Writing about the internet is no excuse for not doing your research

The internet didn't start in 2010, you know.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

One of the most irritating things about people who write about internet trends is that, too often, they confuse “when I first became aware of a thing” with “when that thing started”. I was once told by a fellow journalist that I couldn’t possibly have been on Twitter in 2006, “because it only started in 2009”.


Here’s another classic of the genre:

Caroline Calloway is a 26-year-old from Falls Church, Virginia, with over 850,000 followers on Instagram. She is famous for something that didn’t really exist until a few years ago: a personal brand.

That was written last year.

Meanwhile, a decade ago:

Personal branding means to package yourself into a commercial property that can be applied to various products (think cartoonist Hugh MacLeod promoting tailored suits and wine) or across a variety of platforms (think Scobleizer on Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.) Personal branding in the context of the Internet essentially comes down to Web celebrity in micro-niches, mostly geek related.

We were certainly talking about personal branding in the blog-centric pre-social media age of the mid-2000s. It was certainly pervasive enough that students were asking about it in the late 2000s, and Sarah Lacey was busy pouring cold water on the idea:

In the last year, a lot of college kids or journalists young in their careers have asked my advice on becoming a brand, and I've told them there's no quick and easy hack to get there. It takes time, long hours, and consistent work of merit in your field. Brand that hits people fast, usually doesn't last. It's like building a house; it needs a good foundation. In my case, I worked for ten years as a boring, daily-grind business reporter, heads-down focused on producing good work, with nary a picture of myself on the Internet. Hype will come and go-- and I'll use it to my advantage when it's here-- but I always have that foundation.

So, basically, do your bloody research, OK?


internet culturepersonal branding

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.