RIP @factoryjoe

Twitter / Mr Messina: Oh, and in case you missed ...

Sometime last week, after two Manhattans, I decided to change my Twitter username from @factoryjoe to @chrismessina. In the scheme of things, not a big deal (yeah, okay, so I broke a couple thousand hyperlinks…). And yet, I can’t but feel like I’ve shed a skin or changed identities… at least to a specific audience.

I started using Twitter in 2006 as “factoryjoe”. Of course, this is the nick that I use everywhere —from Flickr to my personal homepage — so that choice was obvious. I essentially own factoryjoe on the web — people even occasionally call me “Joe” when we meet, such is their familiarity with my online persona. But that’s not my actual name.

When I talk in front of people and I introduce myself as “Chris Messina”, the disconnect between my real name and my online persona becomes distracting. And, over time, my motivations for having a separate online identity have waned.

But first, I suppose, I should provide some background.

Where did “factoryjoe” come from?

Every so often I’m asked where “factoryjoe” came from: “Kind of like ‘Joe the Plumber?’” “Kind of,” I say. “But not really.”

Growing up, I drew comic books for fun. In fact, for most of my formative years, it seemed pretty clear that I’d pursue a career in art. I worked in pastels, watercolor, pen and ink; I preferred pen and ink above all the others though, taking lessons from Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and others as Image Comics came on to the scene. It was a fond dream of mine to someday pen my own sequential art.
1984 PosterIn high school, I read Nineteen Eighty-Four and became enamored with the character of Winston Smith, Orwell’s “everyman” character. In Winston Smith, I found a confederate, struggling to assert his individual humanity against the massive, dehumanizing forces of groupthink and oligarchy. Similarly, I identified with Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and his struggle against homogeneity and mediocrity. The contours of “factoryjoe” began to emerge against the backdrop of the metropolitan “FactoryCity”, where industrialism was proven a sham and one’s conspicuous pursuit of passion ruled over the shallow pursuit of material consumption.

Factory City

Factory Joe was the anonymous shell in which I could plant my aspirations and designs for the future. He served as a metaphorical vessel through which I could mold a broader narrative.

So… changing your Twitter username?

In every superhero’s journey, there comes a time when the mask grows bigger than its owner. Is it the mask that provides the wearer with his power, or is it something integral to the individual?

I once believed that I needed to have a deep separation between myself and my online persona — that they should be distinct; that I should distrust the web. Over time I’ve realized a great deal power by closing the gap between who I am offline and who I am online. I suppose this is the power of transparency, developed through consistency and demonstrated integrity.

@factoryjoe was, therefore, my first go at creating an online identity for myself. A kind of “home away from home” that I could experiment with before this whole social web thing caught on.

As it happened, this was fine when I had a small group of friends who used similar aliases for themselves, but more recently — inspired by Facebook’s allergy to pseudonyms and non-human friendly usernames — it seems that not only owning your own identity is in vogue, but using your real name is an act of assertiveness, inventiveness or establishment. Heck, if you’re willing to share your real name with 150+ million compatriots on Facebook, is there really that much to be gained from obfuscating your actual name on the open web anymore (that’s rhetorical)?

So, back to Future of Web Apps… following my workshop with Dave, I took a step back to think about how it must appear for me to be working on the social web and identity technologies while maintaining this dichotomy between my offline and online personas — in name only. C’mon, when people have feedback and I’m talking on stage — who do I want them addressing? — my assumed identity … or me? The friction that I invented is just no longer necessary.

So factoryjoe isn’t going away — not entirely at least. It’s a useful vessel to inhabit and I’ll continue to do so. But on Twitter, Facebook, and on my homepage, I’ll use my real name. There is simply no longer a good reason to differentiate between who I am online, and who I am off, if ever there was.

. . .

Postscript: I’m now @chrismessina on Twitter. If we were friends before — no need to make any changes — Twitter took care of that already. @factoryjoe‘s been retired, but now that I got it back from Recordon (he was just jealous, since he has the worst username ever), who knows, maybe he’ll return someday. We’ll see!

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

25 thoughts on “RIP @factoryjoe”

  1. Wow. That’s a huge change and those thousands of hyperlinks thing is exactly why I hold on to my username at all costs. Thanks for sharing and I’ll be watching to see people still replying to factoryjoe for a while. I’m curious how many people will reference you a week, month or year from now.

  2. “I felt a great disturbance in The Force. As if a millions permalinks cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”

  3. Welcome 🙂

    From a post a couple years ago…

    Now, on to individuals.

    We will begin to make the same realizations, personally, that the companies made about their own visibility and place in the world. We’ll be realizing our own face to the world, our own identities, are now a conversation, searchable, findable (you are what you post) – and that there are most definitely reviews out there that can be read and analyzed. It is a very flat place. It’s accessible and negligibly free, a powerful combination.

    Now, there are great differences between companies and individuals, sure – culturally, financially, legally. The mechanics of how this will all go down will not be the same, but the end result – a consolidation and awareness of the “self” we project – will be identical to what business went through ten years ago. Your social networks will make sure that it’s really hard for you to have a persona online that’s any different from who you are in “real life”. In fact, what I’m saying is that “in real life (IRL)” will be a quaint colloquialism in just a few short years. We’ll look back and laugh at our simplicity of understanding and comprehension for where we were headed. In an always-on, well-connected world, our social dynamics will change a little bit – but not much. We’ve had too many years (all of them) of being social creatures to change much now. Our friends will be our friends and our enemies will be our enemies. No online or offline about it.

  4. I’ve also made the turn away from my forever-nick to my ‘real name’ (fstutzman). I’m pleased with how easy Twitter made it. My reasons were a little different (network segmentation), and chimprawk will live on. But I too grew a little tired of the cognitive dissonance of the enigmatic nick.

  5. At least you haven’t changed your nickname to a symbol not in the unicode set, it would be painful to type @the_blogger_formerly_known_as_factoryjoe every time 🙂

  6. Well … I’m really of two minds on this. I’ve been “znmeb” for a *long* time — since before the Internet as we know it. In fact, at one point I even considered putting it on vanity license plates. But:

    1. There are places that won’t accept an ID of only five characters. Once I have to go to six, I either end up as “zznmeb”, which isn’t really “me”, or using something like “boraskye” or “eborasky”. So why not “edborasky” or “ed_borasky”?

    2. There are places that “encourage” a real name, and there, I use it.

    So … I think I’m going to keep “znmeb” wherever it works, but pick some variant of my name elsewhere.

  7. Welcome to the identity revolution. Well, you are leading a lot of it, but now we know it’s the same Chris Messina.

  8. When I started out in social media – reaching out and exploring, I used different usernames. Gradually all coalescing in my abbreviated real name – Callie. Yes of course the original was taken lol. So most places I am just Calli. Or if Calli is taken I have used CallieO.

    There is a very good book on web personalities which I must dig out again – about characteristics that are exaggerated in online environments.

  9. Great post. I agree with Gary and Ryan that Web 2.0 is about building personal brand. While I think factoryjoe is your personal brand, I think they’re right it’s a better long term bet to create a brand around Chris Messina.

    The hard part is in the short term: changing your names elsewhere, redoing the blog, etc, etc. 🙂

  10. I personally find handles easier to deal with, and I like the whole “personal” brand idea that a person is represented by one unique identifier all across the web (like, Google “singpolyma”… I love how those are definitely all me).

    Still, it’s not like no one knew your name, so this won’t be terribly confusing. Actually, the worst thing is that “chrismessina” is longer than “factoryjoe”. @replies just got shorter….

    Also permalinks, but that’s partly twitter’s fault.

  11. Great post. I’d like to own the factory illustration – gorgeous.

    I’m struggling with this whole issue as I am kind of a gun for various hires – what does one do if one has to ‘be’ different people? My own [real] personality is different from all these identities (and considerably swearier). Gah.

  12. It’s nice to see real name on real people, not nicknames and avatars… Maybe something about trust from analog world. Who knows. But, this way of moving the same id everywhere makes things more easy, to track, to follow, to search, to build a background, to be. The same one.
    I’ve played a lot with alter-ego names and at the end they never described me, or I never feel identified with them.
    To be practical I began to use my real name in blog comments, chats, social websites and my email & microblog.
    Digital ID is also the unreal me in a ‘non existin-place’, the wanna be? Maybe a fashion way of seen us, showing what we like and hiding what we don’t.
    I’ll keep using my real id / name in the net, in my case it’s ok.

  13. Welcome to the new identity, same as the old identity, since I’ll always think of you as both. But I’m also a fan of real names online, and I think it’s a necessary maturation for online identity to be treated as seriously as its effects are becoming.

    If potential employers are googling your name and fishing through Facebook pictures like a journalist digging through someone’s trash, then they should be certain they have the right person. Without a solid identity layer, the web will continue to be a place where truth, fiction and simple misunderstanding around a real person can too easily blend and cause real harm.

  14. One factor, it is 2 character longer now

    It is a significant change, whereas I would have suggested cmessina or chrism if available

  15. Chris,

    Congratulations! Should I feel partially and happily responsible for inviting this move with my question about your personal brand/identity a couple of weeks ago? jejeje.

    After giving it some thought, I am also moving my twitter ID from @jose to @josearocha for my english-speaking audience and launching tomorrow.

    The SEO force be with you. Cheers!

  16. @ryan: If you go under your Twitter settings and change your username, everything is automatically migrated over. I didn’t involve Twitter folks at all in the change.

  17. Hey Chris. That’s a great post. I could actually feel the catharsis you experienced as you resolved the cognitive dissonance between the two and came to a new understanding 🙂

  18. I’ve never quite hidden behind my nick (Velmont). Because I’ve always written Velmont – Odin Hørthe Omdal. My real name is long, and it has and ø in it, and sadly, many places don’t support non-ascii characters.

    I’ve also got a problem with my name, as I think Hørthe is soo nice, but Omdal is usual. But Omdal is my fathers lastname, and many people know who I am when I use that, — so I can’t decide what to call myself in real life, in the internet world it’s easier having Velmont as the real name, and then just putting Odin Hørthe Omdal as my longer alternative ;]

  19. Real Names don’t scale as well as nicknames. I am all for disclosing real names on profile pages (Austin King here), but John Doe or Anil Gupta should have a chance to have an easily recognizable internet presence.

  20. The funny thing is, this is all I ever did until someone convinced me that I was being completely uninventive. I will admit I’m having a bit of fun with my pseudo-persona for now. But, you are absolutely correct in terms of the basic principals of findability as well as this being a growing trend. Maybe someday in the next few months, I’ll return to my roots.

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