Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Googling yourself

If you Google yourself, what do you find? Way back before Google even existed, when Alta Vista was displacing Yahoo as the best place to start your searching, when I searched on myself 95% of the hits were me, because of all my family, I was the first to start making an Internet presence. I was active in Usenet, the editor of a few FAQs, I had published software for several platforms as freeware, I had roleplaying games online back when a web-published RPG was a new idea, and many other presences.

Over the years, others who share my last name have crept in, including a few semi-famous ones -- a congressman in one case, a Hollywood scriptwriter with some Trek episodes to his name in another, and a manufacturer of some kind of health or skin care product, as well as a number of smaller ones. If you search on just my last name, I no longer even appear on the first page of hits, where just a few years ago, I had more than half of it. But include my first name, and the resulting hits are about half me, including the first few hits. Throw in my middle initial, which I've always included in my name since junior high, and it winnows down quickly -- about the only other hit I saw in a recent search was an obituary for someone born in 1932 with my name. (Or, I suppose, I was born with his name.) But the vast majority of hits are still about me.

Of course, Siobhan's even easier, as she has my rare last name plus her exceedingly unusual first name. She might be the only one with that combination of names on the whole Internet, still.

In the past there've been a few times I wanted to find someone I once knew, but if you know nothing about the person's current life situation, you have little to go on but their name and maybe a guess about what career they were likely to end up in (which is very often inaccurate), or what state they might live in (ditto). So it all depends on how unique the name is. Someone named Adam Gross, or David Levine, no hope of finding them unless one of the hits happens to be screamingly obvious, and that's very unlikely. But someone named Abernathy Devereaux means good odds of finding them, especially if it's an Abernathy Devereaux who you know would be likely to have a strong Internet presence.

When attempts to find someone fail, about all I can do is hope that they think to find me, since I'm a lot more findable than them. That's just what happened a few days ago.

Back in Juneau, Alaska, Siobhan and I set out to form a roleplaying game group by putting up posters in the usual haunts. When the first few inquiries we got were from kids still in junior high, we didn't think much about it -- we'd started only a few years later than that ourselves. A few of them stayed in our group, actually became its backbone, all through the time we lived in Alaska. About when we were thinking of moving away is when they were reaching that age when girls, and sports, and the other occupations of teen life, were pulling them away from the group. After we left, we really had no way to keep in contact with them. We had a visit from one of them quite a few years later, at a time when he and a girlfriend were wandering the country on the bus paying their way with spare change, but soon after that, we lost touch with him too.

Sunday night I got a myspace friends request that I very nearly dropped into the spam as so many others from bizarre names that are probably spam. But at the last moment a name caught my eye. It was a very ordinary name, but familiar. I decided to go check it out and sure enough, it was that kid, now very firmly an adult (!) but still recognizable in his photo. We'd tried to find him and the other kid that stayed in our group, but both had very common names and it got us nowhere. (There was a third with a more unique first name but we couldn't remember his last name; he'd only been with us a short time before his family moved away. More about them tomorrow.) But he'd thought to try to find us, and we turn out to be very easy to find. So we're back in touch with him through his myspace page, even spent a couple of hours on the phone with him, getting adjusted to the idea that he's now just as much of an adult as we are -- a ten year gap that used to be a world of difference is suddenly much less important.

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