Fake biographies of MeFi users? March 18, 2002 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Insomnyuk said: "Someone should try to write a biography about a person they've never met, using Google."

Cool idea. How about doing it with Metafilter? Anybody want to volunteer to do somebody else? Might be fun to see how close it's possible to get, just based on profile page & posts in here and out front.
posted by luser to General Weblog-Related at 6:36 AM (36 comments total)

Someone should try to write a biography about a person they've never met

Historians do this all the time; the only twist here is using a single type of source material (online documents) found via a single search tool (Google). Compared with the sort of work I had to do when I was studying history, this seems rather limited.
posted by mcwetboy at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2002

If you're talking about non-public figures, I think we should avoid violating people's privacy as much as possible. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
posted by rodii at 7:04 AM on March 18, 2002

I don't think it's all that limited as a source. People do genealogy research all the time using Google as a source to find information.
And I agree with rodii, just because you can doesn't mean you should. If someone was willing to volunteer themself to be bio'd (is that a new verb?), it might be alright. But still...the people who would volunteer would either be impossible to do, or too easy. That's my guess. I don't want it done, but a biography of me would be REALLY easy using Google.
posted by jacobw at 7:21 AM on March 18, 2002

I think it would be a cool experiment, but only with the subject's expressed, written consent, and probably an agreement that the subject has total veto power over any info in the piece.
posted by jpoulos at 7:32 AM on March 18, 2002

Where's all this restraint coming from? Thanks to the work of the assembled horde at MetaFilter, I know more about Debbie Swenson of Peabody, Kansas, than I do most of my relatives.
posted by rcade at 7:39 AM on March 18, 2002

I think it would be somewhat amusing to see how my biography would turn out based upon the information I've left around the 'net. Would anyone like to have a go?
posted by feelinglistless at 7:58 AM on March 18, 2002

I don't think it's all that limited as a source. People do genealogy research all the time using Google as a source to find information.

Yes but. My point was that there is more out there than is searchable by Google. You know: public archives, libraries, private collections, land registers, census data, parish records, newspapers on microfilm. Offline stuff, the stuff that historians and genealogists use all the time. In comparison with that, Google is limited. Hardly anyone I have ever known has a web page; Googling their names turns up nothing. Limit yourself to Google and they don't exist. That is limited.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:07 AM on March 18, 2002

I volunteer ZachsMind. The guy can write some serious amount. No shortage of material. What do you say Zach?
posted by Frasermoo at 8:54 AM on March 18, 2002

I'd like to remind people of two things:

1) The whole of Google has not been written by David McCullough and Robert A. Caro. It is filled with out-of context comments by the subject and others, as well as out-of-context comments by people with the same name as the subject and others, of which you often won't be able to tell the difference.

2) There are libel laws in this country. There are libel laws in many other countries that are far more stringent than they are here. And "oops" doesn't count as a defense.

You better make sure your subject volunteers, and is willing to accept the inevitable mistakes that will be made.
posted by aaron at 9:42 AM on March 18, 2002

note to self: burn manuscript of Aaron: The Unauthorized Biography.

note to note to self: disavow knowledge of network of tunnels built in and around Aaron's household, workplace and favorite grocery store haunts.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:50 AM on March 18, 2002

You can keep the tunnel to the grocery store. I like that one.
posted by aaron at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2002

But seriously, HarperCollins just recalled thousands of copies of a book because it contained untruths about the book's subject, or at least listed unprovable allegations as fact.
posted by aaron at 10:12 AM on March 18, 2002

I just spent a couple hours of googling a random guy from my high school yearbook, and while I think I could give an obituary-style encapsulation of some of the major events in his life, I doubt I could make any meaningful connections of the sort you'd like to read in a biography. Surprising amount of contact information available, though.

posted by Hildago at 10:21 AM on March 18, 2002

I really didn't have in mind UncleFes Agonistes here, folks. I was really thinking more in terms of creative, satiric, even surreal extropolation based very loosely on posts, comments and profile info found here in MetaWorld. I see that wasn't really clear from my original post.

I mean, many of us have accumulated a picture of other MeFi'ers based on bits and pieces of assumptions and guesses picked up over hundreds of posts and comments. Sometimes the picture is grainy and shadowy, and sometimes it's Miguel.

I was just suggesting we share some of these pictures for laughs. I can see where people might get spooked by the idea, though.

posted by luser at 11:30 AM on March 18, 2002

The sluthing on the referenced MeFi post, the continuing interest in Ms. Swenson of Kansas, and the "cloudmakers" phenonomon make me think there would be a great deal of interest in an "amateur dectectives" 'blog. A moderator would propose the quarry, and the mob of googlers would start the hunt.

Not saying that this would be a good or even legal thing, just saying that you would have a mob of registered users in no time.
posted by Mid at 11:41 AM on March 18, 2002

It would be perfectly legal, as long as the information gleaned is not being sold as God's Honest Truth©.

The reason I suggested the idea in the first place is because it would make a really interesting project. You can learn a lot about a person just based on their MetaFilter posts, and the connections one might be able to make with Google (using Google just to search a specific site is my favorite use) can lead to learning even more info. I don't see how it would be illegal, since everything on the web is out in the public, it would just be a summation of the most interesting things found on the web about a certain person. Look at how much MeFi dug up about Joel Begleiter in just a matter of days. Admittedly, it will only work well for people with an internet presence, and it would work best for individuals with a large internet presence (like Wil Wheaton, or JKo).
posted by insomnyuk at 12:08 PM on March 18, 2002

I just spent a couple hours of googling a random guy from my high school yearbook

At least we know how Hildago spends his time. Although I must admit, I've never heard it called "googling" before. And careful, son, that's how viruses are transmitted.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:38 PM on March 18, 2002

UncleFes Agonistes

Hey! Is that a shot? It sounded like a shot.
posted by UncleFes at 12:41 PM on March 18, 2002

::busily punching in "agonistes" at Dictionary.com... nothing! Dang it!::
posted by UncleFes at 12:47 PM on March 18, 2002

John Milton. 1608–1674

323. From 'Samson Agonistes'

OH how comely it is and how reviving
To the Spirits of just men long opprest!
When God into the hands of thir deliverer
Puts invincible might
To quell the mighty of the Earth, th' oppressour,
The brute and boist'rous force of violent men
Hardy and industrious to support
Tyrannic power, but raging to pursue
The righteous and all such as honour Truth;
He all thir Ammunition
And feats of War defeats
With plain Heroic magnitude of mind
And celestial vigour arm'd,
Thir Armories and Magazins contemns,
Renders them useless, while
With wingèd expedition
Swift as the lightning glance he executes
His errand on the wicked, who surpris'd
Lose thir defence distracted and amaz'd.

posted by Skot at 1:01 PM on March 18, 2002

So why is it that on TV & in the movies, the high-school student hacker hero can jump on the net and gather all kinds of detailed information on the bad guy - business dealings, known associates, swiss bank account number, etc, but when I try to look up myself on the web (for my google autobiography) , all I can find is my band's web site (which needs updating) and a few of my MeFi comments. Hollywood wouldn't lie to us about the power of the net would they? No, I must have been issued a defective internet! I want a real internet!
posted by tdismukes at 1:09 PM on March 18, 2002

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
In action how like an angel
In apprehension how like a god
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals

I have of late
But wherefore I know not
Lost all my mirth
This goodly frame
The earth
Seems to me a sterile promontory
This most excellent canopy
The air--- look you!
This brave o'erhanging firmament
This majestical roof
Fretted with golden fire
Why it appears no other thing to me
Than a foul and pestilent congregation
Of vapors

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How dare they try to end this beauty?
How dare they try to end this beauty?

Walking in space
We find the purpose of peace
The beauty of life
You can no longer hide
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Wide wide wide!

[by William Shakespeare, adapted for the musical 'Hair' by James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermott]
posted by feelinglistless at 1:15 PM on March 18, 2002

Oh, I know Hamlet. And what he might say with irony, I say with conviction. "What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable. In action, how like an angel. In apprehension , how like a god..."
posted by NortonDC at 1:30 PM on March 18, 2002

Sorry. How many outlets are there for Star Trek net.geek with an English degree?

Um, relevant, relevant... So, how does net.available genealogy info make you feel about your credit card company using your mother's maiden name as it's authoritative identity check?
posted by NortonDC at 1:36 PM on March 18, 2002

Darn it rodii, I would have picked you if you were willing. But I'm sure you're right. We should let private folks stay private. Maybe it would be fun as a fiction project? Maybe it would turn into a slag fest, though, and I think that would be awful. So I guess caution should prevail.
posted by Lynsey at 3:03 PM on March 18, 2002

"Before my body I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Metafilter, And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!"

I'd be flattered if someone made a bio of me, but only if they put the results into blank verse. That's it! Epic poems of someone's life based on googled biographical details!

Even better. Let's pick some random people, google information about them, then write a play using the characters whose personality traits, histories and actions are based on our results (names changed, of course).
posted by evanizer at 3:39 PM on March 18, 2002

Someone did a helluva bio job on Miguel in a MetaTalk thread 'way back when' in the Early Days of Cardoso. I'm too lazy to find it, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:07 PM on March 18, 2002

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

No, but it does mean someone surely will. Great idea, Mid. Get in on the ground floor of that spy site: Sherblog Holmes, or something. Sponsored by Net Detective and their endlessly spamming commercial wherewithal, I can see big $$$ (Okay, little tiny $$$) in someone's pocket. Never underestimate the urge to pry.

And, with proper disclaimers...
posted by umberto at 5:38 PM on March 18, 2002

Evanizer's stool sample.
posted by ColdChef at 5:46 PM on March 18, 2002

Bio me! Bio me!
posted by anildash at 6:11 PM on March 18, 2002

My own tastes go more toward the fictional, and I've long wondered about building some sort of fake web presence for a person (or even community or town; think Spoon River) that doesn't exist.

What are novels if not fake biographies of non-famous people? How about doing the reverse thing and constructing web sites that together would amount to a biography of somebody that doesn't exist?
posted by muckster at 7:13 PM on March 18, 2002

Actually, the posts and comments of the more prominent posters almost amounts to a biography of sorts. One of the the things I like best about this place is that the minute I think I have somebody figured out, they'll offer some new detail that completely alters my perception. It's almost like autobiography thru graffitti tags or something.

Besides, if anyone bio'd me via my posts here, jonmc:The Early Years would consist of a kid in a banana costume drink Goofy Grape while repeating everything twice. Entertaing, but perhaps to surreal for mainstream tastes.
posted by jonmc at 7:39 PM on March 18, 2002

A blog for "net detectives" would be awesome. I can see a lot of people joining up to throw in what they know about the selected (person/place/thing). I can see it getting out of hand though. Imagine this becomming the equivalent of photoshopping on Fark or SA. Except that you're messing with someone's life.

*shrug*. I can see it pulling in the memberships though. I'm even considering setting such a site up.
posted by ODiV at 7:52 PM on March 18, 2002

How about doing it with Metafilter?

Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?
posted by kirkaracha at 8:54 PM on March 18, 2002

When I read NortonDC's comment it reminded me of the time I googled my name and found myself on the genealogy site of someone I am somehow related to. I thought it was kinda cool at first, but then it started to bother me because it had my full name, date of birth and my mother's maiden name. I mentioned it to someone who was into genealogy and she told me I should have just been listed as "living" without my DOB. At any rate, I told other members of my family about the site and someone must have gotten in touch with the guy, because I can't find it anymore.

I don't think there is a whole lot about me out there, but every now and then I try to look up other people on the net. It amazes me how much information I can find. Based on the little bits of information guys left in response to my personals ad last year, I was able to find their full names, addresses, places of work, photos and occasional blogs.
posted by whtsherbkt at 12:24 PM on March 19, 2002

Don't forget the ultimate resource: Amazon Wishlists.
posted by ColdChef at 12:27 PM on March 19, 2002

« Older Legal action ahoy!   |   Microcontent News Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments