Personas: What’s in a Name

In marketing you hear a lot about personas. Fellow Austinite Brian Massey does some great work with them for web sites.

Merriam-Webster defines personas as “an individual’s social facade or front…” 

And, Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film Persona is said to paint “an unnerving and deeply existential portrait of how we interpret others, how others interpret us, and the impact that these interpretations have upon both us and them.”

Flash forward to 2009 and the brains at the MIT Media Lab have used natural language processing and the Internet to create a portrait of your online identity or Personas

Judging by the dates on most blog posts about it, it probably launched back in August and I missed it. However, a little coverage yesterday from the New York Times blog and Guardian in the UK brought it back into my “twitterstream.”

So, what did it have to say about Laura Pevehouse Thomas? Well, to begin with, it only lets you use two names, instead of three. Since Laura Thomas is a very common name, I started with Laura Pevehouse and got this:
Laura Pevehouse

Then, out of curiosity, I went ahead and gave Laura Thomas a try. It was really interesting to watch the site run through all the Laura Thomas references it could find online:
Laura Thomas in progress

I feel in good company when I see I share my name with everyone from a conductor to a CFO, a 12-year-old actress to a textile artist, a registered dietitian to a musician, and a real estate agent to a national championship cat breeder. (was only a little embarrassed to see that one of me was available for “speeking” engagements.)

Here’s what the final Laura Thomas looks like:
Laura Thomas
Blogger Alan in Belfast described this Personas as “a little like peering inside someone’s head as they Google for you and watching them put together the connections and form an impression of your life, work, interests and online contributions.” And, I also agree with Brothers by Choice that “The color bar sort of falls flat in my opinion, and doesn’t really tell you the story in a meaningful way.”

You really can’t tell much from the images embedded here, but Laura Pevehouse is very low on “fame” and very high on “genealogy,” apparently.  Laura Thomas is still low on “fame,” but very high in “management” and “education.” Which is nicer than the “illegal” element that shows up there and not in Laura Pevehouse.

Not sure what it all tells me, but it’s a fun diversion if you’ve got a minute to blow online doing something other than Twitter or Facebook. 🙂