People who actually know me recognize the image to the left as my avatar. They might not know what it is, but they know they see it across many of my various profiles and instant messenger accounts. It’s actually the screenshot of a Voki character that I created—a little bald dude with headphones in front of a baseball, surrounded by a fireball. It’s meaningful to me because I was the Director of Consumer Products at Oddcast when Voki was launched.
“I began to use it a bit here and there around the web as I set up new profiles. But by no means was it the only profile picture I used. For corporate oriented services like LinkedIn, I'd use my Union Square Ventures headshot. For social nets like Facebook, I'd use a regular headshot. I used a photo of me taking a photo on Flickr for a long time.
But then I started to realize that the Wallstrip avatar was becoming my online identity. People would comment about it all the time. Around the time we sold Wallstrip, Howard asked Jenny to do a real painting of it which I now have in my office at Union Square Ventures. It's a real conversation starter.
Sometime in early 2008, I just decided to go with it everywhere. It's at the top of this blog and everywhere else I have an online identity. It's my online brand now.”
One of his commenters agreed: “thats how i recognize the Fred Wilson brand online.”
The key here is that, by making our online interactions personal, Fred and I are creating a brand for ourselves that has real business ROI. Followers of my blog and my Twitter account know that I bike, play softball, and kayak. They’ll joke with me about my taste for heavy industrial music, and they don’t mind so much the occasional snark I use in my writing, because when you deal with me professionally, you get Charlie O’Donnell the person, not just the resume.
It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that I think of my online presence as my most important business asset—and that I conduct a lot of important business through these casual and personal channels.
That’s also why, more and more, LinkedIn is becoming less of a place of business for me, and more like a static rolodex. At the end of the day, LinkedIn just isn’t a place where I want to spend much time. I don’t engage in nearly the kind of interesting back and forth that I do on Twitter or on Disqus comments either on my both or that of others. It’s just a well connected rolodex of over 1300 of my best contacts… but in the grand scheme of things, I’d rank it a distant fourth in terms of my most important online profiles behind my blog, Twitter, and Facebook.
So when I got notified that not only had LinkedIn removed my avatar, but had revoked my photo privileges, I was pretty stunned. They told me that “as a professional networking site” they give users the opportunity to upload a photo to assist other members in recognizing me.
Actually, I don’t need photos to help others remember who I am—because I only connect to people that already know me… and tend to know me pretty well. If you just saw my bald head at a conference and that’s all you have to go on, I’d rather you didn’t try to connect.
On top of that, LinkedIn’s language of photo “privileges” and giving me an “opportunity” is a rather interesting choice of words for a site that depends on its users’ content and active use of the site to upload their contacts to produce revenue. If anything, LinkedIn should be thanking me for the privilege I gave it to monetize my network, instead of reprimanding me for improper use of the “opportunity” it gave me like I was a child. Furthermore, who are they to tell me what acceptable professionalism is online? Clearly, over 1300 people find me acceptably professional. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t connect to me. How about removing all of the privileges of random people who don’t know me and try to connect.
I’ve been an active user of LinkedIn for years—advocating its usage and teaching about it up at Fordham. There are lots of things I wish it did—like helping me actively monitor relevant changes in my network or having better group tools. One problem I did not have, nor did anyone else, was too many people putting up avators or corporate logos as their image. It’s not a complaint you hear about Twitter—that the site is unprofessional because people don’t use their real pictures. LinkedIn may not care about how people conduct business now online—it’s making too much money selling access to my profile to recruiters. However, things have changed. More and more people are gathering in more friendly, social places online around common interests outside of their career and getting more business done like that than on a buttoned up resume site. Policing photos and reprimanding users that other users want to connect to shouldn’t be a priority for LinkedIn if it really wants to be the kind of place that up and coming professionals want to spend any time in.