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Anonymous Coward?

Astute reader(s) may notice that this blog receives infrequent updates. While this may be of little concern to anyone who is not a spam bot (my most loyal commenters), I will explain that although not updating here, I have also a secret life as an anonymous blogger.

It may seem strange to bother to set up a blog under my real name and then not bother to fill it with blog posts. However there are valid reasons to do such a thing.

Know your audience

The great lesson of any writing or speech giving is to know your audience. That is, you should tailor your subject and presentation to the interests and expectation of your audience. In real life, most of do this without thinking. We may share a joke with friends that we would never share with professional colleagues. We may have political arguments with good friends that we might avoid with neighbors. We may discuss personal details with families that would define the term “too much information” for everyone else.

We partake of such market segmentation not to deceive, but because we are aware that different audiences have different expectations. Good friends may enjoy vigorous argument, remaining unoffended by such differences in a way that neighbors may not (because friends know each other well, they understand that such differences are only a small part of the overall person). The “naughtiness” of that off-color joke shared with friends can be enjoyed because you are aware of each other’s tolerance for offence. Personal discussions that would be acceptable for family or loved ones may be embarrassing for others with whom you are less acquainted. Colleagues may appreciate in-depth technical or professional discussions that would bore or alienate others.

The problem with blogging is you cannot segment your audience. While ninety percent of your audience may understand that a comment was mischievous humor, some may be offended. While in real life it is possible to misjudge another’s taste and cause offence, in blogging it is certain. Friends may tolerate, nay even enjoy, vigorous political debate. They can comfortably differ, where others may draw harsh judgments. I have heard many expressions of the “I would never date/employ a Republican/Democrat/liberal/conservative” attitude.

It is true that the most popular, and indeed enjoyable, bloggers or commentators are often the most opinionated. That is fine if you aim to make your living as a “public intellectual.” For the rest of us such staking your position may offend neighbors and close employment opportunities. Arianna Huffington and Rush Limbaugh have been able to turn opinion into good living, the “Philosopher Geek” not so much.

Not so anonymous, not really cowardly

The term “anonymous coward” likely originated in the technical forum and referred those who posted without a user name. However, a better term for anonymous blogging might be pseudonym blogging. It is more in the realm of a pen name than anonymous. As such, it can claim the company Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (believed to be the team who wrote the Federalist Papers, under the name “Publius”).

Because the pen-named blogger has a home (blog address) and a name (their adopted screen name), they are not truly anonymous. Indeed, the audience will hold them to account for their writings and online conduct just as they would in real life. If you shout “Fire!” from your blog, you suffer consequences for any panic caused. While the real you may escape embarrassment, the online you will suffer the same loss of trust and confidence they would in real life. The same holds for pseudonymed commenters: they (or at least their user name) will suffer a loss of trust or prestige should their behavior or comments deserve it. The worst trolls tend to be anonymous (no user name) or constantly change user names (only their style giving them away).

My “secret” blog has fallen fallow recently, so perhaps I may actually update this real blog. However, you (and the spam bots) should not expect too much.


You should not believe that I particularly enjoy off-color jokes nor hold disreputable opinions. It is merely that with a global audience any humor or opinion will find a party to take offense. The ability to write without wondering what neighbors, family, or potential employers might think is liberating. Many of the most interesting topics are also the most controversial.

Under my pen name, I achieved a modest audience (far larger than here) and made some online friends. Such communities have similar joys, duties, and expectations to their real-life counterparts.

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