which I blog (anime, if you're curious) has an obvious seedy side, and while I don't have any personal issue with that seedy side, it's not something I wish to openly acknowledge in print with my name attached. This does have an impact on what topics I write about, who and what I link to, and who I (openly) associate with. I also have to keep a close eye on reader comments. Thankfully, my readers are a pretty classy bunch.

Anyway... advantages? I've had a few readers come right out and say that they respect the fact I blog under my real name and, as a result, take what I have to say a bit more seriously than they would if I were writing under a pseudonym. Also, I seem to have less trouble with trolls and other anonymous riff-raff. And, of course, blogging under my real name helps keep me honest; it requires that I think carefully about what I post and gives me extra incentive not to act like an ass.

Disadvantages? Obviously, there's the stigma associated with the topic on which I write. And there's the fact that blogging in and of itself is seen by many as a pursuit not really worthy of time or effort. If they even understand it at all, that is. And, as I described above, if I show any recognition whatsoever to the seedier side of my hobby, it would be easy for someone to get the wrong idea, especially if they're the easily offended sort. Finally, I sometimes get a bit defensive when others invoke my name of reference me on their own blogs (or elsewhere) when writing about subjects I don't particularly care to be associated with.

So far, I've found the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, even if it does require a little more work and involves a little more risk. If you're not willing to accept that extra work and extra risk, I'd advise against blogging under your real name, but if you feel like you can handle it, I say go for it. A little bit of confidence and transparency goes a long way in the world.
posted by jal0021 at 12:22 PM on February 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have always found blogging under your name more credible; you do not have to be the expert in that field but when you blog under your name there's actually more sense of responsibility.
posted by the_dude at 12:38 PM on February 24, 2008

You can never assume people won't figure out who you are, so you shouldn't blog anything you don't want identified with your real name. I think this is an argument for using your real name -- it reminds you not to write as if you were anonymous.

I sort of split the difference between these options -- my real name isn't mentioned on my blog, but I link to my professional page, things I've published elsewhere, and other places that identify me. In this way I keep my professional materials appearing high on Google searches for my name, as opposed to my blog, which for me is just a hobby. If you want the blog to be the first hit for your name, I think you should put your name front and center.
posted by escabeche at 12:40 PM on February 24, 2008

Medium-sized blogger in a business niche. I use my own name because the point of my blog is to get business and build my reputation. I also comment under my own name everywhere but here.

As others have pointed out, using your real name encourages you to be professional, thorough, and diplomatic. I don't bash other vendors (I barely mention them at all), I never identify clients, and I never refer to a project in a way that a current or past client could recognize. I also don't identify past employers, although someone who leaves my blog and digs deep into my business site could figure them out. Finally, I almost never refer to my personal life except an occasional mention of a hobby or whatever to make me human. The blog is 100% focused on its business topic.

I've had such a great response that I'm turning down work and am being invited to speak (paid) at national conferences. Use your real name!
posted by PatoPata at 12:45 PM on February 24, 2008

I have two blogs in two languages on random stuff under my real name. (I don't write about work much, though.) But even that has netted me some good contacts with people who have similar interests, people who I could probably call on to help me out if I look for a new job. I have also received some additional good press online from people writing about issues I care about, people who have found me because of what I have touched on in blog entries.

As long as you remain aware that everything you write about may be scrutinized heavily, I personally think that the benefits of using your own name to blog would outweigh the negatives. The primary benefit is that you get to control the view of you online, at least if you make a bit of an effort to promote your blog a bit. Just be aware that you might have an upwards slog in becoming a top tier blogger on your subject of choice, there are lots of good blogs out there on your topic.

For most of my more relaxed online persona, though, (i.e. gaming, metafilter, digg, slashdot, etc.) you would have to dig pretty hard to find me if you only knew my real name. But I always assume that people would be able to connect everything I do online with the RL me, and act accordingly. There are almost always ways to make the connection if you are good enough at digging, and I think that you have to keep that in mind if you decide to use your pseudonym.
posted by gemmy at 12:48 PM on February 24, 2008

I'm surprised no one mentioned, which has entered the lexicon: to get dooced is to get fired for blogging about work. Just be aware if you are blogging about work-related things under your own name. The original doocee explains it here. She's also a good writer & Web developer, which is cool.
posted by RussHy at 12:54 PM on February 24, 2008

Oh, and from my perspective, as long as you don't imply that your opinions are in any way representative of the official policy of your former employers, you are pretty safe. I appreciate that you want to keep that in mind, though, and you might consider making that caveat in your blog profile/about page, just to cover your own back.
posted by gemmy at 12:57 PM on February 24, 2008

Response by poster: :)
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza at 12:59 PM on February 24, 2008

I have a disclaimer on the bottom of every page:

"The content available on this blog is solely the opinion of its respective author(s) and does not represent the opinions of their employers."
posted by chrisalbon at 1:06 PM on February 24, 2008

I used to be pretty strict about separating "languagehat" from my offline identity, but eventually I realized it was helping me get editing work, and merging the identities was likely to be helpful rather than the reverse, so I did it and have had no problems. Each situation is different, YMMV, etc.
posted by languagehat at 1:51 PM on February 24, 2008

It's not unheard of for people residing in countries that don't protect freedom of speech to do jail time for things they have written. This might get to be a problem if you are blogging about the country you are living in and get to be known there, depending on what that country is.
posted by yohko at 8:16 PM on February 24, 2008

I used to blog under my real name and unfortunately attracted a few stalkers (men showing up places they knew I was going to be, etc.). My gay brother blogs under a pseudonym but a lot of people know what his real name is and he has had stalkers too. As a straight male you might not have these problems.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:46 PM on February 24, 2008

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