In the late '90s I was working as a producer at Yahoo! when another team in the company began working on acquiring a startup called 411, which had a free webmail service, RocketMail, which would become Yahoo! Mail.
As part of the borging process, product teams at Yahoo! were encouraged to setup an email address with RocketMail. We could choose anything we liked for our new email address. I was gobsmacked!
It seems weird to say this now, but back then, I'd never chosen my own email address before. Most people hadn't. A decade ago, email addresses weren't the commodity they are now - they were expensive to setup and maintain, and centrally managed by boring IT administrators who would rather chew off their own leg than allow you to choose your own 'serious' email address, much less a frivolous one.
So choosing my very first email address was a very big deal, and as happens anytime a new email domain is released, there was a bit of a gold rush to be the first to snap up the best email addresses. Either I'd need to be quick, or different, or both.
I decided to use creativity against other Yahoo! employees and RocketMail customers - I would think of something that would be great, but unusual. Lemme see...
Well, back in those days, when Yahoo! was still quite small, I knew nearly all of only had a few hundred employees, if only on nodding terms when passing in the hallway. At a flyspeck under two meters tall, to the best of my knowledge, I was the tallest person working at Yahoo!
Could I register "bigyahoo@" as my email address?
No, it seemed I couldn't. The RocketMail team had been smart enough to build a 'bad word' list into the registration process, so that users would be prevented from registering an email address containing, say, a profanity or a registered trademark, such as "Yahoo!"
Damn, my plot had been foiled. Unless?... Yes!
Phonetics came to my rescue. It was slightly less cool, but my friends at work knew what my new email address meant. I was bigyahu@
From there, the next few years of explosive growth in new products at Yahoo! and elsewhere meant that every few days I was registering for some new internet product or service. And every one of them required an email address as part of registration. I just kept using my 'bigyahu' address each time, and most often, when I needed a user name, I'd make that 'bigyahu' too, for some anonymity when signing up for products like, say, eBay, which were a competitor to Yahoo! Auctions.
I didn't really think about it at the time (since there were more pressing things to think about as I was working 12hr days building products like everybody else at Yahoo!) but over time, as search engines got better at indexing more of the web, as web developers got better at exposing their sites to search engines, and as I continued registering for new products using the same user ID and email address, the internet began to accrete quite a detailed personal history of me, bigyahu.
As I write this (11 September, 2008) Google returns 5,690 results for "bigyahu" and Yahoo! 8,440 (I don't care whether more results or better results makes for a better search product, that's got to be a matter of personal preference) including everything from reviews of DVDs I've watched and restaurants I've eaten in, music I've purchased, photos I've taken, videos and music I've made, businesses I've founded, conversations I've had, even (almost) every browser bookmark I've saved and song I've listened to.
Care enough about it to go looking, and you can find several generations of my family tree, photos from my honeymoon, from the birth of my son, and several first-day-on-the-job photos. You can probably find the spectacularly bad online PR mistake I made that eventually turned into positive publicity for the company I was working for. Every blog post I've ever written and almost every post I've commented on in every blog I've started or contributed to. Every single thing I've ever said on Twitter. And, of course, a bazillion web products and services that I signed up for but never really adopted as part of my toolkit.
My use of bigyahu all this time means I'm probably receiving as much spam at that email address in a day as Estonia generates in a month, but spam filters keep getting better and the inconvenience is not great enough to discourage me - I like having this online archive of my life for me and others to pick through.
For prospective clients, it's independent evidence of my broad experience of internet product strategy, my creativity, and my fluency in understanding and participating in new social media. Just search for 'bigyahu' and all is revealed.
For friends old or new, it's a great way to get to know me better. As soon as the internet arrived, I began moving my life online, and I continue to do so as the internet is applied to new areas. Chances are, if you're a friend of mine, you'll find references, comments, photos and videos that include you - we have a common history that can be found by searching for bigyahu, even if you've never added anything to the internet yourself. If that bothers you, let me know, because until I figure out how to collect a signed
Hopefully one day it'll be a great resource for any of my descendants who want to know more about who I was and what I did... at least, what I did since 1997, when bigyahu began. I was 32 then, and while a lot had happened in my life up to that point, the best years of my life were just getting started (they continue to this day!)