My split personality online

I just posted the following to my Google+ account (well, one of my accounts) at

I have a split personality when it comes to Google+ (and Twitter). I like to post publicly, but I imagine I have two distinct audiences:

  1. people who care about what my kids are up to

  2. people who are interested in the kind of work I do (Linux, code, etc.)

A handful of people seem to have an interest in both topics (and follow both accounts), but for the most part, people who follow me are looking for one or the other topic, so I post from different accounts to spare them having to see the topic they have no interest in.

Occasionally, I’ll want to post something that could come from either account. In this case, I just pick an account to post from. In most cases, the post is clearly either family-related or geeky.

I used to have different profile pictures to help me (and others) identify which account is which. The “geek” account picture was a of a computer hacker I drew years ago. I changed this with the new year, however, to be an actual picture of me. I did this partially because I didn’t want people who follow the geek account to think that I have a problem with people knowing what I look like.

Google seems to promote the idea that everyone only needs one account and would probably say I’m doing it wrong, but I think my reasoning is sound. It’s not about me, it’s about others (my “audiences” if that isn’t too strong of a word). Facebook explicitly disallows multiple accounts.

I could use Google+ the way Google intends me to by limiting certain posts to the appropriate audience, of course, but I get a lot of value out of posting publicly and wouldn’t want to lose that.

The screenshot below shows a public post from each Google+ account to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Last summer, I posted some comments about multiple identies at . (I don’t know this blogger or regularly read his stuff, but a friend does and pointed out this post.) I’ll reproduce them here for safe keeping:

Philip Durbin Says: July 13, 2011 at 3:08 am

Justin, with regard to Google, I disagree with your statement “most uses for multiple accounts are technically illegal.” Check out Google’s “Using multiple accounts simultaneously” page at . Especially compared with Facebook, whose terms of service state, “You will not create more than one personal profile,” Google is quite friendly to multiple accounts.

I tend to simply use different browsers or different Firefox profiles for my different Google accounts and have no trouble keeping everything current, but perhaps Google’s “multiple sign in” feature would be useful to you. If so, you can suggest it for Google+ at

I’ll also mention that the Google+ Android app supports multiple accounts. It’s a hack right now, but Google is working on improving the experience. See this thread I started titled “Can I use multiple Google/Gmail accounts from the Google+ Android App” for details:

Going back to Circles for a moment, I think I’ll stick with multiple accounts on Google+ simply because I’m inclined to post publicly (see Jeff Atwood’s article) and by posting publicly I have no control over the audience. The few people that care about both my thoughts on technology and my family can put both of my Google+ accounts in circles. Those few people are already used to this from Twitter (@philipdurbin vs. @phildurbin).

I’m reminded of Jeff Jarvis’s take on identity: . The post itself bothers me, but I like the comment, “There’s nothing wrong with separating personal and professional, and sometimes the best way to do that is with multiple ‘identities’. That has nothing to do with ‘being myself’ and has everything to do with respecting the time and interests of others.”

I guess I’m left wondering if anyone is getting identity “right” for your use case. Does Diaspora serve your needs? Dreamwidth? Some other software?

Justin Says: July 13, 2011 at 3:26 am

Heading to bed momentarily, and I might respond in more depth tomorrow, but a quick response to the final point: mostly not, no. Keep in mind, I am very close to this problem: I was running a garage startup called CommYou until Wave put me out of business by doing about half of what I was up to. The other half - the stuff that Wave didn’t even touch on - was working through the identity problem very carefully, pulling together many use cases and trying to get the abstractions correct. Google+ is dealing with a bunch of the rest, albeit still missing a bunch of the details yet.

So yes, I’m very critical, but it’s from a viewpoint that Google keeps coming so close to doing what I was trying to accomplish with CommYou. It makes the disappointment very sharp when (in my opinion) they miss key nuances…

Philip Durbin Says: August 4, 2011 at 10:56 am

Hi Justin, a couple things… On the subject of any software that gets multiple identities or personas right, a colleague at work pointed out that Thunderbird does this well, and I have to agree. It’s easy to set up multiple email accounts and toggle between them.

Also, in a 2010 Google I/O presentation, Joseph Smarr addressed multiple identities this way, “What if users want to keep separate profiles / friends? - That’s fine, just let them control their ‘discoverable identifiers’” - page 79 of