Identity is an issue users struggle with across all online communities. Perhaps one reason for this is because more often than not, online identities are a crafted attempt to attract others. While not always the case, often an online identity is an attempt to create some form of community or personal learning network rather than stand as a individualistic expression of our own identities. For example, Twitter allows us 140 characters to define ourselves and identify the community we are trying to reach. Those few characters, the avatar picture we choose and the tweets we send out are strong determinants not only of who we are, but also of how we hope others to see us. However, they are identities that may or may not be completely representative of our “real life” selves.
We create online identities with a purpose, yet virtual online communities provide the inherent flexibility and space for these identities to evolve and change. In regards to the identities employees choose in corporate online communities (such as a company intranet) Brown & Dugiud (2001) present an interesting and forgiving insight. “Work identities . . . are less something mandated by structure or dictated through culture, and more something that participation actually helps create” (p. 202). In other words, it’s the act of participating and engaging that actually verifies the integrity of an online identity, rather than the credibility of the 140 characters next to your photo.
In my first post, I wrote, “I love that I am a constant work of progress.” While online virtual communities make erasing the past impossible, they provide us with the flexibility to explore. We can change our minds, shift our focus and mingle with different networks, altering our identity with every interaction should we choose. We must acknowledge that identities are shaped by our present interactions more so than the documented accomplishments of the past. We are supposed to be changing, evolving – that’s how we move forward. In order for individuals to be willing to embrace the vulnerability of online communities and establish virtual identities, communities must present a psychologically safe space that recognizes that the integrity of one’s opinion first and foremost lies in the act of participating, rather than being “right”.