So this is it, I’m having a ‘blog-off’ with @clintlalonde! Not as strange as it may sound – we basically started tweeting the other night about something which we both felt warranted more than 140 character exchanges, so we arranged to post our thoughts at the same time (PST/GMT). Here goes…
A few days ago Clint changed his Twitter icon. No big deal – except that it actually was. All of a sudden this guy whose tweets I follow, whose blog I’ve read… he seemed so ‘real’, it was as though this person was jumping out of the screen. So why the impact…?
Well, until last week Clint had always been this cute kid with a pudding bowl haircut and big glasses (obviously not the Clint of now, but it was a consistent representation of Clint). I’d never questioned it – it was @clintlalonde and that was his icon. However, when he changed his icon to something which I’m guessing is more current (i.e. Clint now, as opposed to way back then), it felt more intimate and genuine. I could imagine popping over to borrow a cup of sugar or something similarly neighbourly (yeah I know we have 8 time zones between us but I’m telling a story here). It wasn’t only me that noticed and another one of Twitter friends reacted in the same way – she described Clint’s new icon as ‘trustworthy’.
So what was going on here? We used the words ‘intimate’ and ‘trustworthy’ to describe Clint’s new icon. Does that mean that he wasn’t trustworthy before? No not at all, at least I have no reason not to trust him! In my limited web-based contact with Clint he seems like a thoroughly likeable and knowledgable guy, the kind of person I could imagine getting on really well with f-2-f.
It was the impact that his new icon had on us that was really interesting; both I and our other Twitter friend responded on an emotional level – that’s the power of visual ID.
It’s something I’ve lost touch with – I’ve been so intent on establishing a more consistent digital identity after years of separating facets of my identity on the internet, that I’ve forgotten to experiment and have fun with my icon. Especially in a space like Twitter, where people come and go, follow and unfollow, it seemed important to maintain a consistent visual ID, and so I’ve been using the same icon everywhere (Helen Keegan a.k.a. Heloukee, lecturer/researcher, social and EdTech). I’ve been thinking in terms of consistency, reputation and trust, but in doing so have forgotten to have fun with my visual ID. Yes, this isn’t necessarily the best course of action when we’re trying to maintain a ‘professional’ internet self – but sometimes we feel crappy; sometimes we feel great; ID is fluid, and icons are a great way to express that fluidity, because we can send a message and induce an emotional response in others through a change in icon.
Looking back at other spaces, I’ve tended to experiment so much more. When I spent most of my time hanging out with my (imagined) Flickr community, identity play often formed a large part of the discourse. My friend ‘mr X’ is the master of identity play on Flickr, investing much time into his icon which has been known to change gradually day-to-day (the melting snow-version-of-himself was a classic, but there have been many many more). Our icons formed part of the dialogue, which was played out through notes, tags, titles – these tied in with comments, back-channel chat in groups, and of course the photos themselves. As a community, we’d change our icons at the same time for the same reasons…never planned, but we had developed shared ways of seeing in our ‘affinity space’, and it was brilliant fun! Here’s a selection of some of my icons over the years – they may look like a load of random selfies and oddities, but there has always been a story behind each one, each icon forming part of a running narrative which only made sense to a small number of people, and yet brought us so much joy.
I miss this side of my online life. I’m spending so much time being consistent that I’m forgetting to play, and ‘playing on the internet’ is awesome. I’m going to throw caution to the wind and start expressing myself through my Twitter icon… reputation, professional ID, consistency? Enough’s enough, I’m reclaiming the icon as an object of self-expression, in-group jokes and general tomfoolery. Do I feel comfortable about playing about with my Twitter ID in this way? Not sure – it’ll be interesting to play around this way in a different space…
I’m guessing this post may surprise Clint, as from our brief Twitter exchange I think he may have been expecting me to write a post about representation and reputation and the importance of having a consistent ID – to be honest, that’s what I was expecting me to write… but then this happened.
I must be really missing my Flickr life…