Google+, the pseudonym banstick, and the netizen cultural schism.

As we all know by now, Google+ has a policy of only using real names (real world identities) in profiles. And they’re enforcing that policy with a big lumpy banstick.

This is causing much angst, a lot of gnashing of teeth. However it seems that the technorati, as well as the Googlers (and Facebook before them) are unmoved by the arguments, and sincerely puzzled by the outcry. What’s the big deal? Just create another profile, for crying out loud.

The big deal is that we are having an identity related clash of values, I think, between two very different kinds of heavily engaged online people:

  • Integrated Identity: These are people who live online and offline with the same personality (including the Technorati because in fact their unified identity is their bread and butter), and
  • Separate Identities: people who keep their online and offline worlds quite separate, not for duplicitous reasons but because they are in many ways two people; the online person and the offline person.

The integrated identities tend to work in the web 2.0 universe. Silicon valley seems to be the cultural center of this. They meet the same people online and offline; people who have startups, tech bloggers, money guys, opinion leaders of all kind. Their identity is their primary asset, it’s got their reputation attached to it. To them, it’d be mad to have a separate online and offline identity, and seems kind of sinister; what reason could you have to split your reputation, really, other than that you are trying to hide something?

But the separate identity people are actually part of an older tradition (and yes this environment is old enough to have an older tradition). It’s the tradition of the Handle, and it comes from back when computer networks were esoteric, back when using them was a marker of class. Back before Eternal September. I think that culture began because the people you’d meet online (be that bbs, or compuserve, or whatever) were exactly people that you’d rarely meet in real life; that was the beauty of the networks, that you could meet interesting, intelligent people who you would never otherwise have access to, but with some other, better kind of proximity; shared interests, shared tastes, shared culture at some level.

I feel like the people lucky enough to live and work in the exciting geographic centers of the web 2.0 world, who do mix with the same people online and off, who all “get it”, are missing that the great majority of us live in a very different world. The types of people with a pseudonymous online life tend to live, I think, in geographical environments very unlike their online worlds. These are conservative, sleepy parts of the world, where the normal people they meet in everyday life, the family members that they love, the work colleagues they go drinking with, are largely clueless about and uninterested in the online world.

Separate Identity netizens aren’t participating in online life as an economic activity, or for networking per se; it’s really purely social. They are doing it for fun, for connection to other people who get it, for self expression. To that end, a Handle is a badge, a marker to say “I belong”. It also communicates something about the online personality (probably often as distinct from the offline personality).

There is no doubt that Separate Identity is also about keeping the identities separate, hiding one from the other to some extent. And there’s a continuum here, between people who use a pseudonym for self expression, and those who use it for far more serious reasons (like hiding from abusive stalkers, or so they can speak candidly about people in their lives, or to protect themselves from discrimination in their communities or workplaces).

I personally go by my real name, but I’m sympathetic to Separate Identity, and still partially am a Separate Identity person. Offline I’m Emlyn O’Regan, online I’m Emlyn, the virtual person. I tried using handles in my very early engagements with the online universe, but found I was too lazy to keep it going; I decided instead to make my own name into my online “brand”, let the worlds clash where they will, and deal with the fallout as it comes.

It turns out that’s been a really good decision. I was in a better position, when the web 2.0 social network storm hit, to just let loose and not worry about these issues, than many of my pseudonymous friends. But it’s still difficult. A google search on my name will dredge up a long google shadow, and while that might be cool in the context of my netizen status, to folks embedded heavily in RL it can be something that asks questions and engenders suspicion. What’s all this weird stuff he talks about online? Why does he spend all this time doing unpaid technical stuff? What’s with the weirdo anarchist/socialist tendencies?

Now I’ve chosen to just wear that stuff, and let it act as a real life filter. If you don’t like my prodigious output on frivolous social networking sites, and choose not to employ me for that reason, then maybe I’ve dodged a bullet (ie: maybe you make foolish decisions and would have been a shitty boss). But my choices are unusual.

More common in my experience is that people choose to hide parts of themselves from their real world contacts in order to live the life they want to live. Maybe you decide not to let your family know of your anarchist tendencies? Maybe the tell all blog about your relationship is something you really don’t want your partner to read? Maybe you need to discuss your atheist convictions, but not have that connect with your deeply conservative, christian employer?

For many netizens, Pseudonyms are just a way to separate concerns, to keep distinct namespaces. Forcing people to collapse these identities into one may seriously damage this, and probably end up diminishing their lives. This is especially true for those who treasure their online identity more than their offline one.

Also, many long time users of pseudonyms have serious reputation capital invested in their pseudonyms. Forcing them to rename themselves is flushing this down the toilet. It’s also potentially breaking their own relationship networks; if they are only known by the pseudonym, it might be very difficult to reestablish those ties. Certainly in the Buzz community, a crowd of google cheerleaders and fanbois, the move to Google+ has been a mixed blessing, as the banstick wreaks havoc and maybe permanently damages the fabric of the community’s relationship graph.

Something else that Google (and other Integrated Identity techies) might want to consider is that people will continue to use pseudonyms. You might try to enforce real identities, but people gain value from their nicknames, and will find ways around your restrictions. The same thing applies to a large social network that applies to any large information system in which end users are being forced by policy to do something against their interests; they will rebel against the policy and fill the system with garbage, garbage that better aligns with their interests. In a work monitoring system, for example, you get stuff like bogus hours worked, weird job codes. In a social network, you’ll get real looking fake identities, and a culture of breaking the system for the lulz.

One last point for integrated identity people: you are the minority. Separate Identity is not the weird old past of the net, it is the present. The most switched on online people are Separate Identity. Look at the gamer communities and the persistent use of handles. Look at the Mommy Bloggers. Look at old email lists and usenet groups. The only subcultures that I can think of that are committed to real identities online are

  • the late adopters (“your grandma”), the people who hate computers and wouldn’t be here if they weren’t forced.
  • people who use LinkedIn (and that’s not really a subculture, just a reflection of the work world)
  • the silicon valley web 2.0 people.
I know you guys want to change the world. I do too. But you need to absorb a truth, and that is that the Separate Identity culture is here for a *reason*. Its benefits far outweigh its drawbacks. On the internet, no one knows you are a dog, and that’s a really good thing.
You want to help people rebel against tyrants? Talk openly about their thoughts and beliefs and fears? Connect with new people, learn new things? Imagine and discuss and create a new and better world?
Then embrace the Separate Identity. It’s the right thing to do, it’s the good thing to do. And who knows? You guys might need it too one day.
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Google+, the pseudonym banstick, and the netizen cultural schism.

56 thoughts on “Google+, the pseudonym banstick, and the netizen cultural schism.

  1. Very concise and thoughtful post on a subject that is far more important than a lot of people give it credit for. In essence this subject is about the right to use this new(ish) medium as we see fit, not as we are told.
    Separate Identities are not going to go away, ever, so G+ will have to decide if it wants just that Wallet Name part of society or, potentially, all of it. If they go for the part, they will ultimately fail, I think.

  2. Jim says:

    They are not forcing realnames. You can call yourself Anna Smith for being anonymous and noone will ever know or care.

    1. Little says:

      Jim, you’re not getting the point. No one knows me as Anna Smith, but hundreds of people know me as LittleMousling. Calling myself Anna Smith would mean giving up or, at best, woefully confusing all of the people I’ve met and want to stay in contact with.

      The idea that LittleMousling isn’t a “real” identity is idiotic; I’ve used it for a decade and pretty much everything I’ve ever thought is googleable under it. Abandoning that history for Anna Smith would, in fact, be doing what Google claims they’re afraid of: creating a completely false identity. LittleMousling isn’t false; it’s just different.

      1. Jim says:

        You can always specify your well-known nickname as your alias in your profile. I don’t see any reason to be upset about this.

        1. Little says:

          Except that I use LittleMousling, among other things, to write explicit fanfic. There are about a million reasons I don’t want to share that name with my family or my coworkers.

          1. You’re not going to convince Jim. That’s clear. There are people who simply do not understand the reasons behind Separate Identities and he’s clearly one of them.

            1. Little says:

              That’s probably true, but I tend to follow the “for every Jim there are a lot of wavering lurkers” theory, and I don’t like seeing Jims go unrebutted. (That said, I didn’t do a terribly good job of it; luckily, others have, here and elsewhere.)

          2. Jim says:

            You can create a separate personal account for adding your family and coworkers with your real name and a second pseudonym account under the name “Anna Smith” with Alias “LittleMousling”, which will never get banned.

            Google will shortly launch business sites and pages for “brands”. LittleMousling is undoubtedly a brand, so if you want that name to appear prominent and not as Alias then wait for that.

            1. George Orwell would sign you a copy of his complete works.

              You simply don’t get it, not because you can’t but because you don’t want.

              Google claims that if you put a name that is not yours in your profile, you are breaking their terms of services. Those second accounts of yours would thus be falling Google’s alleged terms.

              It is very simple: if Google wants to track all my online activity on their websites, then I won’t use them anymore.

              This is not idle threat, I left Yahoo after many years when it became patently obvious they could not deliver the service they were promising.

              Google is abusing its position, and they do so at the peril of angering users that simply don’t want to be spied upon to such degree.

  3. Oreouk says:

    Excellently expressed. This is an area that only marginally affects me but that I still believe in strongly as I have many friends with pseudonymous online lives and this is the most clear explanation of why it’s important that I have read. I also find it entertaining that one of the early comments on how to defeat the pseudonym ban is to set yourself up using a pseudonym. A policy that will encourage people to break it, indeed.

  4. What might seem a strange analogy is this:

    In parts of the world, people are very concerned the “export” of what some are calling American Mental Illness. There is the notion (with apparently some truth to back it up) that the west is slowly exporting its own concept of psychology into developing countries. But many of those cultures already have their own mental framework for dealing with situations such as anxiety, depression, or what the west would see as schizophrenia. They also have states of thinking that don’t have an analog in say, American culture, or British culture, in the same way that some languages have words which elegantly express a concept that is awkward in other tongues.

    The result is that there is growing unhappiness in some places, as people are told “We know better, this is how you should think and be healthy”, because some of their traditional solutions do work. Because not every pool of culture is the same. The needs are different.

    Singling out Web 2.0 culture with regards to the issue of identity online is IMHO getting closer to the root truth behind this controversy. The silicon valley culture is like its own singularity and people do live inside a kind of bubble. The problem comes in that such an insular culture is creating the web framework for the rest of the world.

    They are trying to force *psychology* and a vision of how to approach being social that can only be assumed “superior” in a very specific set of circumstances. They don’t seem to get it. Some technorati don’t get why Facebook was successful at first; they assume it’s because “everyone” wants to use their real name and photo ID online. But, as has been said, it was because Facebook replicated a very specific culture online, and that culture gave it a kick start and a focus. There’s a stereotype among some that Facebook is primarily made up of 700 million college kids, grandmothers, and web developers who weren’t getting enough hits on LinkedIn. That stereotype might not be all that inaccurate.

    That doesn’t automatically make it a good model for the 6 billion people on Earth.

  5. Excellent post. I just posted something similar on my blog. A wordpress blog that, in fact, I just started today so that I no longer have to worry that google will delete my blogger blog. In fact, along with my google+ account, I’ll probably get rid of the blogger one as well. A shame, since I just got that one started as I tried to migrate from Live Journal. I’m starting to feel like a nomad 🙂

  6. I agree that it is a mindset problem but I’m not sure it is such a neat division. I use a pseudonym online because I was already using one offline, this is my integrated identity, it just doesn’t happen to be the name on my birth certificate. There are a lot of people who fall into this category: actors using a screen name, other performers and artists (50 Cent and Banksy), writers using nom de plumes, people who have adopted westernised names when they left their own country, people who live in countries were pseudonyms are the norm and on and on. All these can easily count as a “real name” in real life, under common law. I think people forget about all the pseudonyms that get used in the real world that need to be used as your online “handle”, all that before all the massive number of reasons for having separate identities between your online and offline activities.

    The big pity is this could be an area that Google+ could use to open up some clear water between itself and Facebook, but they seem to be really dropping the ball on this.

  7. Great article and I think it’s important that people understand that complete transparency towards everyone everywhere is not appropriate.

    For the case where an alias is a valuable brand identity, though, we do know that brand support is coming soon in G+. Presumably that solve this particular problem (and for now you can use the nickname area to help a little).

    Circles can also a help a bit. You want to keep your relationship talk from your partner? Don’t share it with any circle they’re in. Don’t want your employer to know your political views? Keep them in their own employer circle. Circles are awesome.

    Personally, I’m torn about whether pseudonyms really should be allowed or not for personal accounts. Having battled with depression and anxiety, I know full well how important it can be to have anonymity. But then, you’ve already got tons of options for reaching people online under a handle. You can blog, tweet, post on forums, make alt accounts, etc. You can sign up for G+ under a fake name that sounds reasonable and you won’t get banned.

    So in summary:
    -If reaching people is what you want, you’ve got plenty of anonymous options; some even in G+ already.
    -If keeping a valuable brand handle is what you want, G+ is going to have brand support soon.
    -I’m an advocate of anonymity, but still think there’s value in having a social network that emphasizes real connections with real people. especially when it lets them control their flow of information.

    Cheers

    1. ardathrekha says:

      Here’s the thing about using circles to separate out your identities: it doesn’t work, at all, if you have two very distinct identities (and names) depending on whether people know you primarily online or offline.

      In my case, I began writing erotic fiction online in 2001. I did so under a pseudonym, which I have continued to use since then. I acquired fans, and among those fans I acquired a few hopeless nutcases who e-stalked me relentlessly. I was incredibly glad that none of those people knew my real name, or how to find me in the real world. These are CRAZY PEOPLE, and at least one of them is probably very dangerous. I never, ever want them to be able to find me in the real world, and one of them is still so poisonously obsessed that, five years after I last had any contact with them, they still sign my email addresses up for spam and try to hack my accounts every few months. Seriously.

      I only finally began using my real name online at all about three years ago, and that was strictly in the context of professional activities that required it. Under my real name, I have a Facebook, a LinkedIn, and a blog that actually has some branding to it and reaches a fairly large audience. But the persona associated with my real name is completely different from the persona associated with my pen name. One is the persona of an entertainment writer and literary critic, while the other is the persona of a movie fan and erotic fanfiction writer. There are a number of ways in which these personas would clash if they had to mesh together and a number of professional difficulties that would be caused by this. If I had to fit them both into a single name, one of them would have to be gutted. Honestly, this is true for most people because we’re all multifaceted enough that we have opinions we can only express in certain contexts and to certain people, and that we’d never want getting back to other people in our lives. Putting all of those opinions online, under a single identity, ensures that inevitably they WILL get back to the wrong person, the first time someone innocently mentions something you said in one circle to someone that’s not part of that circle.

      Were I to attempt to combine those two identities under my pen name, a ton of people who know my real life persona would go “who the f*** is Ardath Rekha?” and go looking for more information. Several of them might discover that I hold opinions that conflict with the persona they wish me to present on their behalf, and I might no longer have my professional blog and I’d end up back on the job hunt. Not because there’s anything wrong with what I’ve said or done under my fangirl persona but simply because that fangirl persona isn’t the kind of person they want representing their interests. (And some of the opinions I wrote as that fangirl were based on false impressions of the industry that were later corrected as I got more actual experience in it, and wouldn’t write now but can hardly erase.) Which is fine; they get a different persona and it’s every bit as valid. Ardath Rekha doesn’t belong there and never, ever will.

      Were I attempt to combine those two identities under my real name, those crazy stalkers I mentioned before would know how to find me. They might harass my RL friends and family the way they harassed my online friends. They might attempt to contact my employers to make sure that they know about the connection between the fangirl and the literary critic. One of them in particular might try to cause me real physical injury once they knew where to find me.

      Please understand that I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS need to segregate these two sides of my life with two different names. I am not doing this out of any intent to defraud anyone. It is simply a reality of my life, and to attempt to combine them would be detrimental to both my career and my physical safety. If Google tries to make me choose between them, it’s a Sophie’s Choice and I’ll probably just cut ties with their services altogether.

  8. Thank you for the rant, it was thought provoking.

    I am an Integrated Identity but I wasn’t always so.

    As many in my age group did, I grew up as the internet gained public recognition and acceptance. I was born in 1986, and I’ve had a computer ever since I can remember and the discovery of the internet is one of my oldest memories. I remember choosing my very first identity (one that I still use on sites that require a pseudonym-type registration), bishop186. Many people still only know me as “Bish” or “Bishop”, and there are many people I only know by their usernames (and, even, people whose usernames I grew up knowing so even knowing their real names via Facebook I still call them by their username).

    It feels like the internet grew up with me; I got tired of using pseudonyms and felt the overwhelming need to be proud and unashamed of what I believe and the internet seemed to mirror my yearnings. I welcome the Integrated Identity and hope that it will create a more open and understanding internet, it serves as a reminder that there are people behind these names, LittleBunny, Bishop186, Oreouk.

    I do understand, however, the needs of the people who don’t share my view.

    To Little, have you thought of the idea of creating a more “real” sounding pseudonym and attaching that to your LittleBunny identity. I know it’s a convoluted way to do it, manufacturing a new name to attach to your screen name, but it is a way around.

  9. Here’s my blog-post about Google #plusgate

    http://singularity-utopia.blogspot.com/2011/07/should-transhumans-be-purged_22.html

    I’m glad people are outraged by the G+ censorship, but mainly the outrage is limited to people who’ve directly suffered Google-censorship. To really make a difference this issue needs to be taken up by everyone. People should not underestimate the importance of this issue.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came%E2%80%A6

  10. “Separate identity” is not especially the past of the Internet (or Usenet); the division existed even back then. While most people had short (often three-character) user names, putting your full name (and phone number and sometimes street address, often at least city and state) in your signature was pretty standard. A few people didn’t — and got questions about it even then.

    Similarly, most people had listed phone numbers, pre-cell-phone. It may not be true today, but I have no idea if it’s a change in preference, or just a change in default (cells are unlisted by default, so people without a landline are unlisted by default, whereas landlines are listed by default).

    People who think they can hide for any extended period under an online pseudonym are deluded. Putting online under a pseudonym things that could hurt you seriously is taking a big risk. All it needs is one mistake on your part, one mistake on the part of any friends who know the connection, one friend changing sides in your breakup, some moderately serious detective work by somebody who is curious (or pissed off), one subpoena, and the connection is made. And once the connection is made, all that stuff you thought you were saying from your safe hidey-hole is suddenly attached to the real you!

    My experience, both in online venues (Usenet, Fidonet [where I moderated the SF and WRITING echomail conferences for a decade], mailing lists, web forums) and in person (mostly big SF conventions), has convinced me that the real division is people who are being themselves, and people who are having a blowout weekend. Quick and easy creation of pseudonyms tends to encourage people who want a blowout weekend to do it in what is essentially my living room (where I conduct a huge amount of my social life), and I find this highly annoying.

  11. It’s not that Google doesn’t get it. There was a tremendous amount of discussion within Google on this issue, with many people taking the same stance as Emlyn does. The architects of Google+ agreed that anonymity has value but argued that since Google can’t guarantee anonymity, it shouldn’t promise it, even by implication. They also believe strongly that a respectful conversation is more likely without pseudonyms, a contention they got more disagreement on. OTOH, the conversation and community have been remarkably positive so far.

    Support for pseudonyms is a future goal, not something that Google has ruled out. You’ll do better to try to convince Google that it’s time to change the policy than that they don’t understand the issues.

    1. Little says:

      The architects of Google+ agreed that anonymity has value … Support for pseudonyms is a future goal

      If they’re confusing anonymity and pseudonymity, then they definitely don’t understand the issues.

    2. I don’t want Google to guarantee anonimity.

      I want Google to get out of the business to tell me how I should present myself to others.

      I have several different strands in my life, and I don’t want to mix them up in as much as possible.

      So if Google will insist on this nonsense (how are they going to verify names are true anyway? Would they demand your passport?)

      The Internet is a matter of openness and freedom. If I don’t want to say my name in public, I should not be forced to do so.

      It is that simple really.

  12. Tony says:

    I wish there was such a thing as “digital DNA”
    I’d love to be able to have my website record a visitor’s “DNA” as some sort of hashed code. Some code that would not, in any way, tell me who the visitor is. But would tell me if the same visitor returned.

    I’d love to be able to check if two users are actually the same person. I’d love if Google could tell if it’s “always me” (without knowing the real-world identity of who “me” is unless I tell them) – and then Google+ could be free to give me two linked accounts, one with my real name, and one with my online identity. We could then minimize online stalking etc. (If the stalker contacts you, you block their “google+ digital DNA” code. And they’re unable to just create a new account.)

    Alas, I can’t think of any way to record this sort of digital DNA. 😦 Google verifying the accounts with phone text messages is about the closest we have to that, but phone numbers hardly have a 1:1 relationship with users.

  13. For more fun yet, some of us have several “real names”. I have a name in Mandarin which is on no paperwork but is used by some family, a name in Hainanese which is on my birth certificate and also used by different chunks of family, a different name in English on my Australian Government Paperwork which has my Hainanese name in it in an odd order, another name in English which is used on the vast majority of non-Government Paperwork, a bunch of variations on that that I get called both IRL and online, and then there’s thorfinn, thorfi, etc, which I also get called both IRL and online.

    Even my Australian Marriage Certificate is confused and has an “a.k.a.” on it which points to my Australian Government Paperwork name because that particular government department only accepts birth certificate names, not the other legal paperwork (including an Australian citizenship cert and a passport). Madness.

    These aren’t even different identities, they’re all me, and I’m entirely happy to stand up and own them all… but G+ is no doubt going to ban one of them at some point if they notice. Oh well.

    http://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/ seems apropos, too.

  14. Oreouk says:

    Jim: This is true but just goes to show the folly of the rule and undermines the concept. If it’s so easy to work around then why have the rule? As Emlyn says right at the beginning of this, it’s foolish to have a rule that makes people set out to break it. People *will* use pseudonyms so Google are enforcing a rule that they have no hope of *actually* enforcing and making people jump through unnecessary hoops to get to use the system the way that they want to. And they’re losing acceptance from a potentially heavy user group as they do so.

  15. Jim says:

    Their goal is probably to prevent users like Cathy23485 and the same that we see on Twitter every day, automatically spamming users. Let’s wait and see what Google will do. There is already an inofficial statement by the vice president of Google which you can read in Robert Scoble’s G+ profile:

  16. Emlyn, this is a GREAT article. Like you, I prefer having an integrated identity for many practical reasons, including that I am too lazy to maintain separate identities. But my heart is close to nym users who, as you correctly point out, were heroes of the beginning of the Internet.
    I think if somebody chooses to use a nym, for any reason or no reason, is their own f# business.
    I hope Google will back off. If they don’t, let’s not forget that there is a free, decentralized, distributed P2P social network, Diaspora, that leaves complete freedom to those who choose to invest time and effort in its growth, as a developer, donor or even just as a user.

    1. emlyn says:

      Thanks Giulio. Good point about Diaspora, it’s a heavily underrated service IMO. I’ll support it in Syyncc when I get a chance.

  17. In the real world there are also separate identities. At work I am known as Carlos Ribeiro. At school I was called by Quack. In the family I am called by Beto.

    Carlos Ribeiro, Quack, Beto, each takes a different personality for each environment. The work environment requires a different posture posture that my friendships require.

    There is no difference between the real environment and virtual environment. There is no reason to ban a profile different from virtual reality. It’s just an environment where specific relationships are established.

    A great weekend to all.

  18. Grr, some of the commenters are missing the point. Joreth IS MY NAME. It doesn’t matter that my parents didn’t assign it to me at birth. It is who I am. It is the name people know me as. It is the name I feel a connection to.

    I should not be prohibited from using MY NAME just because someone who has never met me has decided that giving myself a name makes it “not real”. Telling me just not to use G+ does not solve the problem.

    That, of course, is besides all of the other perfectly legitimate reasons why people choose pseudonyms, for anonymity, for privacy, for safety. I resent people telling me that, whatever my situation is, that THEY know better how I should present myself just because they are not in my position.

  19. The issue here is simple, yet one that people are not getting. Google does not understand the difference between a name and an identity.

    What’s more disturbing is, the number of people coming out of the woodwork in the last few days and attacking anyone critical of G+ in regard to this.

    Jim: there are numerous reasons why someone would want to use a pseudonym, and not list anything else. All of which are legitimate. Google seems to have no problem accepting 50 Cent, and Lady Gaga as the name they elect to “go by”, verifying that…as Orwell said: some are “more equal” than others.

    Affording that as some kind of luxury to some, while denying it to others is another of the real issues here. I have no intention of using my real name with Google. Why? For the same reason I have a PO Box: as an owner of a game company, I don’t want every person in the world to know who I am, where I live. My online identity is something I keep separate. The prevailing attitude among the G+ Apologists is: well, then your a creep obviously who has something to hide. Or, “Its a social network!…if you don’t want to share, get off!”

    The notion that you should sit out if you don’t want the world to know your real name is ludicrous. Especially when it comes to folks who are actually disenfranchised. (Activists, People fleeing abusive relationships, etc)

    Just my $0.02.

  20. thanks for your well written article. I want to point out that there might be other reasons for separate identities. Personally speaking I use my own name on the web. But having a name like Artemis (Ariadne Westenberg) makes that a no-brainer, I think. I do however maintain separate identities for the reason that I am multiple persons. No, I am not schizoid, but I have many different lives (something you touch upon in your article).
    1) I am a well known Dutch feminist and as such put the fear of G’d (a female one) in prime ministers, lord mayors, police chiefs and other policy makers and leaders. I am also a volunteer board member of feminist organisations
    2) I am a leader in Space advocacy, something completely (or at least mostly) separate from my feminist activities. Usually the twain don’t meet. However this year they do, I am organising a ‘Woman & Mars conference in Washington DC with all the ‘big girls’ from NASA, Space Industry, Space advocacy (and there is a growing number of us)
    3) I am a lobbyist for civilians causes, and will work for pay or (often) for free to correct policy wrongs. I have a long list of successes in this, but doing this (unless it is a female cause) I don’t talk about my feminist being, or my political standpoints
    4) I am an orthodox Jewess, living very much by the Torah and the Talmud, but not as a underdog ofcourse. With a G’d whose name translates in ‘I am Woman, I am Life’ that seems contradictory to me. And the rabbis know me for this (and fear me some, i suspect)
    5) I work for pay as coordinator of a charity in my home town (world port, big city with lots of satellite cities) to distribute the wealth of a woman that intended her money to ‘help women be independent’, that mostly means helping female students pay their books, their tuition fee, getting their life in order.
    sometimes one of my lives impinges on another. But most of the time these are separate lives
    I am also a single mom with a teenager and a twen, who, I am sure, don’t really get it that their mom has all these different lives. what they do get is that I work (mostly unpaid) all waking hours.
    I am not complaining, I am my own boss and I do as I think is necessary.
    back to Google+: I have two different identities there: the personal one, me with circles of feminists, family, friends, supported students.
    two: Explore Mars, a space advocacy group with mostly followers and participants
    In short, yes, speudonyms should be allowed. They do serve a function. I hope Google listens as I intend to use the circles in Explore Mars to identify the regions on this planet where my circlers live, in order to not annoy people in Asia with news that really only pertains to people in Europe, or South America, etc.
    kindest regards,
    Artemis

  21. You’re absolutely right that it’s the Silicon Valley 2.0 geek culture people demanding identity. Although there is a subset of them that likes exposure of privacy for others, and privacy/anonymity for themselves (hackers). It’s likely an internal debate in Google that one faction is prevailing on.

    But I also think that the anonymity that some demand and that certain hacker types exploit such as Anonymous need not be the norm and that it’s good if there is a market of competing services with varying degrees of identity and pseudonymity.

    The identity politics that Artemis features is partly a posturing and a victimhood that is hard to leave. And I do think we need to get away from weepy edge cases:

    http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2011/07/weepy-edge-cases-will-not-convince-google-geeks-on-pseudonymity.html

    The main reason the geeky 2.0 devs of Google hate anonymity is that people could criticize them — especially the bosses — without accountablity and tethering to a real life name and they hate that, they are thick skinned.

    So because that’s what’s driving them, the stories of feminists who need protection are not going to convince them. I’ve suggested that only a solution that has a two-way toggle of a real-name/nickname that manifests for some circles one way and others another way could accommodate both interest groups.

    It will not satisfy the anonymous lobbyists as people would still have to sign up with a real name.

  22. emlyn says:

    I’d be surprised if some of the people working for places like Google aren’t quietly sympathetic to the separate identity cause. After all, they will be finding they have to self censor, keeping their public commentary inside requirements of their employers (explicit or otherwise).

    Circles are great for managing sophisticated private conversation, but we all like to speak publicly, too. If I were a googler, I’d find myself needing a pseudonym.

  23. By now I’m sure you’ve already heard my feelings on the subject so I’ll not bore you….I just wanted to say hi and let you know that even tho I cant participate I can read g+ still, and I do.
    I’m glad to find your blog too and will be checking in often. Great stuff….

  24. xian says:

    I personally don’t see the harm in creating a social network that is aimed at connecting real world relationships. To me, it’s refreshing to have one place on the web where no one is hiding behind an alias.

    Plus, there’s no reason you can’t have a separate LiveJournal with whatever alias you’re known for and live your alter ego life there, just keep a disconnect between the two and you’re good to go. This all just seems like much ado about nothing to me.

  25. Elliott Wilson says:

    you can control all information on the internet when everyone’s identity on it is recorded in a public place with their name attached to it. We will live more and more through the internet, and everything we do will be less and less private. To have a handle is to have privacy and to have privacy is to concede control back to the user. The censorship has already started and it will be a silent victory as well. We will do all of the censorship ourselves out of fear of those words we have written being used against us.

  26. Emlyn says:

    “you can control all information on the internet when everyone’s identity on it is recorded in a public place with their name attached to it. ”

    What does that mean? Who can control it?

    People will be able to see it all (all of us will in fact), and be able to extract information from it. This isn’t the Earthsea trilogy though. Someone knowing our “true name” doesn’t mean they have power over us, unless we let them.

    Also, you have to remember that this platform, the net, doesn’t want to know our names. It doesn’t want us to be legible as individuals. It doesn’t care about that, it’s not built to know that, and qualities of its basic design frustrate the attempt to enforce real names at every turn.

    Now the layers people are building on top are a different story. But you just have to keep reminding yourself that the shiny shopping malls … google+, Facebook, itunes, amazon, etc etc, are not the internet. The web is not even the internet. The internet itself, there are memes about decentralisation, disintermediation, anonymity, built into its foundations (what do I mean by that? Protocols). And that’s not by accident; you just wont make a successful world spanning communications network of this character without those fundamentals. Digital networks want to work that way.

    I think because of this, real naming is going to remain a choice, not a prerequisite. Everywhere that tries to be other than that will either be fooling itself, or marginalising itself.

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