Science fiction, fantasy, & horror - web design, graphic design, interactive media development by greententacles
Even Luddites who've never posted a single word to the Internet will be surprised by the number of times their name shows up on some official roster or list of commendations, immortalizing them in the digital flotsam of cyberspace without their ever being aware of it.
For those who are net-savvy - and prolific contributors to the World Wide Web - the amount of information increases a hundred fold. The urge for the wired individual to explore this virtual dandruff is strong, and grows stronger as they publish more stories, have more of their work reviewed... or launch their Web site. There's a term for this - it's called "Ego Surfing", when a person sets out specifically to find what mentions of their name or company can be found on the Net.
As a writer whose work primarily appears online, I've been ego surfing for years, and I've found it to be gratifying, a little surprising, and occasionally horrifying.
So why the heck would you want to do this? There are several reasons:
Ultimately, it all comes down to this: awareness. People are out there talking about you, your business, or your products (or all three). It's in your best interest to find out what they're saying, to act on what you can, and to take note of what you can't.
Ego surfing is not rocket science - if you can navigate your way to a search engine, you can do it. But there are a few tricks that let you do it better.
The easiest place to start your ego trip is Google.com - just head over to www.google.com, type in your name, and hit "Google Search". If you haven't been particularly prolific, you'll probably see a handful of search results (unless, of course, you have one of the aforementioned net clones, a person who shares your name and is far more visible online than you are).
In my case, this turned up 2,110 results. Neat... but most of them are entries that I'm already aware of because they're part of one of my personal sites, either for my webzine Nuketown, my RPG campaign site The Griffin's Crier, or some iteration there of. I want to know what other people are writing about me, so I need to lose this static.
Anyone who's spent a similar amount of time pontificating online will have this problem, and the best solution is to head over to Google's "Advanced Search" link. This form's much more extensive than the typical Google one-fielder, but it provides the sort of control I'm looking for.
My initial search, for "Ken Newquist" was interpreted by Google as: look for any Web page including the words "Ken" and "Newquist". That means that a few pages into the search results I'd start seeing variations on my name - like "John Newquist" or "Ken Angler, Vice President, Paul Newquist, Secretary" Advanced search lets me avoid this by specifying the exact phrase "Ken Newquist", which will then only return results matching my full name.
Advanced search also lets you specify the domain to be searched... or to prevent a domain from being searched. In my case, I know I've got a boatload of entries tied up with Nuketown, so I prevent any search results including Nuketown.com from showing up. My resulting search reduces the number of responses down to a far more manageable 318 responses, which I could winnow further by including the domains of other sites I already know about.
Another neat Google trick is to use its "link" command to see how many sites actually link to your Web site, rather than just how many mention you. To do this you type "link:[url of site]" into the search field - for example, link:www.nuketown.com, which returned 237 results.
Once you've exhausted Google, there are a few other possibilities to try. First, it's a good idea to try a couple of other search engines, which may turn up different results. I like Alltheweb.com (which I've found offers quite a few results that Google doesn't), Altavista.com (which nicely organizes search results into categories) and the venerable Yahoo! (mostly for nostalgia's sake, though millions still use it regularly, so it's good to keep track of it). I also used to like NorthernLight.com, - it did a great job of self-organizing search results - but unfortunately that search engine has fallen on hard times.
Googlism is a neat little utility that's puts a different spin on the Google search engine. Instead of returning lists of pages with your name on them, Googlism tries to define you as the search engine sees you.
For example, when I type in "Ken Newquist" I get "ken newquist is responsible for the design of the web site" and "ken newquist is nuketown's editor". Both true. Doing a search on "nuketown" revealed these gems: "nuketown is coming", "nuketown is a very well done webzine of speculative fiction" and " nuketown is a monthly speculative fiction webzine published in Easton". It would be nice if they included links to the quotes that allowed Googlism to build its definition, but even as is its good for an amusing search or two.
Market Leap's Link Popularity Tool gives you an idea of how many sites are linking to your domain, and how your site rates when compared to its competitors.
You give it the url of your site, add in a few for other sites in your genre, and the site generates a report listing the popularity of your site in relation to a few dozen benchmarks and the competitor sites you added. My search for Nuketown revealed a total of 2,611 links from 5 search engines. Unclebear.com, an RPG zine that's been around even longer than Nuketown.com, had 3,631 links. By way of comparison, the SWFA.org (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association) had 96,871 links, and SCI-FI.com had a whopping 423,959 links
Market Leap's Link Popularity Tool http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop