Digital Identity


I have been thinking a little recently about digital identity. What does our online persona say about us? How do others perceive us? In recent years social media has become an important part of both my professional and personal practice. I love interacting and communicating with people online through a variety of channels; my blog, viagra Twitter, fb, Flickr, Skype, etc.

I have connected with people online and then later met them personally and have felt as if I already knew them really well. Other people, I have become closer to through online interactions. It’s great to feel part of a global, distributed community and I love the mix of light hearted, innocent flirting and serious academic discourse.

Now don’t get me wrong, I also love face-to-face interaction and I am lucky to have so many lovely friends and colleagues. But it is interesting to reflect on the difference between my online persona and the real me. There are just a few close friends who know me well who see a different side to me, a world apart from the out going, extravert I appear online. It is funny how online communication has become so important. It is great to get to know people through fb for example, to learn more about their personal lives, their families, the day-to-day mini-crisis we all have.

What theoretical frameworks can we used to describe the way we interact online? I feel things like Communities of Practice and Communities of Inquiry (although great concepts) are too limiting. With Rebecca Galley we recently developed a Community Indicators framework to describe online interaction, which consisted of four dimensions: presence, identity, social cohesion and creative capability.  

But there is also an interesting framework for describing ‘spaces of learning’ developed by Campbell in the seventies might be useful, which consist of four parts. The first is the cave - where you go to reflect – which for me translates into the quiet me time, when I am on my own or with friends. I used to go hill walking in Scotland a lot, I could easily go a whole day without saying a word, drinking in the solitude and tranquility, comfortable in silent companionship with my partner.  The second is the fireplace, where you come together with others to listen to stories, the voice of the expert. This for me translates into interactions with others online building stories and discourse together. The third is the mountaintop, where you disseminate to the world. This translates to announcing, communicating, stating. The final one is the watering hole, where you have serendipitous interactions. This happens all the time in fb and Twitter, you connect with new people through others; you suddenly start chatting with people online and start to get to know them a whole lot better.  

I also like Gibson’s notion of affordances and the idea that technologies have certain characteristics or affordances, which are only realised through individuals and their personal preferences. We all co-evolve with technologies, my digital environment is now very different to what it was five or ten years ago, social media have become part of my daily practice. I wonder how this will continue to co-evolve? What will my digital environment look like five years from now? What will the balance of the real and digital ‘me’ be?

6 Responses to “Digital Identity”

  1. Jay Says:

    Brilliant post to reflect on all this - whether in my cave or on a mountain top I’m not sure!

    “go a whole day without saying a world” was an interesting typo
    Was this ‘without saying a word’ or ‘without saving a world’ LOL

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Well spotted Jay hmmm will have to reflect on that! Gráinne the superhero! lol

  3. peter sloep Says:

    Like your musings! Interesting and useful to see how you try out various metaphors to capture what work an online identity does for us. Something to pursue, as you apparently have tried with Rebecca, because it may be the only way to explore this uncharted territory.
    There has been a lot of talk about online or digital identities already, I myself have asked the question of how to leverage your online identity for learning purposes. There is of course learning analytics, but takes an institutional stance (see also: My question is how you yourself as a learner could take command. I’ve written a few blog posts about this, mainly from the perspective of how to ward off the privacy threats that follow from making your online profile fully available. But also wondering how we might overcome the fragmentation problem - our digital identities are fragmented over many social networking sites - in the face of the (understandable) reluctance of social media providers to give free access to the data they have on you. My last post is at

  4. Gráinne Says:

    Thanks Peter great comments and totally agree about digital fragmentation, it’s a real issue with being online. Like your post too, have added you to my blog roll!

  5. Ali Bostancioglu Says:

    Dear Gráinne,

    I am a PhD student at the University of York and I am interested in reading your paper “Community Indicators: A framework for observing and supporting community activity on Cloudworks”.

    I am doing my research in teacher professional development through participation in online communities and I believe reading your work would be helpful for my research. However, due to copyright restrictions I do not have access to your paper at the moment. I have been trying to contact you through the formal method given on the website but I did not hear back from anyone.

    I would appreciate if you could share the paper with me.

    Best Regards

    Ali Bostancioglu
    PhD in Education, University of York

  6. Gráinne Says:

    Hi can you send me your email address please?

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