August 1, 2006
L: Me (photo by Harry Zernike), R: Not Me
For a time, I believed the existence of the other Karrie Jacobs was my secret. I thought only I realized that if you Googled my name you’d turn up lots of articles I’d written, plus a handful of sites with titles like “nude wallpaper” or “great babes” that featured a woman twenty years my junior with noteworthy breasts, a pre-Raphaelite ‘do, and a look on her face that could be interpreted either ecstasy or cow-like docility.
One evening, the moderator of an event where I was speaking announced to a room full of San Francisco interior designers that he’d done a Web search to figure out how he should introduce me. He was amazed to discover that I’d been a Penthouse Pet of the Month.
Not that I mind sharing my name with a stripper–better that than another writer–but it’s strange to think that completely unrelated lives are routinely conflated by the dumb genius of the search engine. Before the Web, someone like the other Karrie would work a club or two in some other city. Our paths would never cross. But our resumés have been intermingled by Google, and I’ve come to think of her as a sort of sluttish alter ego.
A number of years ago, I had a date with an East Village lawyer. I later learned that he had done a Nexis search on me beforehand. At the time, it seemed exceptionally creepy. Now, of course, I assume every man I meet will Google me. Occasionally, I’ll even warn a new acquaintance to use a modifier: architecture, design, New York. Other times I don’t. I intentionally allow the other Karrie to be my warm-up act; fleshy she makes cerebral me seem somehow less intimidating.
Mostly I’m amazed by the rate at which the other Karrie’s citations proliferate. She used to be a mere blip, but now a search will dredge up an endless stream of www.porn-stars.spicier.com and www.foxyflix.com. The shocking thing is that a number of the sites that feature her name offer pictures of women who are not Karrie Jacobs at all, just a bevy of Vikkis and Briannas. These pages surely aren’t my pages, but they aren’t hers either. It’s like a form of identity theft.
Actually, it’s more like branding. Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Watch – a man who prides himself on being the first citation to come up if you simply Google “Danny” – argues that this proliferation of search results that have little to do with the search terms entered isn’t specifically related to pornography. It’s really a symptom of commerce. Porn sites use the name “Karrie Jacobs” as a corporate site might use “Mickey Mouse’ or “Absolut,” to reel in the Google-savvy audience. And, because I don’t have my own site, I’m letting the pornographers walk all over me. Sullivan advises me to put up my own page* and have my friends link to it. “You could be number one,” he assures me.
But the other question, the disturbing one, is what exactly is this girl doing with my name? Strippers are supposed to adopt a stage name, aren’t they? Gypsy Rose Lee. Cherry Mirage. Bunny Luv. What kind of a stripper name is Karrie Jacobs?
“Maybe she grew up on Jacobs Street,” suggests Sullivan.
“Right,” I say, “and she had a hamster named Karrie.”
I would love to ask her, but this Karrie who is everywhere on Google is nowhere to be found on Earth. Phone calls and emails to the guy who owns the domain name www.karriejacobs.net are dead ends. An email to a fellow reputed to be the Matt Drudge of porn bounces because his mailbox is full.
If life imitated William Gibson, a go-between would mysteriously emerge and my doppelganger and I would rendezvous in a picturesque strip joint in, say, Brno. But, in the end, my only recourse is Penthouse. “You need to talk to Dotty Meyer,” someone in the photo department there tells me. “She handles the Pets.”
When I finally get Dotty on the phone she says, “We’ve lost touch with Karrie over the last couple of years.” I’m disappointed, but Dotty promises to do her best. And I fully expect that, sooner or later, the phone will ring, it will be the other Karrie Jacobs and we’ll talk about…What? Hardcore XXX action? Nah. We’ll discuss the important stuff like brand equity and the potential for synergy.
*Note: This essay was written in early 2004 on assignment for Wired Magazine. It was never published. I am finally, with the lauch of this website, taking Danny Sullivan’s advice.