masks
Creative Commons License photo credit: Wim Vandenbussche

It’s been an interesting week in blogging, with James from Men With Pens revealing herself (yes, herself) as a woman, and that “James” is a pseudonym for the blog. Sure, blogs have always had a pseudonyms or characters, successful blogs began life as pseudonyms such as Girl With a One Track Mind & Belle De Jour have been so successful that them announcing themselves as who they are is major, major news. However, there’s something a little different with this announcement.

First of all, James made the announcement out of the blue, withseemingly little pressure. Previous people had been pushed into the limelight, or trudged out grudgingly. She announced in her post that took everybody by surprise.

The second reason is that generally, in my eyes, she has nothing to hide. She’s a stupidly successful woman, who has created one of the most respected and liked copywriting blogs on the internet. Of course, these are in my eyes, and if what she said is true (and I’ve no reason for it to believe it isn’t), it’s a bit depressing the reason why she adopted a pen name, by giving an insight into her life before:-

I earned $1.50 an article. I averaged $8 a week.

I was treated like crap, too. Bossed around, degraded, condescended to, with jibes made about my having to work from home. I quickly learned not to mention I had kids. I quickly learned not to mention I worked from my kitchen table.

Taking it away from James from a moment, it truly goes against the “be open & personal to be successful” way of thinking that is abundant in the blogosphere . I’m fairly open with who I am & what I do – most people know my full name and you could probably guess it if you didn’t, but there are things a you guys don’t know about me (often the things that I’m most ashamed of, like the amount of times I’ve failed my driving test). I’m not saying that James is ashamed to be a woman, far from it, but by and large the things I hide are unimportant things in my eyes, things that I feel you don’t need to know.

What’s important to me though & my level of openness doesn’t necessarily correlate to what is important to you guys. I feel I’ve made friends blogging, but with the exception of about 10 bloggers, I’ve no idea what they sound like. I’ve got a couple of bloggers phone numbers, but even then conversation has been purely text. There are some of my regular readers who I could walk past in the street, and I’d have no idea who they were, because they keep their face hidden online. Everybody makes a choice as to what is unimportant for their readers to know, and thus doesn’t highlight things that detract from their blogs & what they’re trying to achieve online. It is possible to be successful without revealing who you are. I within the last year found out by chance that somebody I used to know from school is raking it in blogging. You’ll not know the blogger (unless you are a member of the Problogger.com forums), but he runs a network of blogs, travel the world, and generally lives the dot com lifestyle that everybody craves.

It’s not just bloggers, it’s the same with some of my friends, not being on MSN, or my dad not owning a mobile phone & drawing spreadsheets by hand. I can’t imagine it, but it’s their prerogative.

Of course, keeping secrets from people isn’t always about shame, it can actually add to the alluring mystique of a blogger. In most niches at least. In many niches it doesn’t matter who produces the content in the blogs, just as long as the content is good. Would Techcrunch be as good if Michael Arrington wasn’t writing the content? (don’t answer that).

Generally speaking, I think being open about who you are is a factor in online success, because for one it’s far easier to trust a face. It’s remarkable what James has achieved in a field whereby you need to be seen as much as possible. It’s a minor detail, and I will lose all faith in humanity if she loses readers because of revealing her gender, but this story has proven that sometimes what you don’t say can be just as important as what you do.

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