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Do you need a Web publicist?

'Identity managers' act as agents, lawyers, enablers – and enforcers – for lives lived increasingly online.

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John Joseph Bachir is a programmer. He's also an amateur filmmaker. He has a blog and is involved in a series of software projects, some of which he runs. He sometimes records an audio show about odd Wikipedia entries. He even submitted a photo of penguins to Cute Overload, a website overrun with cuddly animals that make you think "Soooo cute!"

You can discover all this by checking JJB's (he often uses initials online) profile on ClaimID, one of many start-ups allowing a user to manage his online identity. Through ClaimID, Mr. Bachir consolidated information about himself available online, rather than letting a search engines decide what comes up when someone types in his name.

"My ClaimID changes with me," Bachir says. "Google doesn't change with me."

The Internet has matured to a point where so much of one's life is online that some people need methods of self-promotion and self-protection, concepts usually associated with the imagemakers of politicians and Hollywood stars. As more employers, workers, and singles use the Internet to check someone out, the idea of managing one's online presence doesn't sound so strange.

"It's a dawning awareness," says William McGeveran, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, who studies online identity. "More and more people understand the perils of self- revelation online."

Think about it: In an age where people create content on the Web inspired by the possibility of wowing millions, online identity management is a natural – if unintended – consequence. Someone's "virtual" identity can come back to haunt them.

"It's funny that today we all need an Internet publicist," says Christine Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "The Everyman's publicist."


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