Web Presence and Digital Footprints
A formal definition of “web presence” reads as follows: “A web presence is a location on the World Wide Web where a person, business, or some other entity is represented” (“Web Presence,” 2016). An obvious interpretation of the concept of “web presence” is simply, “being present online.” Another given definition, which I feel more accurately captures the nuances of the term, states that “web presence” is, “The art and science of being found online” (Pick, 2011). Developing a web presence is both an art and a science. Loosely speaking, it’s an “art” because of the creativity one must exercise to craft an accurate and positive presence. However, it’s also a “science” because it requires logic and strategy.
After considering this, I concluded that I’d like my personal definition of web presence to be, “the art and science of being present online.” I chose to flip the last part of the previous definition. While it’s important to be “found” online, that is more passive; it’s something that happens to you. I would prefer to define web presence in a proactive sense. A person can still achieve a strong and positive web presence without being dependent on others to “find” them.
As described in the assignment prompt, digital footprints are the “intentional or unintentional traces that you leave behind when you visit web pages, search for information, post on Facebook, tweet, shop online, or engage in similar activities.” Wikipedia (2016) similarly classifies our “digital footprints” into two categories–active and passive, or intentional and unintentional. According to this article,
“A passive digital footprint is created when data is collected without the owner knowing, whereas active digital footprints are created when personal data is released deliberately by a user for the purpose of sharing information about oneself by means of websites or social media.” (“Digital Footprint,” 2016). Clearly, our digital footprint defines and influences our web presence.
Curating Your Web Presence
If web presence is “the art and science of being present online,” than it is the sum of active and passive digital footprints that creates a web presence. In the tangible world, we “walk” where we want to be present. Digital footprints are no different–we should “walk” in the locations in which we want to have a “web presence.” What does this look like?
- The “art” of web presence requires creativity. This means we walk in unexpected places; we try out new ways of expressing ourselves, and we seek out new opportunities to learn and engage with other like-minded individuals and groups. I think this can more easily relate to “active” digital footprints. In this sense, we intentionally travel to new and familiar places on the web, with the goal of establishing a positive and strong web presence.
- The “science” of web presence requires strategy. As much as possible, a well-crafted web presence seeks to turn as many “passive” digital footprints as possible into “active” digital footprints. This requires analyzing and interpreting privacy settings, cookies, and other tracking tools, so that you become aware of all of the digital footprints you’re creating.
Passive Digital Footprints
Turning passive digital footprints into active digital footprints requires an element of digital fluency. According to Posner, Varner, and Croxall (2011), you should avoid signing up for any digital tool or social media platform “without understanding what it does with your data, whether you can maintain the privacy you want, and the conventions that govern the way the community operates” (para. 6). This “familiarity” informs my knowledge of privacy settings, and prevents “passive” digital footprints from taking my web presence where I do not want it to go.
Active Digital Footprints
Adjusting privacy settings and learning about the ways in which online behavior is being tracked can help identify when passive digital footprints are being created. However, creating active digital footprints requires strategy, too. As you curate and develop your online presence, you should consider the interests and policies of employers or future employers, or of students. Who will see your work? Who will benefit from your work? What do you want them to see?
Creating strong, active, digital footprints isn’t just about avoiding posting things that I don’t want them to see, or avoiding the creation of passive digital footprints. It’s also about curating quality work. Typos, inaccuracies, plagiarism, and copyright violations could all harm my professional credibility. Active digital footprints require attention to detail and intentionality in the content and quality of your curation. The more I strive to create active digital footprints, too, over passive digital footprints, the more you will be in control of what I’d like to share publicly, and what I’d like to keep private.
According to Richardson (2011), “transparency fosters connections and with a willingness to share our work and, to some extent, our personal lives. Sharing is the fundamental building block for building connections and networks” (ASCD). Creating active digital footprints, though, means that I choose what you share. I choose where I walk. Consequently, I have power to create a web presence that reflects as much or as little of my personal or professional life as I choose.
Web Presence for Students
According to Richardson (2011), modes of learning are changing. Richardson quotes author John Seely Brown as stating,
“these shifts demand that we move our concept of learning from a “supply-push” model of “building up an inventory of knowledge in the students’ heads” (p. 30) to a “demand-pull” approach that requires students to own their learning processes and pursue learning, based on their needs of the moment, in social and possibly global communities of practice” (para. 7).
What does a “demand-pull” model of education look like in practice? In this type of new learning environment, students use the tools available to take control of their own learning and their own work. Students develop a web presence; students actively walk into places on the web where education and their interests meet. Traditional models of learning emphasized the transfer or knowledge. Perhaps, now, “we need to focus more on developing the learning process—looking at how kids collaborate with others on a problem, how they exercise their critical thinking skills, how they handle failure, and how they create” (Rebora, 2010, p. 20). Digital tools and network literacy offer students an opportunity to take charge of their own learning, to curate a collection of their own work, and to personally explore subjects that interest them. In other words,
“More than ever before, students have the potential to own their own learning—and we have to help them seize that potential. We must help them learn how to identify their passions; build connections to others who share those passions; and communicate, collaborate, and work collectively with these networks. And we must do this not simply as a unit built around “Information and Web Literacy.” Instead, we must make these new ways of collaborating and connecting a transparent part of the way we deliver curriculum from kindergarten to graduation” (“What Students Need to Know,” para. 2).
By developing a web presence, students have the opportunity to “own” their own learning. As an educator, I should be aware of the power of online presence, not just for knowledge, but for learning.
Web Presence for Educators
Many articles focus on the “resume-building” or “image-creating” or “networking” power of a strong web presence. While those are certainly some side effects of a strong and positive web presence, I think that I prefer to conceptualize the development of my web presence as a natural byproduct of an organic pursuit of my interests.
To provide a comparison, some people will attempt to establish a relationship with another individual simply because they think that person could help get them a job. Yet, others see networking as an opportunity to get to know people who are interested in the same things that interest you; you are curious about their perspective, and as a result, you are eager to build a relationship with them. In this second perspective of networking, the networking becomes a learning process in and of itself instead of a means to an end.
I’d like to view web presence in a similar fashion. Some people will develop a web presence because it is a way to strategically support their resume or help them “be Googled better.” It’s a means to an end. Although that is part of web presence, I personally would like to develop a stronger web presence because it can become a learning process in and of itself. By being “present” in certain places online, I can access new ideas and knowledge. I can travel places online that speak to my own interests and develop my own skills.
We are continually learning, and by developing a strong and positive web presence, we have an opportunity to take control of that learning and direct its path. It’s an art: so, creatively search out new opportunities and engage with new individuals and groups. But it’s also a science: so, be intentional and strategic.
Dachis, A. (2011, Oct. 14). Establishing a professional web presence this weekend. Lifehacker. (Web log comment). Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/5850029/establish-a-professional-web-presence-this-weekend
Digital footprint. (2016, Sept. 22). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_footprint
Posner, M., Varner, S., & Croxall, B. (2011, Feb. 14). Creating your web presence: A primer for academics. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/creating-your-web-presence-a-primer-for-academics/30458
Pick, T. (2011, Oct. 11). What is web presence optimization, and why should I care? Webbequity. (Web log comment). Retrieved from http://webbiquity.com/social-media-marketing/what-is-web-presence-optimization-and-why-should-i-care/
Rebora, A. (Interviewer) & Richardson, W. (Interviewee). (2010, Oct. 11). Change agent. Education Week Teacher PD Sourcebook, 4 (1), p. 20. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2010/10/12/01richardson.h04.html
Reilly, R. B. (2014, Oct. 8). The cookie is dead. Here’s how Facebook, Google, and Apple are tracking you now. Venture Beat. (Web log comment). Retrieved from http://venturebeat.com/2014/10/06/the-cookie-is-dead-heres-how-facebook-google-and-apple-are-tracking-you-now/
Richardson, W. (2008, Nov.) Footprints in the digital age. Educational Leadership, 66 (3), pp. 16-19. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/Footprints-in-the-Digital-Age.aspx
Web presence. (2016, Aug. 21). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_presence