Google has said that they plan to “address” the issue of pseudonymity in the near future. I hope that these thoughts and experiences may help inform that decision.

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

———— 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission

This whole persona/pseudonym argument may seem like a tempest in a teapot, but the fact is, the forum for public discourse is no longer the town hall, or newspaper, or fliers on the street. It is here on the Internet, and it is happening in communities like this, hosted by private sector companies. Freedom of speech is not guaranteed in these places. As Lawrence Lessig once said, “the code is the law.” The code that Google applies, the rules they set up now in the software, are going to influence our right to speak out now and in the future. It is imperative that we impress upon Google the importance of providing users with the same rights (and responsibilities) as exist in the society that nurtured Google and brought about its success.

I’m going to try to summarize the discussion as I’ve seen it over the past few weeks. Since this is a long post (tl;dr), here’s a description of what’s coming so if you want, you can skip to the section that you’re interested in.

First I’m going to address some red herrings; arguments that actually have no bearing on pseudonyms. I will explain why I think we should be having this discussion about a company’s product. I’ll explain, through painful personal disclosure, the experience of close friends, and other examples, why someone might want to use a pseudonym. Then I will address the arguments I have heard against pseudonyms (and some of them are quite valid), and what some alternatives might be.

I apologize for the length of this post, I know it could be trimmed.


The Red Herrings


Anonymous speech on the Internet is a mess

This is absolutely true. Go to any site where people can create accounts just by entering a fake email address, and where there are no valuable relationships between users to maintain, and you’ll find a mosh pit of spam and just plain garbage. Fortunately, nobody is asking for anonymous speech on Google+; we’re asking for the ability to use pseudonyms—persistent names that aren’t tied to our real life address, home and personal information. All the usual validation processes (SMS messages, voice activation on the phone, etc.) would apply to them. When people give examples of how pseudonyms create hostile environments, they are almost always referring to comment systems, not social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, or Google+. I’ll address that difference below.

Shava Nerad expressed this very well in a comment on G+:

People confuse two concepts: anonymity (no one knows who you are at all, no persistence over time, the most prolific author of all time is Anonymous) and pseudonymity (no one knows who you are, but there’s a persistent identity over time like a pen name, think: Mark Twain, George Sand, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Pynchon, John Wayne, or Stalin). No one doubts who John Wayne was, but then again, no one reading Thomas Pynchon’s books seriously doubts they are by the same author (well, maybe, but really…) even though no one but perhaps his editor has seen him (or her?).

If people use pseudonyms, I won’t be able to track down a stalker

If you have a legal complaint, then Google will reply to a subpoena with all the information they have, which at least includes IP addresses and any linked accounts, and perhaps the number of the phone used during verification. The process of tracking a real “John Smith” to an originating computer is not going to be any different from tracking down “Demosthenes” to that same computer. Since Google isn’t verifying every address, they have no more information about “John Smith” than they do about “Demosthenes”.

I want a service where I know that everyone I talk to is using their real name

Then you need a paid service where every person is required to provide a credit card and/or government ID. So far as I know, no such service exists, nor does anyone have any plans to create one (well, actually I think the Chinese are creating one, but I wouldn’t exactly hold that out as an example to follow). Google is only suspending accounts that have odd characters in their name, or which are reported by other users. They have given no indication that they wish to ask for a photo ID from every single one of their users, nor would such a process be viable in an international community. A similar argument is that we need to stop the “whack-a-mole” game, where someone who is tossed off the system immediately pops back on with a new account. That’s great, and hopefully Google’s authentication systems will help, as well as other algorithms, but banning pseudonyms won’t do a thing for it.

This policy is necessary to stop spam.

See the previous item. With no ID requirement, spammers simply require an phone and a name that looks real. I’m sure Google will be using phone data, content filters, social graph analysis, and user complaints to help track down spammers, but allowing or disallowing pseudonyms has zero impact on the problem. Bad behavior is bad behavior, it doesn’t matter if you do it with a real name or a fake one.


Why Are We Having This Discussion?


Google is a private sector company, obviously they can create a social network with just about any rules they want. However Google has stressed the importance of privacy, they have stressed that their company motto is “Don’t be evil”, and they have clearly created a product which has the potential to dominate online public discourse. The product is in beta, and they want feedback on it. I’m providing this feedback because I feel that Google+ has the potential to become the defacto “law” for online discourse, and I think that it is critical that the “law” reflect how democratic societies have always worked. Larry Page, during his earnings call, said, “Our goal with Google+ is to make sharing on the web like sharing in real life” ( As it currently stands, Google+ has policies which prevent it from reaching that goal.


Who Needs a Pseudonym?


I’m going to start with the personal. I’m going to say some things here that I really don’t enjoy saying in public under my real name, but I’m going to say them because in the grand scheme of things, they are relatively minor. I have very good friends who would not be able to say some of these things. They might lose friends, neighbors, even custody of their children. I’m lucky, I’m established enough in my career, and confident enough of my family, that I can say some of the reasons why I have a pseudonym account as well as one under my real name. If by doing so, I help create protections for people who have much more serious reasons to protect their privacy, then the slight embarrassment to me is more than worth it. I apologize in advance, however, to my children, whom I really didn’t want to hear about this. I’m sorry.


When the attempted revolution broke out in Iran, I had in-laws there, I had information about what was happening that I wanted to share online with people who were interested in the situation. I wanted to educate them about what was happening. But I couldn’t do that under my real name, because the Iranian government was actively searching Twitter for posts about Iran, and they could easily have connected me to my wife and her relatives.


My marriage was on the rocks. I was sleeping on the couch, drinking too much, and not focused on my consulting business. I initially talked about some of this online on Twitter, and started to meet people with similar problems who had advice and support, but then my children got Twitter accounts. Creating a separate account allowed me to talk about those issues without identifying and embarrassing my family; not to mention my consulting clients. Those conversations, under my pseudonym, were absolutely critical for my finding a new network of friends, hiring a personal assistant, finding housing, moving out of my home, getting new jobs, and in general, getting my feet back on the ground. I made real friends, many of whom I have met offline, and now know by their real names, under that account. It was critical for getting my life back together.


I have two teen girls. Sometimes (especially since my wife and I separated, and the kids are off at boarding school) I just want to talk to people about the issues that come up when you have teenagers. Publicly posting (with no names, of course, that’s the point of a pseudonym) about issues online has generated a flood of support and similar stories. I regularly share the ups and downs of my parenting life with other people, and they with me. Do I know their names? No. Do I need to? No. Would I have found that support if I’d only posted to my closed circles? No.


My father has Alzheimer’s. It’s getting pretty bad, he’s starting to get paranoid, my mother has to bathe him and help him go to the bathroom. She and my aunt care for him, and it’s pretty tough, and when I go there to help, it’s pretty hard on me. Fortunately I can talk about this publicly, about all the things that happen and all the stress it causes me. And when I do, I get support and discover that there are other people out there amongst my public correspondents who are also having these problems, and we offer each other suggestions and support. I don’t do this under my real name because I really don’t want to be putting private information about my father, my mother, my aunt and myself out on the Internet. So I do it under my pseudonym. And not surprisingly, most of the people who respond to me are doing so under their pseudonyms. Is Alzheimer’s a topic we aren’t supposed to talk about publicly on Google+? There are many many topics like this which are not in the slightest bit controversial, but which people would prefer to talk about without their boss, neighbors, or strangers connecting to their real name.

Now let me talk about a couple friends. (I’ve tweaked the specifics for obvious reasons.)

Too Well Known

He’s a minor celebrity in his home state. His face is well-known on television. He’s involved in the BDSM community online; he’s a submissive. And sure, he talks to folks on the sites meant for that, but this isn’t some hobby, this is his way of life, and you don’t go to a fetish site to talk about raising your kids, how to deal with unemployment, or what people are doing about health care. He wants to be able to talk about those things openly online, with his friends from the community, and he can’t do it under his real name, or even with his real face, and he can’t even do it at the local get-together’s in person, because he’s too well known. It has to be online. It has to be pseudonymously.

Dating the Wrong Guy

Her boss is a total misanthrope, he hates blacks. He rails about them day in and day out. What he doesn’t know is that she’s living with her black boyfriend. She’s been looking for a new job for months, but this is all she can find. Where can she go where she can talk publicly online with her friends and her boyfriend about politics, the latest tech toys, and her interests?

The following list of beautiful examples comes from Shava Nerad. She describes perfectly the need of everyday people, just like us, to have a little privacy in a public forum.

The Lawyer

This is setting a precedent for the small town lawyer who wants to be able to keep their ability to blog about local politics, even though it might alienate their clients in their law practice.

The Teacher

It’s about teachers who want to be able to go shred on the weekend, even if they teach middle school a couple towns over.

The Abuse Survivor

It’s about a middle aged guy who wants to blog about surviving sexual family abuse as a kid, even though his abusers are still very much alive, living in the same town.

The Texas DA

It’s about the DA in Texas who wants to use his pseudonym to discuss his anime collection and research gay resorts in the Bahamas.

Arab Spring

It’s about the woman who wants to blog about how her husband and several of her cousins are activists in the Arab Spring movements in Syria, and how she and her mother and sister are getting by at home while they are away.

Narcotics Anonymous

It’s about the guy who is trying to attend NA meetings online because he’s too well known in his community on sight to be seen walking into a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and wants an identity to be able to meet with his sponsor and friends in recovery online.

The Union Organizer

It’s about the woman in the company town in upstate NY who is trying to organize a union without her kids getting hurt on the playground.

Here Cory Albrecht provides a set of real-life examples of people talking about just the kinds of things I expect people to talk about on Google+, and how it ended their careers and/or lives.

The Rape Survivor

The rape survivor who wants to be able to talk about her experiences without letting people know who she really is to protect her privacy.

The Closeted Teen

The closeted gay teenage boy who wants to participate in the online gay community where he can find support and friendship without the homophobic bullies at his high school finding out and driving him to suicide.

The Atheist Teacher

The employee who just happens to be an atheist but would get fired from their job if their boss found out.

The Wrong Political Party

Or fired for being Democrat when your boss is Republican or vice versa .

Finally, more from my personal friendships and other folks online.


He’s gay…he’s bi…she used to be a guy…he used to be a girl…he’s still in the closet and doesn’t know anybody like him. They aren’t looking for a forum to talk about their sexuality, there are plenty of those. They’re looking for a forum where they can talk about all the stuff the rest of us take for granted; politics, technology, society, world news… They just want to do it as themselves, not as someone pretending to be someone they aren’t.

The Abused Spouse

He comes home every night and searches online to see if she’s posted anything, anything at all, under her name. She has no job, she has the kids to protect, he’s threatened to hunt her down and kill her if she leaves. (If you want a better understanding of this issue, please read this

The Stalked Science Blogger

In Science Blogger, Bug Girl’s own words (

“I’m not going to choose to out myself just because some giant world-ruling corporation demands it. I have been Bug Girl online since at least 1997; as a blogger since 2005. I initially adopted a pseudonym because I had been the target of some white supremacist groups in the 90s, as well as experiencing stalking.”

“I also only feel free to talk about my disability (I have epilepsy) and my status as a rape survivor under this pseudonym. I don’t want my students, my employer, or my mom to find out these secrets about me from Google.”

“Facebook’s Real Name policy is sexist, discriminatory, and stupid. Google’s policy is worse, because Google had the advantage of having seen how bad Facebook’s policy was, but they went ahead and implemented it anyway.

The Everyday Activist

And finally there’s the simple desire to not conflate your primary online activity with something secondary that might detract from it. Lauren Weinstein talks about it in his excellent article “Google+, Privacy, and Balancing Identity” (

“Already in the almost three weeks that I’ve been using Google+, I’ve had the experience several times of refraining from commenting on threads where I could have imparted potentially useful information, because I did not feel comfortable drawing attention to myself publicly relative to the topics under discussion. Perhaps 99% of the time I have no problem with being fully identified in my public postings. But that remaining 1% is still a significant concern nonetheless. This sort of self-censorship regarding legitimate matters, where no fraud or other bad intent is involved, should be a red flag regarding the possibly stultifying effect that “true identity” can bring to some situations.”


What Are the Arguments Against Pseudonyms?


I apologize in advance for quoting +Robert Scoble so much. I was going to take examples from a number of different sources, but Robert made many of the same arguments in one convenient set of comments, and I’d rather use remarks from a public figure than someone who just happened to speak up in a comment.

These are in no particular order.

People don’t really need to hide

I hope the earlier set of examples has put this argument to rest, but in the end, this is no business of anybody except the person who wishes to have some privacy. This isn’t about hiding. It’s about privacy and control of the key that gives every stranger access to my doorstep; my name.

You only need a pseudonym if you’re bad

Mark Zuckerberg is famous for having said, “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”. (Okay, that’s not the only reason he’s famous.) So speaks a man who has never had to work for someone else and never had children. He also said “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” (

It’s pretty clear that Facebook is doing its best to make this true, it’s not so clear that people want it to be true. But some people take this even further. For instance, James Stallings II said in a comment on Google+,

“Also I think that if you are using a nym to hide behind, you are doing exactly that, hiding. If things are so bad for you that you have to hide, you should be spending less time on the Internet, and more time reflecting on why it is you need to hide in the first place. Are you keeping bad company? making promises you cant keep? have a problem saying no? These are not problems that are strictly the province of women; any more than women are the only ones threatened with physical violence or confronted with sexual harrassment due to how they look.”

Unfortunately, that’s not an uncommon attitude, it even has a name, “blame the victim.” Some people believe that all your problems were brought on by yourself. I honestly don’t know how someone can jump from their own personal success and security to claims that their parentage, birthplace, biology and personal experiences have relevance to a gay teen in the American South, a kinkster in the Midwest, or a Burmese refuge fleeing from government persecution, or even the alcoholic next door, but some people do.

A forum with pseudonyms lacks respectful discourse

There is an element of truth to this. Someone may in fact chose a pseudonym in order to troll and create havoc. Removing pseudonyms will probably reduce this. There are however, a couple of problems with the argument.

1. People troll under their “real” names too. So with or without pseudonyms, the service must provide mechanisms for dealing with abusers. Google+ does provide some of these already, you can block (really “mute”) someone to not see their comments and prevent them from commenting on your posts. You can moderate your posts. These tools seem quiet sufficient to deal with the slight increase in jerks that will come with allowing pseudonyms. Over time, Google will need to provide additional tools; whether or not they allow pseudonyms.

2. Google is not providing a mechanism to prevent fake accounts. They are providing a mechanism to report fake accounts and validate them after the fact. So if someone signs on as John Williams, and starts flame fights in the comments, it’s going to be a while before it occurs to anyone that it might be a fake account. You’ll still need the moderation tools.

3. People who have persistent pseudonyms are noticeably different from the trollers. They have lots of friends, you can Google them, they have many online posts. Even on Twitter, in the land of 140 character tweets, it’s pretty easy to glance at the follower list and tweet stream of someone and tell whether they are a spammer, a jerk, or an actual social person. It has nothing to do with name, and everything to do with behavior and content.

4. A person with a persistent pseudonym lives and dies on one thing; reputation. If they lose their reputation, they lose their voice. They won’t get followers because of their job, or because they are famous, or because they worked on interesting projects. All they have is what they say. So in fact, they are more inclined to carry on a respectful conversation. Especially in a forum where being blocked is a mouse click away.

One common argument is to point at other services as an example of the failure of pseudonymity, but the comparisons are almost always apples and oranges. Examples include Techcrunch’s comment forum prior to switching to Facebook, YouTube, Myspace, and any newspaper comment forum. These sites have zero to little verification for signup, it was trivial to put in a fake email address and start an account. They also provide no benefits to creating a social network of friends. Nor do they provide easy ways to block people. On the other hand, there are social networks, like Flickr, LiveJournal, Twitter, and others, which have a huge mix of pseudonymous and “real” names, and have civil discourse and a very active community. If they can have a vibrant user community with both “real” and pseudonymous accounts, why can’t Google+?

I have a pseudonym I use on the Internet. It has a blog, a paid Flickr account, a YouTube account, over 1000 Twitter followers, over 40,000 tweets (that’s about 1000 pages of writing). It has its own domain name, and three years worth of 50,000 Google references associated with it (twice as many as I have under this name). Why does that account, with it’s obvious pseudonym, have less accountability than some guy named “John Smith” who lists no location, links to no other info, and shows no connections to any other people on the Internet? My persona lives and dies on reputation alone. “John Smith” gets a free ride because he can produce a driver’s license to Google and continue being an anonymous asshole to everyone else. Does that really make sense? And if you grant my persona’s right to exist here, then are we saying that Google+ is a network only for people who already established their connections somewhere else; the “old boys’ club” of social networks? We don’t ask people for their passport before we talk to them. As Sai . asks, “Have you ever slept with someone without first asking to see their ID?” If we’ll do that, why do would we require one to talk online?

Go somewhere else

My first response to this is simple. I go where my friends go, isn’t that the point of a social network? People don’t enjoy trying to fool Facebook or Google into thinking their pseudonym is real, but if that’s where your friends and colleagues are, then you don’t really have a choice. But also, I think this argument is tied to the mistaken belief that people who have privacy concerns can live half a life, going online with a pseudonym only for the one issue, and then pretending to be something they aren’t the rest of the time. Who you are affects your opinion. Being gay or female is quite likely to impact your opinion about pseudonyms, does the fact that you need to be private about that, mean you aren’t allowed to discuss the issue? Being gay, or transgendered, or kinky, or a communist, or a woman does not mean that you should go and discuss everything in a ghetto meant just for your kind. That’s an incredibly elitist position to take. And yet, that’s exactly what Robert Scoble has said, which left me more than a little shocked.

“And there are plenty of forums and other places on the Internet that are great for discussing all those political and racist and other ideas. I’m not seeing anyone harmed if Google wants to go down a better discourse path by forcing real names and real identities. As far as being a woman and discussing rape or domestic violence, maybe Google+ isn’t the place to discuss those things. Maybe someplace like Quora, where you CAN be anonymous, is a safer and better place to talk about those things.”

(Quora allows selective anonymity, which a) assumes I’m only need to hide my identity some of the time, and b) has no persistent identity. It’s also a question and answer site, not a general purpose social network.) Some people feel that Google+ can be a great place to discuss technology and business, but they don’t want anything here that makes them feel uncomfortable, like “political and racist and other ideas”. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think Google intended to create another LinkedIn.

In response to the “go elsewhere” argument Jillian C. York wrote a telling description of the Arab Spring protestors dilemma:

“What bothers me about your argument that they can “just go elsewhere” is that, in the case of Facebook, they really couldn’t go elsewhere and be effective. Facebook was, and still is, where the network is, and if you want to be effective as an activist, you must target the existing network. And I imagine that, within a short time, Google+ will play that same role.”

To sum up. People who value their privacy are not one-dimensional. They have lives, work, family and friends, and they like to talk about them some place where they don’t have to give up their privacy. And if they have issues that they feel need to be brought to public attention, they can’t do that in a single-purpose ghetto, they need to do it the same popular public forums as everyone else.

Use a real sounding name

This is the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” model of pseudonymity. Don’t make it clear that it’s not your real name, and everything will be fine. Or in other words, “Lie.” Some people actually think this is okay, what they object to is not pseudonyms, but names that don’t look what (they consider) real names to look like.

Jillian C. York gives a great example of how this fails for activists, but it applies to anyone who might possibly annoy anybody about anything…whether it’s politics, sexuality, or talking too much about dogs.

“Look at Egypt: We know how important Facebook was to organizing, for those activists who chose to use it (this is not, everyone, an argument that the uprising couldn’t have happened without Facebook, so let’s not play that game). And yet, Wael Ghonim’s page (you know, “We Are All Khaled Said, hundreds of thousands of fans) was removed from the site last fall because he’d been using a pseudonym on the site. The pseudonym looked like a real name, but because he had some enemies, they reported it, of course, having it taken down. And since he couldn’t prove his identity with ID as Facebook requested, bam! Gone.”

“This is one use case that I’ve seen dozens of times now. Activists, in authoritarian countries, getting booted from a site because their activism got them reported, and their name happened to be fake. Meanwhile, thousands of others get away with it because they don’t have enemies.

In real life, you use your real name

There is a difference between “using” your real name, and (like the ill-fated bank robber in England) having it tattooed on your forehead. In fact, in real life you get to choose when to use your name, and how much of it to use. Your stylist probably only knows your first name. Your co-workers might actually know you by your last name, although they could probably find your full name. And the girl behind the cash register at the 7-11? All she knows is that you like grape slurpees. In real life we do not give our real name to everyone we meet, let alone everyone who looks at us. The only person we have to give our real name to is law enforcement, and nobody is suggesting changing that here. Furthermore, there are social situations in real life where real names are not used at all. There are social clubs and societies where pseudonyms are standard procedure, and nobody uses their full name at an AA or similar meeting. When you write a letter to an advice column, you don’t use your full name. When the founders of our country were writing what became The Federalist Papers, they certainly didn’t use their real names. Philanthropists donating money often don’t use their real names, and in fact the rich and famous often use pseudonyms to avoid attention; they can afford to be pseudonymous in real life, we only get that protection online.

There’s another big difference. For most people (I’m an exception, my name is globally unique) telling someone your name in real life doesn’t instantly link them to everything you’ve ever written. Sure, they can probably Google it, and they might find the right you, but it’s still an effort. On a site like Google+, it’s one click away. So Google’s real name policy is nothing like real life; it is much, much less private.

Pseudonyms aren’t real people

Some people seem honestly upset that they should have to use their real name to interact with someone who is using a pseudonym. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been interacting with people online for so long (my first online girlfriend was in 1978), but I just don’t see it. There is absolutely nothing more real about “Kee Hinckley” than “MYOTHERIDHERE”. Both can be Googled. Both will tell you (mostly non-overlapping) things about my life. Both will let you see the conversations I’ve had. Both names have been used to buy Pro Flickr accounts. Both names belong to various associations on and off line. Both names have blogs. I use both names in social situations offline. A subpoena will trace both names back to my laptop computer where I sit typing this. The fact is, short of searching financial or government records, there is nothing to make “Kee Hinckley” any more real than my pseudonym. And as I discuss what I think of the latest iPhone rumors online, I completely fail to see why anyone should be interested in what my birth certificate or financial records say. People who don’t like pseudonyms seem to not like them because they feel they are a lie of some sort. And if my pseudonym were “John Smith” then they’d be right, but it’s not. I chose a name which was globally unique, because I wanted a clear, persistent, and obviously not-on-a-birth-certificate name. I’m not lying to you, I’m choosing not to tell you my birth name. You don’t tell me your social security number when we meet, but that’s not a lie. I’m just not going to give you the lookup key which can lead you to the name of my children, and the address of my house. Because when you come down to it, that’s what a “real” name is online now—it’s a key to everything about you that you’d really rather people didn’t know.

This is why Zuckerberg is so wrong. We aren’t moving away from dual identities. We’re moving towards them. The global database of personal information is forcing us to adopt pseudonyms in order to maintain our privacy.

If you’re really commonly known as that, why not just prove it?

This would be the “rich and famous” clause. 50 Cent and Lady Gaga get to have pseudonyms (do her close friends call her “Lady”, or “Gaga”?), but you and I don’t. Google says you can use a name if you’re “commonly” known as that. Which means we get to watch the ludicrous sight of a Google employee posting on their LiveJournal begging friends to give affidavits saying that they have always called him “Ping”. And what exactly does “commonly known” mean? I’m commonly known as “Kee” by some of my friends, but several thousand people on Twitter, not to mention everyone who reads my blog or photo posts, knows me by a different name. If this had happened 30 years ago, many of my friends knew me as “nazgul”, both online and off; that’s how I signed all my online correspondence. A Google search on my pseudonym turns up 50,000 results. On this name, it turns up 25,000. Does that mean “Kee” isn’t my commonly known name? “The Bloggess” is well known online by that name, is that her common name? At what point does someone become famous enough to qualify for this policy? How do I find out if I do? Millions of people in this country go by names that aren’t on their driver’s license. Often it’s a variation of their real name, but often it isn’t. How do they prove that? Who determines when a nickname is real, and when it is fake? The VP in charge of Google+ doesn’t use his real name on the service, I should think that should have made the issue fairly obvious. Does Google really want to spend that much time and money per user?

And then there’s the cultural problem. In India and Thailand (and I’m sure other places), people go by nicknames, not birth names. Those names aren’t on any birth certificate, and there is no way for them to prove they are accurate. We’ve already seen Google asking such people for proof of their name. Google states, “Use your full first and last name in a single language. If you use your full name, you’ll help people find you online and connect with the right person.” but that is patently false. I find myself repeatedly having to ask people if I know them by some other name, because they were forced to abandon their persistent online identity when they joined Google+.

Even outside of the issue of pseudonyms and multiple accounts, Google has created a very Western-centric model of what it means to have a name. Clearly they need to correct that, and I’m sure they will, but to me it is indicative of the fact that the people who designed this policy really had no experience with what it means to have and use a name, let alone what it means to be someone with a reason to fear having their name exposed. Google needs to seriously consult some sociologists and anthropologists if they want to play this game.

It’s dangerous

A number of the examples I’ve given, as to why someone might want a pseudonym, involve personal danger. All of them at least involve potential embarrassment. This argument says that there’s no way to be private on the Internet, and therefore you shouldn’t share anything that you don’t want anyone to know. They claim this is “security by obscurity”. Robert Scoble makes this argument in a comment,

“If you are Chinese and you want to avoid government action you should advise people to keep their opinions off of the Internet. Period.”

You know, everyone wants to avoid government persecution, but some people think it’s worth taking the risk. Telling them to go hide and suffer in silence is not helpful. And what people are calling “security by obscurity” is simple common sense, we tell every kid not to give out their name and address to strangers, why does that become bad advice when we are adults?

It’s true, pseudonyms are not 100% safe, and Google could do a lot to help educate people on how to use them safely, but as an anonymous person wrote to Violet Blue.

“Using a pseudonym is little enough in the way of protection, but at least it prevents all but the most determined retaliation. I wondered how many people would have been prevented by fear from takings stands on issues. How many would have been subject to retaliation ranging from loss of jobs to death had they been exposed by real name? I am sure there are some who would put themselves at risk regardless, and they have my admiration. But what about the risk to family members and friends who could also become targets?”

His crime? He once told a class how he was knocked unconscious, raped, and then ignored by police who said “they could not worry about every fag who had a tiff with his boyfriend.” As a result of that public disclosure, another student in his class then stalked him for ten years, driving him to attempt suicide. Do you think that man is going withdraw from public life on the Internet because of a stalker, or will he instead attempt to use a pseudonym, no matter how little security it provides?

A quick glance at Facebook should make it clear that you can say “don’t use the Internet if you want to be private” all you want, but people will continue to share those things, even under their own names. The fact of the matter is, those that are using pseudonyms have, for the most part, actually realized the danger and taken some initial steps to address it. I’ll be the first to admit that they most likely haven’t taken enough; I’ve worked in the Internet security field for a number of years and I’m very aware of the issues involved. However, the argument that we should therefore not allow it, is ridiculous. In the first place, there is no way to not to allow it. Google has no intention of checking everyone’s ID at the door. Secondly, people will use pseudonyms because it’s the only way they can communicate with even a small amount of security. Arguing that we should ban pseudonyms because people won’t use them safely is like arguing that you should ban sex education because otherwise kids will have sex; they are going to do it anyway, let’s at least explain how to do it safely. Except in this case you’re talking about protecting adults from themselves, not protecting kids. The right solution is not limiting choices, it’s providing education.

The other issue with this argument is that it’s black and white; it assumes that all risk is the same. The level of security I need to flirt with my friends without my kids seeing it is very different than the level I need to smuggle information out of Libya. But by banning one, you ban them all.

Privacy is like insurance and security; the more you have, the more it costs you in time, money, and inconvenience. There is no such thing as a secure computer, only a computer that is as secure as you are willing to make it. The same is true of privacy.

Pseudonymity fails when you meet someone offline

It’s nice to see Robert admitting that you can actually meet someone who has a pseudonym, but this argument is bogus.

“the first time I met Thomas Hawk he told me his real name (Andrew Peterson) and then the secret was out (someone else already spilled the beans before I did). So, can anyone really be anonymous online AND have real-life relationships with others they meet online? Of course not.”

The fact that Thomas Hawk trusted Robert with his real name, and Robert outed him does not mean that you can’t meet someone and not use your real name. I do it all the time, as do many other people I know. As with anything about privacy, you have to decide who you trust and how much. This doesn’t change when you meet them. There was nothing keeping Thomas Hawk from saying, “Hi, my name is Thomas,” or even, “Hi, I’m not going to tell you my name.”

If you have something important to say, report it to the media, they know what they’re doing

This is a corollary of “it’s too dangerous”. Robert Scoble said:

“There are plenty of ways for anonymous whistle-blowers to get heard (I protect my sources, for instance) [that just after he admitted he was the second person to out a blogger’s pseudonym] and plenty of ways for people to have their injustices heard…For instance, I carried about three terabytes of hard drives on my trip there and they never were looked at. I could have brought out a TON of info from people inside and posted that without ever threatening the source.”

I commend Robert for offering to serve as a conduit for every person complaining about injustice in China although I’m not sure how they will contact him anonymously. But let’s be serious, this is the height of egotism and elitism. There is far more injustice in this world than there are people to report it, and suggesting the oppressed should keep silent and “safe” unless they happen to know a reporter has got to be the most ridiculous piece of paternalism that I’ve heard in this entire discussion.

The oppressed don’t have Internet access anyway

Yes, seriously, I have heard this argument from multiple sources. The claim is that oppressed people with Internet access are a myth. Robert Scoble:

“heck, in most of the places where human rights are under attack Google is being blocked anyway and in most of those places IP addresses are being tracked, not names, whether fake or real, so your claim just doesn’t ring true anyway”

I’m not sure how one reconciles this with Green Revolution and the Arab Spring. Robert also makes the same comment about some illegal immigrants he saw protesting on the street. He doesn’t think they have access to the Internet either, so therefore we don’t have to worry about allowing them on Google+. (Hint, “local library”). I know literally hundreds of people who are unfairly discriminated against, and would love to prove him wrong by responding to his comments on Google+…unfortunately they don’t dare do so under their real names.

Pseudonyms make it worse for women

Robert Scoble:

“It’s interesting that the anonymity advocates never talk about the crap that allowing anonymity brings, particularly the anti-women comments.”

Oddly, the majority of people I see arguing for pseudonyms are women, and the majority of people I see making comments like this are men. Actually, we are talking about the “crap” that anonymity can bring, however we are also considering the tradeoff. This was expressed quite eloquently by Gretchen S. who said that she’d much rather have to block a few pseudonymous online harassers than give up her pseudonym and have one show up at the door of her house with a gun. That’s not a hypothetical problem for women, I have a good friend who experienced the dangers of using her real name. She made the mistake of using her first name online, and it was a little too unique. Someone tracked her down, drove three hours to her home town, knocked on her door, and attempted to persuade her to have sex with him. She was lucky, she convinced him that she had a boyfriend sleeping inside, and he went away. People often argue that the courts can protect women from harassment—that’s not much help after you’ve been raped.

Real names will stop harassment

Robert Scoble:

“If everyone is forced to use their real names and real identities. You think people will still harass people if they are hit with a lawsuit? Or if their bosses get sent their emails?”

Yes, I do. In fact, I have proof that real identity doesn’t stop harassment. Ask the next woman or ethnic minority you meet whether they get harassed in “real life”. Yes? Apparently knowing who people are, isn’t sufficient to stop them from abusing you. And law suit? Really? Even if the harassment is illegal, even if the police in your part of the country think it’s worth investigating, who is going to fund the time it takes to go to court, let alone the warrants and subpoenas necessary to get the proof? Should my girlfriend file a lawsuit against the guy who pinched her on the subway? How about the one who sent her a c*ck shot in email? (Word obscured in case Google is still censoring posts.) It would be a wonderful world if everyone had a “Report me for bad driving” number under their name, but sadly, most people won’t care, and more than a few will argue that all they were doing was “flirting”, “having fun”, “playing”, and “where’s your sense of humor?”. Court cases are out of the question.

What’s wrong with first name, last initial?

Every once in a while I’ll sign up for a service, and with no warning they’ll broadcast my name as “Kee H” because some idiot thought that was an “anonymous” combination that didn’t even require asking me. It’s not. Even if your name is “John S”, the addition of a location or profession, or the name of one or two friends, is going to be enough to find you. I am in fact alarmed by the number of people who are not using pseudonyms because of Google’s policy, and are instead using their real name with an initial for their account. Your social graph is like a fingerprint, and while by itself, only a computer might be able to correlate Facebook, Twitter and Google+ social graphs to find you, with the addition of your first name, it’s just a matter of some repetitive Google searching. This policy by Google is endangering users, especially women. The same people who claim pseudonyms are dangerous, should seriously ask themselves about the danger of this common alternative. See also “Female-Name Chat Users Get 25 Times More Malicious Messages”

Being anonymous defeats the purpose of social networking

That argument is based on the assumption that all networking eventually translates into meeting people offline. First of all, that’s not true. I have hundreds of people I’ve talked to that I’ve never met in person, and that’s fine. And I’ve done tens of thousands of dollars worth of business online with people I’ve never met as well. It also assumes that you can’t do business or interact using your pseudonym, and yet people use DBAs in business and social situations all the time. Finally, it assumes that you never tell people your real name. I tell people my real name when I meet them in person all the time. I don’t care about them knowing the connection offline, I just don’t want it to show up in search engines.

It’s just a dress code

This is the analogy that Google has publicly used. It’s a dress-up thing. Robert Scoble echos it when he says,

“I’m having fun here because you and I are using real names”

It’s just like dressing up to go to a nice restaurant! However, there is a huge difference between being required to wear a jacket, and being required to give everyone who views my profile a unique identifier which instantly links them to my house, my home, my children and (with a little digging) my financial information. The comparison is completely inappropriate, and it is an insult to every person who has ever been stalked, harassed, or abused in the offline world, let alone those who simply want to selectively impart information about ourselves, just like we do in real life. Your name is not a suit jacket. It is the key that places your resume next to your position on gay marriage, your technical papers next to your statements about legalizing marijuana, and your career history next to your medical problems. Wearing your suit jacket doesn’t keep you from getting hired, using your real name can. If we must insist on the restaurant analogy, this policy is more like requiring people to show up in nothing but their underwear.

If you’re being harassed, the only real solution is the legal system

I’ve seen this argument made several times. First of all, even if it were true in the United States, it isn’t going to mean a thing in most of the world where harassment, especially against a woman, is considered the fault of the victim. This is an international network. But for a better answer, read what Sandra Curtis has to say.

“From working in the mental health field for 45 years, I have personally known over 10 women who are now DEAD…. because their husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, fathers, brothers, spouses’ ex-wifes’/girlfriends, generally deranged persons who decided they were attracted to them, etc etc etc..went after them and killed them DESPITE restraining orders. These stalkers did not care if they were put in jail, or killed themselves as a result.

A restraining order is one of the most meaningless pieces of paper I have ever seen in my life!

I have testified in court – BEGGED the judge; “the guy said he is going to kill her, and that he doesn’t care what they do to him. If he can’t have her, nobody will.”

Judge says to the guy, “Stay away from her, court dismissed.”. Next day, found the wife stuffed in septic tank.

I don’t know how that judge, for one, lived with himself.

Then the guy gets released from state hospital 10 years later, because he was, of course, insane then (yeah, sure..) and now is sane (yeah, sure again..).

Guess who he comes after when he is released, folks ?????????

Please. I have moved 3 times, finally changed my name. I tell you again. You haven’t been there? Your advice is usually meaningless. We are not dummies. We have done it all to try to stay safe.

Google’s advertisers won’t like pseudonyms

Shava Nerad addresses this issue eloquently here: In short, marketing is about focus, and the things I discuss under my pseudonym tend to have a different focus than those I discuss under my real name. This differences allows the advertiser to target me even better. This is no different than how an advertiser treats the same person differently when they order from home, than when they order from their office address.


What Are the Alternatives to Pseudonyms?


Use Google Circles

1. Circles are only useful if you already have a network of friends interested in an issue.

2. Circles provide no protection for your correspondents, who don’t know who you put in the circle, and may not want anyone else to know their real name. Even if Google allowed you to attach a pseudonym to a circle, that doesn’t help the people who want to use their pseudonym to reply.

3. Circles provide no protection for talking about things with people whom you don’t trust with your personal information.

4. Circles aren’t public conversations. There are many many issues that work best with public discourse, Google Circles provides no help for this.

I actually feel that Circles are going to be a source of embarrassment to a large number of people. They are the “Reply All” of Google+. You don’t know who is in a circle when you get a message, which means you don’t know who you are responding to. You don’t even know how many people are in the circle. So when you get a message from your best friend that says, “Good morning!” and you reply with “Hi! So, did you take him home from the bar last night?” someone is not going to be happy when you discover that the “Good morning!” was directed to everyone at work. Even if you check the list of the random 21 people, that may not be enough to tell you if this is “Joe’s Friends” or “Everyone in Joe’s circles”. The opportunities for mistakes (and duplicity) are rife.

In short, Circles, especially large ones, not only don’t provide real privacy for correspondents, they may result in exposing information you’d prefer kept private.

Multiple nickname fields

Google has recommend this, and said it will be supported for search (possibly when you type a +?). This is certainly nice for the people who regularly go by different names in the same circles, especially for nicknames. It obviously does nothing for people who have separate social circles under different names, or people who wish to decide who has access to their identiy.

Sign up under real name, but have Google show only the pseudonym

This has potential. In fact, if it had been suggested three weeks ago, I might have said yes. However I find I now have a large group of friends who no longer trust Google with this information. The damage this fiasco has done to Google’s image on privacy cannot be underestimated. Barring that, this could work for many people, but it raises a couple questions.

1. What’s the “real” name providing? All the arguments against pseudonyms have to do with people not being accountable to other people on forums. If only Google knows my “real” name, this doesn’t solve that problem.

2. Is the real name going to be verified at signup, or any other time? If so, this really does nothing for the activist or anyone who feels particularly concerned about privacy. Many people have argued that Google shouldn’t provide pseudonyms because it’s just not safe. I’ve explained why that, while true, isn’t going to stop people. But this only makes it less safe. If someone snoops on my connection, puts a keylogger on my computer, or obtains my password, they will be able to see my real name in my profile. A policy like this makes things more dangerous to the people who can least afford it.

3. In the end, if the hidden “real” name is required to be verified, then there are still many people, especially the most scared and vulnerable, who won’t use the service.

Require that pseudonymous accounts are flagged as such

This of course assumes you have a way to tell. But obviously those of us with deliberate pseudonyms would have very little choice but to comply. The people with unusual names would be forced to verify their names and Google would have to white list them from the complaints. (I really don’t envy Google their support costs as a result of this policy.) My concern about this is that it creates a second class of users. If Google doesn’t provide a way to automatically block pseudonymic accounts, I’m sure someone will write a Chrome extension to do it. So a whole class of users, whose only sin is wishing to protect their privacy, will be joining in public conversation and wondering why nobody responds to them; go to the back of the bus. In real life, or on the net, people should be judged by their words and their actions. This solution robs us of that opportunity.

There is a way of flagging accounts which I do think is fine. That’s allowing people to have verified accounts. Ones that attest that this person is in fact who they claim to be. Twitter does it, and it makes sense to do so here. Of course there’s absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be able to verify that I am in fact the person with a speudonym who has blogs and Flickr accounts and twitter accounts on the net; that’s a useful feature.




Pseudonymous. Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the Internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely—they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don’t want people to know about. People in these circumstances may need a consistent identity, but one that is not linked to their offline self.

That quote is from Google’s own policy blog. The question isn’t whether Google gets it. The question is why on earth they thought that wasn’t a useful feature of a social network.

Here lies the huge irony in this discussion. Persistent pseudonyms aren’t ways to hide who you are. They provide a way to be who you are. You can finally talk about what you really believe; your real politics, your real problems, your real sexuality, your real family, your real self. Much of the support for “real names” comes from people who don’t want to hear about controversy, but controversy is only a small part of the need for pseudonyms. For most of us, it’s simply the desire to be able to talk openly about the things that matter to every one of us who uses the Internet. The desire to be judged—not by our birth, not by our sex, and not by who we work for—but by what we say.

Pseudonyms are not new to the computer age. Authors use them all the time. Our founding fathers used them. Anonymous and pseudonymous speech have been part of democratic society since its beginning. What is new is that more and more strangers, whom we have never seen and never spoken to, know our names. What is new is that a name, with just a few minor pieces of information (birthdate, friends names, employer, industry, town…) can in a few seconds provide thousands of personal details about who you are and where you live.

I have over 100 people in my circles on Google+ under my other account, many of them came over to Google+ from Twitter because I and a few others extolled its virtues. They all strongly believe in the criticality of being allowed to keep their identity intact and consistent across multiple services. They all strongly believe in being able to decide what they share and what they don’t, and want to keep their personal life separate from the names known to their bosses, neighbors and family. Why aren’t they having this discussion? Because they are either signed on to Google+ with real sounding accounts, or they are using their real names and don’t dare speak out. Back on Twitter, easily half of my followers are using pseudonyms, and most of them are waiting to see how this all turns out. They’d love to have a better forum to discuss technology, politics, kids, family, sexuality and all the things everyone talks about on the Internet, but they don’t want to risk being exposed by Google’s policies and naiveté. That’s why I’m speaking out. Because I can afford to, and they can’t.

I leave you with this question. What if I had posted this under my pseudonym? Why should that have made a difference? I would have written the same words, but ironically, I could have added some more personal and perhaps persuasive arguments which I dare not make under this account. Because I was forced to post this under my real name, I had to weaken my arguments; I had to share less of myself. Have you ever met “Kee Hinckley”? Have you met me under my other name? Does it matter? There is nothing real on the Internet; all you know about me is my words. You can look me up on Google, and still all you will know is my words. One real person wrote this post. It could have been submitted under either name. But one of them is not allowed to. Does that really make sense?

Behind every pseudonym is a real person. Deny the pseudonym and you deny the person.

A few small set of references in addition to the links in the article:

Sai .’s excellent post on the subject.

Who is harmed by a real names policy

Firm digs up dirt on potential employees

All the recent posts by Violet Blue

And thank you to all the numerous people who engaged me on both sides of this discussion and helped me edit and create this post. Regardless of our views, what we have in common is a passion about the future of Google+, and discourse on the internet.


144 thoughts on “Google has said that they plan to “address” the issue of pseudonymity in the near future.”

  1. Thank you very much for this, Kee Hinckley! I took (small) part in Sai .’s post, but this gives a different dimension! Great to have many perspectives aiming at one point!

  2. This is one of the best and most profound articles/post I have read on G+ yet. Thank you. I started out in the no-pseudonyms camp (hadn’t thought about all the good reasons to use a pseudonym, only the bad), but I was coming around and this post has put me squarely with the pro-pseudonyms group. Will re-share and bookmark for future reference.

  3. Thank you for so eloquently making the point. I hope some will listen and see the benefit of allowing all to make their own personal choice on the issue. Wendy Silver Love your TSA comment. I made a similar one just the other day in another discussion on this issue. Once Google comes to it’s senses and figures out the pseudonyms, I hope you come back. I have a feeling I’d enjoy your posts.

  4. I just wrote this in the comments at a re-share of your post, and figured I’d bring it over here.

    All of this raises the question of why Google’s got this policy in the first place. It looks to me like they have thought about these issues, and do understand the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity. Here’s my best guess corporate psychoanalysis of what’s going on:

    Take it, as givens, that Google has already considered these issues, and that they want to attract Facebook style use. That leads to a desire for a space that looks real-name. Let’s imagine some college friend of mine who idly searches for me on day. Sure, Google wants her to find me on G+ — that’s the name you’re known by clause, which doesn’t justify rejecting long-term on-line pseudonyms. But, when she drops by to check it out, they want G+ to look friendly. For the non-netizen Facebook multitudes, that can be assumed to mean “real name looking.” If she sees my posts with comments from Maria Fernandez, David Cohen and Jane Smith, it’ll look welcoming and “normal” (and yes, like Facebook), and she may create an account and stick around. If, on the other hand, she sees a lot of non-traditionally-real-looking names, it looks like a weird scary internet place, and she’s more likely to leave.

    Or maybe she’s more internet savvy than that. Say she’s got a pseudonym or two that she uses occasionally — maybe on LJ, or MeFi, or Gawker comments — but that isn’t a strong identity, and isn’t a way many people will search for her. If she sees a lot of pseudonyms, she’s likely to create an account with that name. (I’m finding it really, really weird to be interacting on-line with people I don’t know under my “real” name, but I’m giving it a try.) If names around here look real, she’s much more likely to use her real name. She’s more findable, which will bring in more people, and encourage them to stick around.

    This is my interpretation of the “dress code” argument: Google wants enough people using real-looking names that it’s how the place looks, and become the social expectation. Some people may break it, but only if they have a real reason to. I’m not defending the policy. I’d rather see pseudonyms allows, and I think that even if this is Google’s goal, they went about it in a really ham-fisted way. (My guess is that the messy way it’s been handled is a reflection of internal disagreements.) I’m just proposing an answer to the question of why Google’s doing this.

    Oh — this is also all very pragmatic, and not the sort of thing a company would ever want to admit to.

  5. Jessica Polito It’s possible. I certainly hope there was more thought given to it than “it will be more civil”. The other thought I’ve had is that they had some plan having to do with having real names (ecommerce? validation? I don’t know). I’m really not sure if there’s a purpose there, or we’re just trying to apply patterns to random data.

    Thanks, BTW, for commenting here. I do wish that Google+ would let at least the owner the post go view all the (viewable) reshares, instead of just giving a link to the people. It would be valuable for making correction comments,let alone going to see what other people are saying.

  6. Since they’re explicitly allowing real-name nicknames, initials, and the like, I don’t think it can have to do with e-commerce sorts of issues. I think they current policy stinks, but it’s a long way from requiring your ID or credit card name.

    (I agree, re-shares should come with a link.)

  7. Great post! In terms of the corporate psychology, yes, there are plenty of people at Google who get it about pseudonymity; I’m not sure how influential they are, and don’t know what the decision makers’ views on pseudonymity are.* From an advertising perspective, “real names + long-lived identifiable pseudonyms” is the sweet spot; so they quite probably thought that their policy would be perceived as more lenient than Facebook’s and less spam-prone than Twitter. Of course it’s unenforceable but maybe nobody knew that, or maybe the people who spoke up weren’t listened to. I would love to know how much input they got from their internal privacy team and whether they talked with external privacy, domestic violence, and LGBTQ organizations.

    * except for Eric Schmidt who says things like “In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you”

  8. Can anyone provide evidence where Google has said they will NEVER allow Pseudonymity prior the recent announcement? My guess it that no statement exists. When Google started strictly enforcing it’s “real name” policy everyone jumped to a great big conclusion and assumed that this was the way that Google+ would stay this way for ever.

    Can you imagine the howls and screams from the newly self-anointed Plus-erati if Google had quickly implemented a poorly thought out policy on pseudonymity as a knee-jerk response to moans and groans of users.

    I would like to remind readers of one thing (and yes I am going to shout because it appears many are hard at hearing):


    I just hope that in addition to post comments to your respective Google+ stream you are also behaving like responsible beta users that you are and posting the feedback to the correct place – The Send Feedback button on the bottom right of the screen.

  9. “Can you imagine the howls and screams from the newly self-anointed Plus-erati if Google had quickly implemented a poorly thought out policy on pseudonymity as a knee-jerk response to moans and groans of users.”

    Bearing in mind that Google’s policy (as expressed in Public Policy Blog; as conveyed by EMail from Profile Support; as quoted in numerous articles) started out incoherent and has remained incoherent. That’s not beta. That’s incompetence and/or bad planning and/or bad _____.

  10. Steve Remington I’ve been submitting 3-5 feedback messages a day…from this account. Despite assurances, I prefer not to risk using my pseudonym there.

    Yes, it’s beta. That’s why we’re having this discussion, because during beta they can change their plans. But yes, they have always made it clear they didn’t plan to support pseudonyms. They said we should use common names and put our other names in other fields. That’s not a pseudonym, that’s a nickname. If they intended to change it, they wouldn’t be deleting accounts right and left.

    Of course they could change course in the future. Flickr was a gaming site. Facebook was a college facebook. But that change will come as a result of demand. If we don’t yell for what we want now, they won’t see the demand. This is why you see so many people bitching, because we realize this is our one chance to have an impact.

    Remember too that these people using pseudonyms didn’t appear out of thin air. Virtually all of them existed already on Google services. From that standpoint, Google changed the rules in midstream by introducing a new product that rejected them after they had signed up for it. That was pretty poor planning on Google’s part, and it has led to a lot of the anger you see.

  11. Anyone who thinks there hasn’t been honest, authentic, generous, and energetic effort simply hasn’t looked. Or is using selective attention.

    I’m simply fed up with Google in general. (Not after this month. After this month, this year, this decade.)

    Step #1: assume that your interlocutor is stupid or lazy, or better: both. Then talk to them that way. Or better: just ignore them, give them the mushroom treatment.

    Step #2: count your money.

  12. The policy doesn’t seem to be in beta, though. Only the tech. Now that Google’s addressed the issue as promised, I’m a wee bit disappointed in the results, I must say.

  13. How very kind of you, Mr. Remington. (Not!)

    In my experience an authentic question would have been phrased quite differently.

    So explication would be waste of time and effort.

    Franky? I suspect you’re a troll.

    p.s. maybe you’ve spent too much time with quitters

  14. Bernard ben Tremblay Troll? Really? Why do you say that? Or was it because I questioned one of your posts in an insufficiently eloquent way?

    I was simply questioning a logical in consistency in your comment in straightforward way.

    If that’s your definition of a troll then I suppose I’m a troll.

  15. Why would I say that?

    Well gee golly shucks it just so happens that I set it out for you, in black and white, before you asked.

    “In my experience an authentic question would have been phrased quite differently.”

    It’s not a matter of you approving my thought or not. I set out my thought. You asked for my thinking. That order of things makes no sense, sir … simply not.

    You accept only what pleases you, that which you agree with. All else is void and null.

    Like I said: waste of time.

    FWIW: very typical of the discussion I’ve had on the issue: a peculiar sort of contempt. Which leaves me feeling foolish when I consider the number of technically detailed reports I filed via Feedback.

    Addendum: Any ethologists in the house? Studies on sense of fairness in dogs just came to mind; they don’t like being jerked around. They could teach folk here a thing or two about community. They’re truly team players.

  16. Bernard ben Tremblay I’ll give you an example of what might have been a sensible, rant-less, polite response from you to my comment.

    BTW I am just making this answer up so forgive me if i do not channel your thoughts correctly:

    +Steve Remington: You’re right in thinking my position is a little incongruous. But I think the best way to address the problems I think Google have at the moment is to continue to use their products and services, and provide them feedback when I can. Having said that if they ignore my suggestions for too long I may have to seriously think about no longer using their products and services at all.

    It’s short. It clarifies the issue in a polite way. And no one gets called a name.

  17. Bernard ben Tremblay Always with the name calling.

    I posted my question to genuinely understand you position but obviously you either do not want or are unable to elaborate.

    I’m sorry I bothered.

    I’m actually think +Kee Hinckley got it right when he mentioned the word curmudgeon (even though he was using it in a generic sense and not directing at anyone).

  18. Dang. Your comment popped up and blew my ps away … I’ll write this incrementally.

    p.s. Oh my, forgot my manners … credit where credti is due, yes?

    Please know that I paid your words close attention. The contempt was so subtly veiled. If you don’t mind me asking: do you give workshops on Plausibly Deniable Passive Aggressive? or use it only for your own benefit?

    In any case, I’ll certainly copy this as an artifact in my collection, filed under “How yuppie narcissists are laying the foundations for #GlobalGulag under our noses”.

    yours truly

    Bernard “ben” Tremblay

    NB: “Fitz” is allowed quotation marks; I am not. That’s called double standard.

  19. Kee Hinckley Thanks for a very thoughtful and detailed post. It’s true that there’s a place for anonymous and pseudonymous IDs on the Web, and, by extension, in Google+. However, to me the fundamental question is whether the ability to use such IDs is a right or a privilege. I would have to say that it’s a privilege, one that can be used or abused. In my experience, these are privileges that can be abused easily, because anonymous and pseudonymous online identities are not people, they’re meta-people. When using one, their audience has no knowledge of whether the person using it is just one person or whether it’s one of many IDs that a person uses to influence the Web. If the person using it does something irresponsible with it, they can “disappear” and reappear elsewhere under new pseudonyms. I experienced this in detail on platforms such as Newsvine, which I gave up on because it was rife with sock puppets form political and corporate PR organizations. Digg died in large part because of sock puppets.

    There are good and noble reasons to use meta-identities on the Web, but for every person with a good reason there are fifty or more people highly motivated to use them for bad reasons. Wherever there’s an opportunity to abuse a public forum on the Web, it will be abused. Google is perhaps the world’s leading expert in Web abuse between its search and email and blogging products. Their efforts come from a good place. I do believe that there’s a path for naturalization of meta-people into full citizenship on services like Google+ , but I do think that we need to recognize that the cost of meta-identities to the safety and quality of interactions from the perspective of non-metapersons is not addressed strongly by most peopel with arguments in favor of them as identities with equal rights.

  20. I hope you copy / paste that as appropriate, John.

    So many threads are fractured / put into ReDo from Start mode by such as “Use Feedback!”

    p.s. keep in mind that since Day 1 some of have been calling on Google to either make a clear, simple, well grounded statement (and stick with it, amending as required) or to stick with what they published in Public Policy Blog (again, amending as the situation directed). Seems to me that they’ve ignored all that / done it not at all. Point being to create a base for all to see, deal with the majority of egregious cases, and use edge cases to hone / tweak.

  21. Bernard ben Tremblay I don’t know about Steve, but I’m autistic. I don’t quite see the relevance here… but I’m slightly bothered that I should feel vaguely insulted. I might have that wrong, though. The question wasn’t being used as a slur, right?

  22. Truth? Tateru? I meant it absolutely honestly … is why I threw in “nothing so innocent”.

    More than once I’ve wondered if I’m Asbergers. Of heh perhaps not such a high-functioning sort. 🙂

    cheers / greets

    p.s. to explain why this came up: we (I touched on this in my cog- and social psychology lab work) found that certain mmmmm social turns of speech caused some folk a lot of trouble. What is being implied (not always kindly!) is often not at all explicit.

    I use this as rule of thumb: rhetoric is the art of skillful speech and writing (Usually to motivate or compel / convince, but not always so restricted.) but sophistry is something else. It’s crafty … and manipulative. I say it’s mean. But that nastiness is veiled. It’s designed to be deniable. That causes a lot of folk trouble!


  23. It’s a spectrum, of course, on which everyone is placed. Perhaps the most common characteristic is a result of the enlarged amygdalae and a hypersensitivity to dopamine, causing increased activity in Broca’s region, and increased sensitivity to stimulus, and to the emotional states of others. Up at the far end of that spectrum, the person becomes increasingly incapable of functioning – being effectively overwhelmed by people and the world in their noisy, expressive norms.

    We communicative ones aren’t nearly so far along, though we do trend towards a limited capacity for confrontationality.

  24. W/Respect – I’d very much like to follow up on this with you … especially your point about confrontation. (I started w/psychoendocrinology but of course spent some time with the physiology.)

    But I’m distracted by the thought that we’re fragmenting this thread.

    I hope you will find something in my Posts to respond to. Absent that, I’ll spider yours.


  25. I just blocked someone who has been posting in this thread… ad hominem attacks, name calling, totally off topic for what was a great thread.

    Would be fine with me if the thread originator were to block that hostile person as well. I hope the thread does get back on topic, without personal attacks and flame wars. Not needed. Thank you everyone else for your courtesy. We can have this discussion without personal attacks. IMHO

  26. John Blossom For me, John, the strongest argument against the deprecation of the persistently pseudonymous is the collateral damage, ie, the number of people who are using their own wallet names but whose names seem odd or peculiar or unlikely enough (parents do do some terrible things to their children when it comes to selecting names) that they are caught up in the same net. In the last week, almost as many of my contacts – using their proper names in their wallets – have been swatted as my pseudonymous colleagues and friends.

    And that, I think, is where the damage is done. Perhaps you are saddled with an unfortunate name. It isn’t very good for the self-esteem or one’s warm feelings towards the service if you’re – functionally – spanked for it. That it is considered so odd or outlandish that the service operators insist that you provide government-issue ID to prove that it is actually a real name and that it is yours.

    I have some experience in this sort of matter. It’s not something you feel good about. It’s something that makes you resentful, and rather makes you wish you’d signed up under a pseudonym.

  27. Tateru Nino that’s part of why I’ve been referring to it as a “plausible names” policy in my own rambling on the topic. Pseudonymous or otherwise, it’s the odd-looking (to Google or some of its flag-happy users) names that get flagged. I fully expect to see – probably already have seen – plenty of plausibly named sock puppets: John Smith, John Smithy, John Smithson, Jon Smythe, and so on for silly example. Heck, the way names work on Google+ Profiles, they could all be named “John Smith” and we wouldn’t know the difference.

    More likely, have a script grab names from a baby name site, last names from a census report or genealogy site, and profile images from Google Image Search. Then troll away, John Smith. Troll away.

  28. Thank you for continuing to fight on my behalf even though you haven’t got the slightest clue who I am, literally or pseudnoicially. I don’t dare do it myself, because I don’t want to lose the gmail account I’ve had as my primary email address for more than five years.

    I was always a google services early adopter type. but this policy will force me to seek an alternative if it doesn’t change.

  29. as published in 1597, by an author I will not name to preserve his anonymity:

    ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

    Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

    What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

    Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

    Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

    What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

    By any other name would smell as sweet;

    So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

    Retain that dear perfection which he owes

    Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

    And for that name which is no part of thee

    Take all myself.

  30. Question… now that Google’s said how it plans to address pseudonyms – are you satisfied with the result? Do you feel it will revise its stance again in the near future?

  31. That was what Horowitz’s post on the 25th was all about. Boiled down, it basically amounts to: You can have as many nicknames, names, pseudonyms, handles or aliases as you like in the to-be-provided space, so long as your profile is under your ‘real’ name. By ‘real’ I infer he means ‘a name that you can prove, should Google challenge you on it’ – and one that contains no funny punctuation.

    Edit: Gundotra told Scoble that they’d be reviewing it, and Horowitz announced the results a few hours later. There’s an additional bit about challenging users to change their names before suspending them in there as well. As a side-note, Google employees who discussed or reshared the merits of pseudonymity, nicknames and identity (on either side of the debate) all went silent a few hours after that. I presume some sort of memo was involved.

  32. As I replied to someone else who asked if that would be sufficient:

    The problem is that people need multiple non-overlapping contexts. Someone may want to post in their professional persona some of the time, their transgender person passing in a sexist society persona some of the time, and their “partner of a recovering alcoholic” persona other times.

    If “selected pseudonym” is selectable on a post-by-post basis, and pseudonyms can have and be in circles, that (done right) should solve the issues I have.

    It would not solve everyone’s issues, because some transgender people, or partners of recovering alcoholics will not want Google to be able to make the connection to their professional persona.

    I am a little disappointed in Google in all this, because back when Yahoo! mail was being excoriated for turning over the real name of a chinese dissident, Google made the decision that they would deal with this by not asking for peoples’s real names when signing up for GMail. You can’t give up information you don’t have. So Google is clearly aware of the issues and their importance, they’ve just decided that, in this case, other considerations are more important.

    That sends a message to those people for whom this is a key issue. In particular, right now the subtle message is “this is not a place for people who want to change the world.”

    I want to change the world. I want to talk to other people who want to change the world.

  33. You would also have to be able to select the correct pseudonym when you are commenting. But even in then it doesn’t work, because it assumes that I trust everyone I talk to using a persona to also know my real name, and that’s obviously not the case; posers and nut cases abound. Circles provide single directional security. Even if I could create one using just the pseudonym, it can only follow real names. And if I post to one, the person replying has no way to know if the circle was “closeted gays” or “in closeted gays + your boss”.

    Such a system, even if possible to implement, would be rife with user error. The people who say pseudonyms aren’t safe? They should be twice as upset at the idea of using circles.

  34. That’s why I go with the simplicity of two legal names. One for home-use and other personal uses. The other is for business, online and every time I pick up an electronic device. As someone who has been threatened extensively under both names (I’m regrettably afflicted with principles, apparently), that divide allows me to be as active as I please, without compromising myself or my family.

  35. If the “base profile” for a pseudonym is discoverable then the scheme doesn’t address the problem at all! If pseuds can’t have independent circles (both to hold and to be held in) then that won’t solve the problem either.

    But if even if base names aren’t discoverable from nicks, and nicks can have and be in circles independently, it’s still not enough for the reason I said above. People do not trust Google with the connection between their nicks and their profile.

    Tateru Nino though as I understand the policy, you are not allowed to have two G+ profiles, one under each “legal” name. The problem is a “one identity” policy. If one were allowed multiple profiles without draconian rules about proof then the problem would be solved.

  36. Charles Haynes Not sure if you addressed this point, but if a profile is set to private then their Name/Nym will not show up even if they are in your circles and you in theirs. This is set to change as G+ will delete all private profiles on July 31’st, which effectively will kick out anyone who does not want to be publicly google’able. Not sure if I will be able to use G+ after July…Sad.

  37. For all the discussion about why people may want or need pseudonymity, the answer is, “Ok, we’ll make the nickname field longer”. No, that is not satisfying.

    As for various ways to choose case-by-case names, I have very little confidence that can work. It takes one wrong deployed template, one too-eager search or too-clever future feature, and you’re shot. Not to mention changing terms later, or outright hacks. Buzz, Facebook and Sony are realistic examples showing this is not just paranoia. (And frankly, it smacks badly of boiling a frog slowly).

  38. I believe there was some sort of announcement a couple weeks ago – though I cannot recall where that might be, but yes. All non-public profiles will be deleted at the end of the month. Personally, I didn’t know that private profiles were an option and I need to figure out of mine is or isn’t one.

  39. interesting, but it looks like my non-search may have been changed to viewable on Google search? I will have to check it out later… heading out for the day. this evening I will post and let e-body know what I find out.

  40. Kevin L I was thinking along the same lines, that it could be easy to add an option for every interested user to verify their G+ account (like the verified Twitter accounts) and allow blocking non-verified accounts from their stream and comments, so those who are adamantly against pseudonyms could interact in their own safe haven, unpolluted by all the “weirdos”. But on the other hand, it might create a dangerous precedent and encourage establishing the legal-name Internet as a pervasive standard.

  41. Cat Gray Kevin L I’m very concerned about the precedent of allowing people to block pseudonyms. I know some people have a visceral reaction to them, but it’s not rational. If everyone here were to change their name to the same pseudonym, but in Chinese, those people wouldn’t have any complaint at all. When someone says they don’t mind something, so long as they don’t know it’s there, I find that very disturbing. That’s the “I don’t mind gays, I just don’t want them to act gay.” argument.

  42. Has anyone else noticed the phrasing “We believe that using [product][in a certain way] is how the product is best used.” cropping up a lot? Say, for public profiles and for real names? Wouldn’t it be nice if they dropped the “We believe” part and actually went with “We’re going to find out”

  43. Some people will still want to go entirely private except to people they have shared with, so it’s a start, but not quite strong enough. (And breaks EU laws, I believe?)

    I would prefer blocking on verified/unverified, because blocking on ‘pseudonym’ means you don’t actually block all of the WASPonyms and that’s what people are actually afraid of, talking to people who aren’t using a verified name.

    Yes, me too, Tateru!

  44. Gretchen S. alas it probably doesn’t breaks EU law.

    Australia also mandates pseudonymity but there are various factors, including whether “the provision of the product or service could be improved if the individual was known”. This may account for some of the “we believe” that Tateru Nino highlighted.

    Just to be clear, I’m not defending Google’s decision here, I think it’s pretty unconscionable. I’m just not convinced it’s illegal.

  45. Tateru Nino Considering that Google at heart is (or at least was) all about organizing existing and emergent data and information, this U-turn to dictate use seems doubly strange.

  46. Tali Rosca yes and no. it would be a lot easier to organize data if people only had one primary name and you could apply simple rules to it (first/last, no mixed character sets, etc.) so it’s very natural for a company as focused on algorithms and efficiency as Google is to simplify even if it causes problems for outliers. and also i think you have to set it in the context of Eric Schmidt’s view that anonymity is dangerous and privacy is only for people who have something to hide, and Google’s past privacy mishaps including the botch with Buzz and Streetview cars vaccuuming up everybody’s wifi passwords and device locations.

  47. This post is so incredibly awesome. Kee Hinckley , Thank you for taking the time to summarize all the arguments and make such a strong case for private social networks making policies that reflect the principles of the democratic society from which they emerged.

  48. Jon Pincus Sandra Curtis So it looks like you can keep Google search from finding your profile, and you can hide everything in your profile except your name, but you can’t make your profile so invisible that it can’t be seen on Google+ using + expansion (or of course, going to it).

    I don’t know how that compares to Facebook. But it does seem to kind of make sense, how could you post if I can’t see your name? But maybe I’m missing something.

  49. This is why it’s so important to allow people to choose their names. A lot of activity, especially important cross-connect activity on discussions such as this, takes place in public threads. Silencing people on the public channel makes the service no better than Facebook, and actually rather worse, because you’re missing out on things.

  50. Kee Hinckley I think your description is accurate (with Burnley Wilkins’ wrinkle), haven’t played around with it to know for sure.

    One alternative would be to have a private profile unviewable except by people they’re following. That is, if I want to stay private, people can’t see me unless I’ve first started following them. There are some situations where this is exactly what people want.

  51. One key difference between Google+ and Twitter/Facebook is that the majority of discussion and replies are public and easily viewable. In that respect it’s much more like blogging and replying to blogs. The good news is that it great aids social networking. The downside is you have to be more careful about what you are saying and where you are saying it.

  52. “You know, everyone wants to avoid government persecution, but some people think it’s worth taking the risk. Telling them to go hide and suffer in silence is not helpful.” = brilliant

  53. Gabe Small Chris Reimer Robert did reply. He also reshared it to his 90,000 followers and was quite gracious. He doesn’t agree with my conclusions, but he granted that I’d convinced him of the value on some points. It was a very nice reply.

    Of course, maybe he was just punishing me. 🙂 I just had to turn off push notifications on my phone due to the sudden influx of followers and comments, and my follower count as gone up 200 in the past two hours.

  54. Excellent Excellent post. Very informative, and also very well written. There are so many parts that resonated with me, as I have posted extensively under a pseudonym as well. But you summed it up very well with this one Kee Hinckley

    “Here lies the huge irony in this discussion. Persistent pseudonyms aren’t ways to hide who you are. They provide a way to be who you are.”

    I can only hope that Google+ will allow this medium to provide the same type of community-gathering free speech mentioned at the start of the post. Since Google has no obligation to do so, we can only hope and lobby that they choose to.

  55. This was an enjoyable post to read and you make a series of superb arguments for pseudonymity. Not only that, you propose plenty of reasonable counter-arguments to your concerns. Your post is, in my opinion, the best type of discourse.

    In that spirit, I’d like to offer a counter-argument I don’t believe you or +Robert Scoble covered. My argument is an evolutionary one. Anonymity, as with pseudonymity, has provided a shield for individuals and groups to speak about their concerns without fear of retribution. This fear is motivated by the perception that actual harm may come to them or to loved ones as a result of communicating in person. You illustrated the myriad of ways this may occur nicely.

    Pseudonymity provides protection from physical harm, assuming that the pseudonymity is complete enough to prevent bad actors from finding out enough about your physical self to be able to act against you. Pseudonymity does not protect you from direct emotional harm, unless you have erected some sort of psychological barrier between your real emotional self and your digital self that allows you to converse with bad actors without injury. Pseudonymity may protect you from indirect harm (that is, harm caused to loved ones) but only partially so: your digital self has digital acquaintances and friends and therefore a bad actor is perfectly capable of exacting harm indirectly against you.

    All of this sounds essentially “good” except that it interferes with an evolutionary, albeit idealistic, opportunity. That opportunity is to allow humans to discard the negotiation of self that has evolved as a result of direct, real-life interpersonal communication. The concept of a pseudonym is no different from the concept of a “negotiated self” or the personality attributes that you have adopted as a result of what you think people desire in you and how you believe you should be interpreted. This negotiated self is a mechanism to allow you easier integration into small (by global standards) groups, like tribes or communities. It facilitates communication by establishing common, consciously and sub-consciously agreed upon parameters for interaction, much like language itself.

    I believe you would agree that you manage many “selves” in your real life as well: nuances of personality that you express or suppress depending upon your environment. I know of no person who behaves identically in a family setting as they do in an employment setting. These are language and behavior “pseudonyms,” all of which obscure your actual, internal “self.”

    The beauty of digital communication is that it enables interpersonal communication at a very, very slow speed while maintaining the appearance of instantaneity. Even instant messaging enables transmission of much, much less data than a physical conversation at a much, much slower speed. This built-in “patience” enables the operator much greater time to try and parse out the root messaging in full exposure (that is, the safety and comfort of their chair) rather than negotiating with a superficial self that is quite muddled with various social, linguistic, and interpersonal obligations. Alex Pentland revealed a great deal about this in his work with “honest signals” and exposed many of the data layers that verbal and visual communication obscure. As a result, these negotiated selves (whether real or digital) take a while to interpret. It will take you and I the exchange of a huge amount of data (by today’s electronic standards) before we even get a faint sense of the wholeness of the other’s “self.”

    My (hopeful) hypothesis would be that a super-culture will eventually emerge in a fully connected global community that eliminates marginalization on the basis of the many attributes you mentioned due to extremely high volumes of interaction. The rationality for this evolution is that the ability to manipulate one’s self via pseudonyms or anonymity will eventually be difficult to a point where de facto publicity (as an antonym to privacy) will exist.

    This “publicity” will evolve as a result of the necessity for you (as a real person) to be able to sign for the validity of your communication: that you are, in fact, who you say you are. It’s possible two tiers of communication will emerge (anonymized and publicized) but this is probably unlikely due to business need to monetize communication forums like Facebook and Google+. An anonymous model of consumption is pretty hard to imagine as at some point a transaction must take place and transactions require an exchange between at least two unique components.

    So, if we assume that all networks must eventually be tied to unique, real components capable of negotiating the exchange of assets, we have to assume that networks will trend towards publicity, not away from it. Thus, we will be forced to act accordingly – that is – with the knowledge that anything we say or do will eventually be linked to our “real” selves.

    Given this model, the interactions of real but abstracted “selves” should enable dispassionate, easily parsed communication. I can caps-lock obscenities but this behavior quickly becomes noise in an abstracted medium whereas in a physical medium, it is threatening. Communication that is aggressive, passive, strong, or weak will find more equal ground in this medium than in the real-world one because so much of the signaling is removed. In other words, in the course of many, many iterations of interaction, digital communication shouldn’t have a cooling effect on communication (as in Scoble’s argument), it should have a moderating effect on culture.

    In theory, if your digital and physical self are bound together but you maintain the level of honesty afforded to you by pseudonyms without the false sense of protection, cultural divisions (even those as simple as “work-friends” versus “college-friends”) should begin to vanish.

    That’s the hope, anyway.

  56. Commentary I’ve written elsewhere in the last few days:

    “I think Google has really shot itself in the foot with the “twin brouhahas” of brand profiles and the pseudonym account closure debate. You don’t want to squander goodwill like that, and for what? Neither of these two interventions were truly necessary.

    They stemmed more from a sort of engineering-DNA driven wish to control, to have things neat and tidy. When the real world is…well…more chaotic than that (and really G+ should hace just looked at these as Edge Cases to test their closed beta product against).

    I said last week when both things were happening one after the other that they had to have been high-five-ing each other at Facebook HQ as this was spreading. … But the chance to be the beloved protector of privacy rights vs. FB has likely sailed for good. Honeymoon = over.”

    “Google+ team should take notice, this is why the brand and pseudonym crack-downs were such a bad idea.

    As the saying goes: ~ “People later won’t remember what exactly you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel…”

    “*G+ = The future Bank of Google?!*

    Hmmm… this is probably true, however: eBay doesn’t require real names to be visible. Yelp doesn’t. I say let people choose what they want to expose, even if Google wants to have your real name in the background for business purposes.

    Do you really want someone that you just snatched that one-in-a-million vase they had their eye on away from them at the last second to see by your real name?

    Do you want a local business owner considering retaliation for a negative Yelp review by a local? Etc. etc. In fact, the longer I think about this, the more of a hindrance public real names can become.”

    “*Flickr-Cofounder Caterina Fake on Pseudonyms*

    Great that tech thought leaders are speaking out on this.

    Let’s hope Google gets it right, because it has created a definite end to the G+ honeymoon phase, which was already being dented by the brand accounts issues. But there most average users were going, “well, it’s just brands”…

    I think anyone from a majority/dominant social group or culture is less likely to fully grasp the deeper issues of this. Why? Because they’ve always felt relatively safe. The fish doesn’t know it’s in water…

    Key quote: “In the cases where pseudonyms are being abused, it is the harm that should be stopped, not the pseudonyms.”–

  57. Ok, great post but I have a couple of questions,

    1. who owns a pseudonym, I have seen penty of cases where people get into arguments over who owns a particular ‘nym how do we handle that?

    2. What if someone uses YOUR ‘nym here berfore you do, and starts to post here in an opposite manner to how you would?

  58. Sean Fullerton wrote: “who owns a pseudonym […] What if someone uses YOUR ‘nym here before you do […]?”

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see why these are pseudonym-specific issues? Plenty of people have names that aren’t at all unique – in high school I knew people with names like Julie Smith and Mike Wilson. Google Plus definitely allows different people with exactly the same name to have accounts.

    I actually think that this would be more of an issue with people who have the same real name as famous people – for example, I read an article about the other “Sarah Palin,” a student whose life suddenly became miserable in 2008…

  59. The only reasons I can safely use the Name James Lorance Williams are 1) I’m out on disability and cannot be fired, and 2) I’m old and nearing retirement and don’t give a fig what people think of me. The rest of your are crazy if you are using real names.


    Dharma Galaxy.

    No essence. No permanence. No perfection.

  60. Tom Swirly This is true but there are other identifiers that allow a person to identify someone, usually a photo or location BUT with a ‘nym there is usually no photo and location is ‘Internet’.

    HOW would you prove that someone is using your ‘nym? Supposing I wish to annoy a blogger who uses a ‘nym, I could easily register as that blooger here under that ‘nym before they did and start to post enteries that are inflamatory to the orginal person, OR even similar but slightly biased. At some point ‘nyms would have to be policed and some how a user would have to prove that they “own” a ‘nym….which is near impossible.

  61. Sean Fullerton Your model of names or pseudonyms involves people squatting on them and not allowing anyone else on them, but that’s not how it works.

    Multiple people can already have the same real name – even if that name is a “famous person”. Search will put the real blogger or famous person with thousands of followers far above the fake with no followers – or “your” Mike Wilson over other Mike Wilsons because “your” Mike Wilson is much closer in your network.

  62. I’ve read the whole thing and damn was it a good read. I also agree people should not be forced to put their real names online where just about anyone can see. Anyway, I read somewhere Kee Hinckley about you being NazGul.. Is that right?

  63. All of the concerns, red flags and fears the Anti-Nym Contingency raise have already been demonstrated to be unfounded in an online community of 20 million registered user that cannot use their real names. Second Life has operated since 2003 with a technology that actively discouraged users from using their real names. People exchange ideas, transaction commerce, form relationships, launch careers, conduct business and develop huge networks of friends and colleagues using pseudonyms. The people in Second Life who cause problems do so because they are people who cause problems, not because their name is Fascination Firestorm or Turbo Pickle.

  64. The 800-pound gorilla in this room is that US government security agencies are most likely influencing this policy, possibly indirectly through the data-mining firms.

    Papers, citizen?

  65. This is an excellent article. And also remember that pseudonyms let those of us with common names finally become unique. Maybe not as critical as the other reasons, but one more benefit.

  66. ::hands Kee a large bouquet::

    Jim Williams Actually, being out on disability is the reason I’m probably going to delete my G+ account soon. I have been warned by my lawyers that the disability company will hire private eyes to follow me, both in person and online, hoping to prove I’m not really disabled. Any online activity can be used against you — laughing Facebook pictures at Disney World have been used to disprove depression. It’s not that I’m ashamed to be disabled, it’s that I know that anything I say can be used out of context against me.

    I am frightened.

  67. +Betsy Hanes Perry, Since I really can’t concentrate well enough to program anymore I’m not too concerned myself. The lung they removed slowed me down a lot, but the chemo screwed up my head so I can’t do it. They can’t prove something that isn’t true when all the doctors say it isn’t true.

  68. Am i the only one to think asking for pseudonymity/anonymity to protect women online is like asking for burkas to protect women in real life? Lets hide women because men can’t behave? I know that men don’t behave but Hiding is what women want all of a sudden?

    and hey, lets have china or iran dictate the online experience of everyone else.

    Only 50 years ago everyone had his/her real name in the phone book. were we better people back then?

    i am glad that o don’t have to talk to comic book or sience finction or anime characters on google+. for that i go to 4chan

  69. Walter Knupe women should be able to wear what they want, even burkas. Kee never said everyone HAD to use pseudonyms, just that it should be allowed. that each person should have a choice.

    Google should not be attempting to control abuse, by controlling names. it should focus it’s energy and resources directly on abuse.

    BTW, for some kinds of abuse, all that has to be done is to not let the account post anymore. not delete or suspend it.

  70. Kee Hinckley it sounds like you’re arguing this as though the existence of G+ prevents people from (a) using existing services — Twitter, Blogspot, Facebook, etc — to express their opinions anonymously and (b) keeping potentially inflammatory content in a private channel — email, telephone, chat room, postal mail, or other method of non-public messaging.

    I understand and agree with your arguments for anonymity in general, but since G+ doesn’t replace or eliminate your ability to use any of those other services, I’m confused by the fervor that’s being expressed (and also by the sense of entitlement). Can you address that specifically?

  71. The two cents I have to offer Google..hopefully they get down this far in the reading of this thread before making a final decision on the pseudonym issue..has to do with my speaking with a large business group that is watching the growth of G+ and this issue. I will have to say from their frank discussion Google would be wise to stand tough to their policy and push for developing a very solid and deception free database of real people. If not, they can forget getting the full attention of the business community..the people who pay Google’s bills.

    I do not see..nor do these businesses…see there are anything limitations Google is placing on anyone from saying what they want to say as long as they provide a name that is REAL. Those who choice to brand another name..myself included..can do so through other venues online.

    Trust and the validation someone can be trusted is what is going to drive the next stage of the economy and provide everyone on G+ with jobs. There are plenty of other social networks for people to go play games and hide behind clown names so they can dish out deception by the truck load.

    Hopefully G+ will continue to develop some reality to the internet so something out here in La-La-Land can finally be trusted.

  72. Scot Duke I don’t know who you are (and I don’t particularly care about that); I’d like to know, though, did you happen to actually read the original post? Because you seem to be completely disconnected from the discussion and you seem to be ignoring all arguments posted here.

  73. I would like to add my two bits. If you folks would allow me. Many of you speak about how important it is to hide real identity for self protection however maybe some of you have never been victim of people deliberately attacking you and your business using fake identities. My business over the years has suffered immensely on public forums and boards for the kind of internet work I do. I have suffered throws of fake nics trolling and out right slandering my business only for those fake nics and trolls to further there own business interests in the same field. Had real identities played a role I would have known where attacks originated from and been able to properly defend myself. My business is legit however it’s highly competitive.

    Extreme situations regarding how important being anon on the internet is a falsehood. Arguments supporting anon behavior on the internet hold examples of extreme situations that are often over blown and exagerated. Some governments may or may not persecute its people for activities on the internet and I will get to that in a moment. In contrast the user’s of anon id’s and even pseudo nic names is far more damaging. Our schools children face bullies and being bullied by other kids using fake names on the internet is far more common than a civilized modern/western government breaking into a home to silence a political opposition voice.

    In situations regarding the latest college kids blowing up fellow students or even the latest news breaker from Europe doing the island massacre he surfed information on the web using fake names, the kid that shot the congress woman in Arizona again used fake names. Terrorist of 9/11 used fake names on the internet!

    So the better question is to ask yourselves is it safer for a civilized society to allow fake names on the internet? Consider your business being attacked by fake nics and trolls non stop for weeks at a time. The internet is a non stop machine and can run “Rumor Mill’s” about you as though it is undisputed fact. How would you like to be targeted and singled out like that? Fake nics and anon user’s have abused people for far to long and in some cases must be held accountable. Which leads me to the next part….

    Being accountable.

    Kee Hinckley Sites a Supreme Court Ruling –

    “Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.”

    Is a flawed philosophy and a mis interpretation of all our rights to freedom of speech relating to our founders.

    Lets look at this for a minute.

    Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship.

    That is literal. We are all free to speak freely without Censorship here in America. It’s romantic to think that yes we are all free to speak and should face no persecution but that is hardly true in today’s populist money driven media which is completely a new topic unto itself. However… No where in our rights to free speech does it include nor allow for the ability to speak and represent anonymously. The Supreme Court wrote it’s own rules regarding true interpretation of “The Freedom Of Speech”. I would go so far to say that it probably never occurred to our founders that a man of honor would wish to speak anonymously and at the time of its writing it would be unconscionable and cowardly.

    For correct true political discourse to occur we all must realize that a part of that discourse should only be taken by real representation while this shield of Extreme views representing a minority is a definable falsehood. An Extreme View is still an extreme view and IF real still requires… Representation under the freedom of speech but not under the guise of anonymity!

    Larry Flynt for example in his days was an extreme view yet he was required and was not allowed to fight for our rights to free speech anonymously.

  74. Please do a google search on The Federalist Papers. That series of discussions, published anonymously by our founding fathers, were instrumental in creating the ideas and dialog necessary to create our country. They mist certainly understood the value of anonymous speech, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to plan the revolution or the new government.

    I don’t deny your issues. They are real, but they really arent solved by Goigle’s policy. Unless we require that everyone use an ID when they surf the Internet, it is impossible to do what you ask. Google is not blocking people from creating fake “real sounding” names, only ones that are obviously not real. On the other side of the fence, Google would most certainly terminate accounts that persecuted you, whether or not they were real names. And they would probably attempt to use their verification procedures to prevent those people from returning, albeit not very well; there simply isn’t a technical way to do it well.

    So Google’s policies don’t give you what you quite reasonably wish were possible. What Google’s policies do do, is keep people from defending themselves from physical attacks. The inability to hide your real name puts people at physical risk from stalkers. I’ll take virtual harassment over physical harassment any day.

    The other thing to note, is the consequences if Google were to institute a true “real name” policy, one in which a government ID were required for all accounts, not just the ones that sound weird. South Korea did this after a woman was stalked anonymously online and committed suicide. As of a few days ago, South Korea is frantically trying to undo their policy. That database of real names, email and addresses was a huge hacker target. An ISP was attacked and the names and addresses and email addresses of two thirds of the country were stolen. Google has been successfully hacked before; they will be again.

    I’m afraid that what you need to protect from anonymous attackers simply isn’t technically, or even safely, possible. Good tools for reporting and addressing attacks from accounts are the only solution. Shitting down accounts that look fake simply isn’t going to help you, and it hurts others.

  75. Kee Hinckley The Federalist Papers were written anonymously true but again an extremist example relating to free speech. However the names came to be public. The Federalist Papers also never supported the Bill Of Rights.

  76. Kee Hinckley Google+ should find a place in between SecondLife where you can be totally different from who you are in real (first) life and Facebook where you should be totally transparent with all your “friends” (and friends of your friends).

    Pseudonyms (or Avatars), like you pointed out, are not really a effective protection against bad actors and everything you publish (in paper or electronic form) can be eventually be traced to your real person. However, a weak protection is better than no protection and thus G+ MUST allow them. Circles are a simple but effective way to publish different messages for different groups so they also help to not over expose yourself.

    On the other hand, on some occasions (like purchasing something or starting a business), I want to be sure to not deal with some bogus person. We could imagine a system where you’ll be +xxx zzzz to be a real name or pseudonym, and ++xxx zzzz if you provided enough credentials to Google to prove that you are really real. That escrow system could also be good business for Google because it can be a paid service !

  77. Olivier Moreau I understand what you’re trying to do. But you’re describing an ideal system which doesn’t really exist.

    I have a number of friends on Facebook whose real name I don’t know. That doesn’t matter, they are online friends. That’s fine. Facebook has a real names policy, but they are far worse at invoking it than Google is.

    Circles are a good organizational tool, but they don’t provide privacy because the sender and receiver have to know each other’s real names, and anyone who comments has no idea who is now able to read what they just wrote (under their real name).

    And I’m not sure what a “bogus” person is. There’s a person behind every account, regardless of the name. And knowing the name does nothing to assure me that the person is legit. I’ve done business with people without knowing the name on their drivers license. All I care about is whether they have a bank account, not what their name is. I do agree, however, that Google could offer a validation service for pay that would be valuable. Similarly, they could validate the reputation and associated web sites of a pseudonym, so even if you didn’t know the name, you’d at least know that this was someone who had been around for some time and had a reputation to protect.

    Brief edit. I’m not trying to smash it down, I do agree with your goals. I’m just not sure it’s that straightforward (and frankly, right now I’m more than a little tired, so I’m having trouble thinking straight.)

  78. Kee Hinckley We are both describing the ideal system that does not exist YET !

    I agree with you on the general ideas and the question is really not about real versus fake names but instead of standard accounts (with real name or pseudonyms) versus ++ accounts that are validated by an escrow system run by google. Of course most ++ accounts will correspond to real names but it should be also possible to have the ++ for a pen name as long Google has verified who is the person behind it.

    And to go even further, you good get +++ if you are validated by a solicitor !

  79. Kee Hinckley You accused me of simply “rehashing” old arguments, since you believe you’ve posted the definitely argument on this matter here, so allow me to demonstrate why I’m not convinced by the weight of your argument.

    >”People confuse two concepts: anonymity (no one knows who you are at all, no persistence over time, the most prolific author of all time is Anonymous) and pseudonymity (no one knows who you are, but there’s a persistent identity over time like a pen name..)

    Actually “pseudonym” literally means “false name”, and while it includes celebrity stage names and pen names, it also includes screen names, handles, and aliases used by both average Joe and Jane citizen as well as by hackers, scam artists and fraudulent businesses. So while accusing others of confusing these two concepts, you managed to muddle things and only get it half right yourself.

    >People don’t really need to hide

    …It’s about privacy and control

    Fortunately Google Plus gives you all the control to keep your personal information private. You can hide your circles from public view and control who can see every item in your profile (everything except your name and photo, but the photo doesn’t need to be your likeness). You have total control over who can see your posts, making sharing data on Google Plus no more risky than using an email account.

    >I want a service where I know that everyone I talk to is using their real name

    Then you need a paid service where every person is required to provide a credit card and/or government ID. So far as I know, no such service exists, nor does anyone have any plans to create one…

    FYI, The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link ( – one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation – is actually a paid service where you are required to use your real name. Launched in 1985 it pre-dates the world-wide-web and was dubbed “The World’s Most Influential Online Community” in a 1997 WIRED magazine article.


    February, 1989 on the Well:

    WELL management creates the Anonymous conference where peoples’ identities are hidden. WELL members begin spoofing one another’s identities.Immediate chaos and angst occurs and the conference is removed.


    Doesn’t Facebook also have a real name policy? Maybe Linked-in too?

    but frankly most of the arguments you created and addressed against pseudonyms are not arguments that I heard anyone making. The bottom line for most supporters of the Google Plus name policy is that we feel like real names lead to real conversations and real relationships. It’s a concern about the quality of our social interactions. And with all due respect, I just don’t find you to be a convincing authority of what does and doesn’t make a good online community. Nor do I think anyone say definitely prove or disprove the merits of the name policy because there is an infinity of causes which determine the culture and usage patterns of each online community. So far I like quality of the culture here and I can see how letting in a flood of anonymous users with handles like “sexy_asian”, “00hCe_MyFr3akSh0w”, and “Mr_Corndog_22” could just really sour the community. Just look at the quality of interactions on YouTube or

  80. Hey, this is interesting c/o Xeni Jardin

    “Learned some interesting things this week about steps the Google+ team is taking to design around “bad behavior” that can never be eliminated from any online social system. I’m told some design/architectural/algorithmic smarts are in the works to help with stalker/harassment issues, to make the commenting experience more conducive to positive interaction, and to make the G+ experience a safe and cool thing for female users…”

    So maybe we should calm down and bear with Google’s name policy a bit longer, since they seem to be working on some solutions to address the issues, which aren’t rolled-out yet in this Field Trial.

  81. Max Hodges I will reply, FYI. I just want to give it proper time when I’m not being interrupted. I will note however, that I would be perfectly happy with an mechanism that made it difficult to create cheap pseudonyms. In fact, I see Google moving in that direction with cell phone and phone verification. I don’t want roadblocks, but being able to create multiple throw-away identities is clearly not good. The cost of that needs to be balanced against the benefits of more open speech.

  82. Yeah I have a feeling the Google+ team is really just getting started. They have a lot of intelligent people there who are probably working on tons of things they can’t talk about officially.

  83. Kee Hinckley – thanks for taking the time and energy to write this essay.

    I agree with Wendy Silver that the current G+ system only works for those who are (or can pass for) what everyone thinks as normal, i.e. the dominant group in society.

    Google does not have a good track record on understanding and managing the anthropologic and sociologic implications of their technology. I hope they’ve learned from past mistakes and are listening to the feedback on real names being generated all over the internet.

  84. I’m not even certain whether I was aware of the nym issue at G+ yet, as far back as when this thread originated.

    But I do think a lot more people will become aware soon –

    I’m really glad that linked me here, although at the same time — if this much good information has been around for this long and there’s been essentially no progress at all on the issue … maybe I should be even more worried?

  85. Bob O’Bob All of these arguments and more were presented to Vic Gundotra from people inside of Google prior to launch. I’m not longer trying to convince Google directly. I’m trying to convince the press and the public so that Google realizes that they’ve staked their reputation on the wrong horse (so to speak).

  86. Many won’t agree, some may even be angered by my opinion on this topic, but this is Johnny Stork’s (expanding) opinion on pseudonyms in the new world order of social media. Before I begin, I thought it might be worthwhile suggesting an alternative to the last comment in Kee’s comprehensive and very well thought out article. Could it not also be written as:

    “Behind every pseudonym is a real person. Deny the pseudonym and you AFFIRM the REAL person.”

    First, I will need to put aside more time to read Kee’s article completely – I only went through about half. I did not realize it was such a long post. But so far, here is my own take (opinion) on Kee’s opinion. Please keep in mind that I am in no-way an “expert” in, or on, anything. I have a bit of a background in psychology, research, philosophy and technology, and that’s it. I am also trying to develop decent writing skills, and so I am always looking for an opportunity to practice, to be corrected, to learn and of course to expand or explore some of my own ideas.

    To begin, I agree completely, that anonymity and pseudonyms are not the same thing. I did not acknowledge or make this clear in my previous blog at I also want to acknowledge Kee’s exceptional effort and the comprehensive manner in which he has approached this important topic. That said, let me try and explain my own perspective on the use of pseudonyms in this new social-world-order.

    In my opinion, and based on what I have read so far, there are 3 points that I would raise.

    1) We are merely infants in this new social world-order where we can communicate and share ideas with millions of people simultaneously. The previous, geographically and physically bounded limits to where we each had our close, familiar and distant “circles” (tribes) of people who we could easily manage the extent or scope of which ideas, issues, fears or opinions we shared, are gone. Therefore, new, unfamiliar and very real circumstances of POTENTIAL risk do arise when we consider linking our “true” identity (the name part anyway) with everything we say and do.

    2) Many/most people, particularly in the west, have fragile and/or predominantly socially or economically determined personal identities. Basically “who” and “what” most people believe they “are” is significantly influenced by what they perceive are other’s views of them, in combination with their reliance on economic factors to define their happiness or other personal/emotional states. This over-reliance on social and/or economic factors in determining “who” one is, the form and character of your “self”, is often referred to as an “inauthentic self”. Or what Martin Seligman calls an “inauthentic self-esteem”. (I will go into far more detail on the development of the self on a follow-up blog).

    3) So far as I can tell, every argument that Kee has given FOR the need for pseudonyms, can also be addressed through other means. In some case many other means. (I will try to go through them one-at-a-time in a follow-up blog.)

    I would agree that many of the arguments Kee puts forth are, on the surface, compelling, for many people. They may also be valid, but most certainly ONLY at this current time in our technological and cultural infancy. I also believe that in the current, predominantly inauthentic social world we live in, dominated by many irrational fears and suspicions, that pseudonyms play a useful, psychologically utilitarian role. They allow those of us with less than authentic “selves” (or self-esteem), to be shielded from social, intellectual, professional or political condemnation. We get to maintain, yet simultaneously withhold any direct connection to, many of our views, behaviors or affiliations from those who may hold sufficient weight (in our minds) to have an impact on our social/self- esteem.

    I simply don’t believe that this current state of social-media infancy or predominantly inauthentic forms of self-development and identity will, or can, be maintained indefinitely. So our need for pseudonyms will vanish as we gradually begin to develop healthier and more authentic forms of “self” and social interactions along with a better understand how these technologies will work best in a truly global community.

    Some might say that we need to look at the technological and social needs of TODAY, regardless of what sorts of social, psychological, cultural or technological handicaps we possess. Absolutely and I agree completely. I just like to try and look at the “big picture” behind these sorts of debates and to try and determine what may underlie some of the social and technological phenomenon we experience, or where these trends may take us. I am also psychologically and philosophically bent (some may say twisted) and so I am predisposed to try and come at these topics from those perspectives.

    It is also entirely possible I will change my opinion on this after reading all of Kee’s article, or at some point in the future based on other information or new social/technological trends. But at this stage I still hold fast to my view that it is disingenuous and inauthentic to use pseudonyms anywhere you wish to share and have your opinions discussed in a social forum. I also believe the long-term use of pseudonyms may cause more damage, both socially and individually, than the number of (perceived/potential) problems it will ever solve. I also believe the use of pseudonyms inhibits the individual development or realization of a one’s true nature, your true self, your authentic self. Yes, this may be a stretch, but I believe that the long-term use of pseudonyms, through their indirect reinforcement of an inauthentic self, may even contribute to increased psychological and emotional distress.

    For instance, let’s consider the argument that publicly expressing one’s views, opinions, social or sexual orientation might have a negative impact on one’s “established reputation” in the community. Does this talk about not exposing your true identity for fear of various repercussions also beg a particular question? If your “established reputation” is one built from a carefully crafted, incomplete and inauthentic presentation of limited aspects of who you are, how useful or trustworthy is that “established reputation”? If you have a selectively crafted and manufactured “established reputation” that everyone seems to admire and respect, yet you also know that they don’t know everything about you, and you have withheld views and opinions for fear of tarnishing that “established reputation”, you may be trying to hold onto conflicting perspectives on your “self”. Psychology has a name for this, cognitive dissonance (… a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously).

    Note: The underlying root-cause of a large proportion of individuals suffering from many forms of psychological and emotional psychopathy, are often based on identity issues. In my opinion, the greater the distance between one’s “true” nature or “authentic” self, and their socially/publically/professional presented “self”, the greater the risk of some forms of psychological or emotional ill-health. If one “you” can talk freely, openly and unapologetically about “this topic” and another “you” can only talk about “this topic” so long as nobody knows it’s you, then who is the real “you”?

    I hope to expand on my own perspective, and to explore more of the compelling points raised by Kee, as a follow-up to this earlier blog post.

  87. Johnny Stork I have a acquaintance who espouses a similar view. He says there are social benefits to stepping out of the closet, and there are personal benefits to not hiding. He encourages his friends to go public for the good of everyone. I would agree with both of those statements, although I don’t share your optimism about the future—in the current political climate in the U.S., we seem to be going in the opposite direction. The catch is that not everybody can afford to be an activist. I have friends who would lose custody of their children, and possibly lose their jobs as well, if they were to come out of their closet about parts of their life. Should we force that upon them? This is not dissimilar to the approach of some gay activists who try to out anyone who is in the closet because it shows society how prevalent gays are; laudable goals, questionable methods. My acquaintance, by the way, admits that he has not been terribly successful in persuading people.

    But, I would argue that if society is to reach the state you believe possible, allowing people to speak publicly using pseudonyms is a good first step. As people become more accustom to these topics being discussed publicly, they should become more accepting of the people who present them. In the 70’s, a psychiatrist addressed the American Psychiatric Association and proclaimed he was gay—at a time when the APA considered homosexuality a disease. He had to wear a mask to do it, but that opened up the discussion and started the long process of acceptance.

  88. I am honored that you would take the time to respond to my admittedly idealistic view Kee. I must also admit that I have not taken the time to read all of your original post but plan to. This is such an important, and relevant topic that impacts many people and so discussion should, in theory, lead towards a model which works for everyone. I also find myself trying not so much to argue for my point, my idealistic view, but rather to find ways in which I would be comfortable with pseudonyms AND real names. I also agree completely that these are not models which can, or should be forced upon people. There should be some way in which each of us can choose, while also minimizing the risk of the many pitfalls to either approach. I also agree completely that (at least currently) we lose out on the many important and valuable opinions of those who may not express them, if they are forced to expose their identities. Pseudonyms do indeed help with this. I guess, like many issues, it’s all about balance grasshopper. 🙂 (not sure if you get the mangled reference, but it’s from an old TV show called Kung Fu)

  89. You’ve said a lot on why anonymous posting is good, but not anywhere have you mentioned why Google+ specifically has to allow it. The internet is a big place and there’s plenty of room for all types of sites; why is it a problem if one site says “we’re not going to allow pseudonyms.”? Nobody is saying posting anonymously is wrong, Google are just saying that G+ isn’t the place to do it.

    Likewise your point about a paid service with government IDs is equally tenuous. There is no 100% way to prove who someone is. IDs can be faked and identities changed. You have to work towards an ideal irregardless of the results. Illegal narcotics are generally bad and cause a lot of crime and death, yet you wouldn’t argue for making them legal simply because it’s impossible to stop them entirely would you? In the same way it’s ridiculous to abandon a real name policy just because you can’t ensure that 100% of everyone is using a real name.

    The geek collective seems to have collectively decided they were going to back G+, as if it was some kind of inheritance owed by Google, and then collectively got angry when it wasn’t exactly what they wanted. “Google, Google, why hast thou forsaken us?”. Ditch the belief that Google+ should conform to your ideals and instead go and find somewhere else that better suits your ideals or, better yet, build it yourself.

    There is no, and should be no, one site to rule them all.

  90. Alexander Smith Actually, I do. See the section “Go somewhere else”, and of course, I discuss the issue in my introduction. Better yet, read Cory Doctorow’s article on the subject, he provides many reasons why Google+ should allow it, as does Bob Blakley from Gartner here

    It’s impossible to come even close to providing a world-wide ID verification service, but in this case, no, that doesn’t mean you should try. We aren’t fighting drugs here, Google’s doing this for appearances and (perhaps) for advertisers. There is no overriding purpose that makes it worthwhile.

    In answer to your last comment, which I take it is “Why are you guys bitching”, please read “It’s Google’s service, why do I feel I have a right to ask them to change?” That might also help answer your first question.

  91. Kee Hinckley The “Go somewhere else” section doesn’t really make much sense to me. Your argument that you “go where your friends are” doesn’t make much sense given that Google+ didn’t even exist 3 months ago. So obviously you, and/or others from your circles, at some point decided to go where they didn’t have any friends. Conversely there is no sign over the door saying “Welcome to Google+ – you’ll never leave!”. If you feel that you simply cannot walk away from Google+ then you’ve already lost this protest. I’m not buying into the idea that you cannot leave because a 3 month old social network is too heavily ingrained into your life.

    As for “no overriding purpose that makes it worthwhile” – there’s plenty of reasons, you’ve just dimissed most of them as “red herrings”. Both cases have valid points, however I believe that anonymity works against the nature of Google+ on the whole. I think it’s very short-sighted of you to dismiss Google’s motives as “for appearances and (perhaps) for advertisers”. The whole ethos behind Google+ is about sharing, and most people want a high degree of certainty when they share with others. You only have to look at current anonymous system abuse such as paedophiles on irc or email scams from Nigerian princes to realise there are a lot of cases against anonymous systems. Google+ is endeavouring to works towards an idea that resembles an autonomous secure public network, and anonymity just goes against that whole idea.

  92. peter k Weird.

    Yonatan Zunger, multiple people have told me that they are unable to reshare this post. Any ideas? I was never able to get it to load I to G+ when I shared it. I had to follow the link in g* mobile, login to the g+ website (while in the app), view it there on the mobile site and share it. But these people can’t even seem to do a basic share.

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