Sunday, June 29, 2014


Think with me for a moment about footprints.

Footprints in the sand wash away when the tide comes in. We sometimes place handprints or footprints in wet concrete to leave our mark for the future. And an old adage for those who love the outdoors is, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints."

Footprints are evidence of where we have been, what we have done. I think it makes sense then that we sometimes describe the trail we live through the online realm as our "digital footprint." But unlike footprints in the sand, your digital footprint is more like footprints left in concrete. Indelible. Hard to remove.

When I used to serve as Technology Coordinator at a K-8 school, I taught a unit on digital citizenship unit for middle schoolers. One of the ideas I shared with the kids was "the Internet has a long memory." Digital footprints, set in concrete.

Perpetual walking
Perpetual walking [Image by pulpolox CC BY-NC 2.0]

How to begin looking for your digital footprint? Google, of course! I just googled myself--just my first and last name--to see what my footprint looks like at the moment. (I have googled myself occasionally...and the depth of the tread in my digital footprint seems to change over time.) The top results were interesting:
  1. A list of Facebook profiles of people named "David Mulder" (mine was on the list)
  2. Images of people named "David Mulder" (none of them were of me)
  3. A link to an obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times (not me...I'm pretty sure...)
  4. My personal profile page at Dordt College
  5. A list of LinkedIn profiles of people named "David Mulder" (I was on there)
  6. Another obituary, this time from the Chicago Tribune (same guy...not me...)
  7. A news story about David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson tweeting each other and getting X-philes all excited (Duchovney played Fox Mulder on the X-Files. There was a time when searching for "David Mulder" online resulted in only a list of X-files-related pages.)
  8. A couple of links to news stories about an Australian "human statue" performer named David Mulder who beat up a heckler who had been harassing him (not me...never been to Australia)
  9. The Montreal Canadiens chief surgeon is named David Mulder. No relation, so far as I know.
  10. Rounding out the first page of results, a link to my Google+ profile picture.
I searched for myself using Bing,, and Yahoo, and found similar results. It was kind of interesting to see that I made the top results for each, but I'm always a little curious about how much these results are customized for me? (Perhaps not as much I as would have thought, given that so few of the top results were actually about me!) If I gave the search engines just a little more specific information about me though by searching "David Mulder Dordt"...suddenly all the top results are about me:
  • My profile page at Dordt (obvious one...)
  • A couple of other Dordt pages that mention me
  • Presentations I have given--Prezis, Haiku Decks, and links to webinars I have shared
  • A link to one student took the time to rate me. (At least it was a good rating!)
  • A Google Books link to my M.Ed. thesis (this was a surprise! I didn't know it was indexed anywhere.)
  • A link to an interview I gave to an EdTech startup where a friend of mine works.
I wasn't exactly surprised by this; I am active in the online world, including blogging and Twitter especially. Honestly, I was more surprised that my blog and Twitter profile didn't show up! This was a good reminder that what I do online stays online, and I can't necessarily control the information that's out there. Perhaps I can shape it, perhaps I can nudge the search results a bit, but much of my digital footprint is out there because of other people's interaction with the information that it comprises.

I think I am pretty cognizant of the things I do online, the information I share, the treads I leave behind. But I'm an adult. What about the teens, tweens, and even young kids out there?

It's a different world for kids growing up today. They are part of a world with expectations that they will share, a world in which their parents have been sharing about them--pictures, stories, all kinds of information--since birth, or even before birth. And as they begin sharing information about themselves, they too will be deepening their impression on the digital landscape, leaving their footprints to harden in the concrete that is the Internet's long memory.


  1. This is my fear! Whatever I put out there cannot be taken back! I can't control who sees it or forwards it onto more people.

  2. Once a year, I do a google search, and I am amazed at how many people share the same name. Several years ago, there were a few people sharing the same name, but now since social media has progressed, there are way too many people with the same name. It is something to ponder and to take seriously.