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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Meet the digital biographer
By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology Correspondent, BBC News

Silhouette
Digital biographers can keep your digital life up to date

Imagine a man whose entire life revolves around social networking.

It occupies all his business and personal time and keeps him so busy that he struggles to keep up with the constant messages, blog posts and photos. So busy, in fact, that he now pays someone to be him online.

Meet Thomas Power. I knew he existed after a friend told me about a man who employed an "online presence" but I did not know his name.

But then Mr Power got in touch - via Facebook - and confirmed that it was he who had hired what he called a "ghost blogger".

He and his wife started an early social network for business people, Ecademy, and he now spends all of his time networking, online and in the real world.

"People expect me to have a profile on all the social networks - Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn," he explains. "I've got 12,000 connections on LinkedIn, 8,000 on Ecademy and now 500 on Facebook.

"I get up to 500 messages a day on the networks - and that's before my e-mail. It is very time-consuming, so I have to outsource it."

Thomas Power
It's no different from a chief executive having a PR person writing their speeches
Thomas Power

So who is doing the work? Several people, including David Petherick.

He's employed by Thomas Power, and others willing to pay for him to maintain their online presence.

He may well be the first of a new profession - a cyberspace concierge, perhaps, or a blog butler?

"I prefer to call myself a digital biographer," says Mr Petherick.

Much of his work involves refining his clients' profiles on the various networks.

"Everyone has a story to tell, but most can't view themselves objectively," he explains.

His clients are realising that social networking is valuable to their businesses, and that projecting their own personalities can help.

Mr Petherick says: "If they're running a small firm, they think everyone will be interested in the details of that - but it's the personal stuff that matters. People are interested in people."

But surely the whole point of networks like Facebook is having a connection with a real person - not their "digital biographer" or "ghost blogger"?

I'll get a text message in the morning saying 'blog this'
Digital biographer David Petherick

Thomas Power says much of his online presence is the real him - but his helpers know how he thinks.

He says: "They know who I am, they are me. In any case, it's no different from a chief executive having a PR person writing their speeches."

David Petherick charges 369 just to carry out what he calls a "profile makeover" but there is no shortage of demand.

He also has clients who ask him to blog for them on a regular basis.

"I'll get a text message in the morning saying "blog this", then I'll do some research and craft some words for them."

So what sort of skills does a digital biographer need?

"You need to be able to write and also do the technical stuff," says Mr Petherick. "I can craft a sentence but I also understand HTML and Flash."

Social networking is spreading out of schools and colleges into companies, big and small, and as that happens the boundary between the personal and the professional is being blurred.

As a result, there could be plenty of work servicing the needs of people who want to be a face on Facebook but just do not have the time.




SEE ALSO
Are my online friends for real?
02 Jul 07 |  Technology
The etiquette of networking
06 Jun 07 |  Technology
Too old for networking?
25 May 07 |  Technology
How to make friends on Facebook
29 May 07 |  Technology
Hyper-connected generation rises
09 May 07 |  Technology

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