In the fifteen years since I became an active online user, I realize that only once did I make a drastic change in my online life — an email switch in 1999 when I canceled an online service. When possible, I try to avoid making it difficult for people to find me, as I can totally relate to the disappointment that people who call my cell phone looking for Nancy feel when they realize that I am not her. (I’ve had my cell phone number for six years and counting, but people still call for Nancy to this day.)
A few days ago, I reconnected with a very old and very good friend of mine. Since he is slightly “older” than the MySpace/Facebook generation and hadn’t discovered the appeal of online networking, I couldn’t locate him, but fortunately I was able to find him through a younger sister who is active in these communities.
When we first spoke (it was about 3 years since we last talked), I told him that if he were looking for me, he wouldn’t have had to venture far because I have the same contact information (screenname) that I’ve had since 1993 (literally). Much to my surprise, he thought I was kidding. And this isn’t the first time it has occurred to me that people won’t initiate contact with me because they think that someone else has my contact information (email address or instant messaging screenname), because for many people, it’s a natural habit to change personas or screennames and move on.
Perhaps this is the norm, but I don’t feel that way. At the end of the day, I want to be accessible. I want old friends to find me — and easily. I don’t want them to have to go on a witch hunt through my family members to find me. Even though I might have grown out of my old screenname of the early 90s (I have a great time explaining the meaning behind the name to people who ask nowadays), I still use it to avoid putting others through the trouble of locating me.
Sometimes change is relatively easy to manage — as more email services become free, you could redirect emails from an “older” email address to a newer email address. When marketing your website and you’ve chosen a new domain or brand, you can do a 301 redirect to tell your users and search engines that you’ve moved permanently. And fortunately, even with cell phones, you can port a number to a new carrier. But you can’t do this everywhere, and worse though more common, some people don’t understand the value of maintaining a thread to the past so that people can find them (they just hope you will). I use my maiden name on Facebook so that I can have the best of both worlds (even though I don’t refer to my maiden name at all anymore). Most of my married friends do not.
I’ve had clients approach me in the past about them claiming ownership of domain names we had registered for them. Their fear is that if there was any reason that we would not be able to maintain our reseller account, they don’t want to lose those domains. They value maintaining their identity.
Then, what happens if a bigger company in which you have established a succesful identity “goes down under,” such as one of the major blogging platforms (blogspot.com, typepad.com, blogs.com, wordpress.com)? When you own a domain name, you control its destiny. You can choose whether to keep it alive for as long as you wish. The cost may be higher than that of a free site, but you can reap many benefits off this practice. On the other hand, if you have a highly-trafficked subdomain off of an existing company’s site, what do you do if that company folds suddenly — how do you touch base with your audience and let them know that your site has moved? How do you expect that someone will acknowledge this “change of address” notice or remember it when they are so used to you older well-known identity? How do you cope with unexpected change in a fast-paced world?
When your company or brand is very valuable to you, make it as easy as possible to keep everything under your control. Consider the ramifications for identity changes. Make it as easy as possible for people to remember you if you believe you are worth remembering. Even if that means dropping a domain name that is “too long” in favor of one that is more memorable, keep the old one (and the new one). You never know when you might get someone who will follow up with you who wants to utilize your services in a positive business relationship that is valued at millions of dollars.