Monday, 29 August 2011

More Nymwars

The debate over real names in google+ continues. It's been going on long enough now for some actual information to emerge.

Tod Vierling has been collecting stats on the whole shebang. His results are updated fairly often, and if you think he's missed something, there is even a submission form. So far the overwhelming number of unique commentators are in favor of allowing pseudonyms in google+ and the majority of those use their real names themselves - thus: googles targeted audience would prefer a network where pseudonyms are allowed.

Eric Schmidt, (Google Exec. Chair.) has been recorded pointing out that;
G+ was built primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they're going to build future products that leverage that information

... and anyone who doesn't like that should get out.

This pretty much echos what I've been saying all allong: google does not want robust discussion or political activism on their network. They want a sort of boardroom etiquette, the sort of polite conversation you get at political fundraisers.

It gets worse: if you are a teenager wanting to avoid bullying (or pedophiles), or a woman who is not OK about sexual harassment online, they don't want you either. (Though they probably hope that the real names policy will discourage this behavior there is no evidence that it can.) Chris Bridges has a good summary

Basically this is the foot-gun approach to marketing. By denying pseudonyms, google are throwing away information (when people choose their own name, the name they choose tells you something about the person), and restricting the marketplace available to their customers (advertisers).

However, these revelations suggest a way forward: I submit that an identity verification scheme is a great addition to a social network. Eric is right when he says there are good uses for this and people who will want it and benefit from it. It is just should not be the basis for the network.

In addition to previous suggestions: allow people to use a pseudonym for their profile name, different pseudonyms for different circles, and keep a private "real name" between themselves and google, I'd suggest simply tagging profiles with a verification rating (those who are well behaved - the bad people get banned normally) something like:

  1. not reviewed: we have not checked this profile, so cannot say anything about it
  2. under review: looking into it (see below
  3. unconfirmed: profiles where the person is well behaved but we have not received satisfactory paperwork
  4. confirmed: pseudonymous profile, there is a real person behind it
  5. verified: this is a real person and, yes, this is their real name
  • may want to be able to mark profiles as removed or banned (keep their comments, or replace removed comments with some placeholder, so evidence remains to remind people and serve as a bad example).
  • allows for possible additional ratings such as google partner (gave us money) for commercial profiles.

Further: when a profile comes under review, it is handled like a bug report - a link to a review page, from the profile, which has a description of the problem and an opportunity for feedback. This will allow the development of some sort of due process without constitutionalizing the network.

I maintain that the above satisfied just about everyone's concerns and makes google+ a head-and-shoulders improvement on the other social networking offerings out there.


  1. The slipshod way Google is hamdling this is the real problem. So I agree - your scheme or anyscheme will work better than this.

  2. I'm not the only one writing about this:

    ... suggest a 10-level validation scheme but are short on specifics and don't address how a dispute would be resolved. Right now people can find themselves on and off the review thing ... this is because people keep tagging their profile for review: there's no way to make the decision stick.

    By the bug-report model, the reporter would be able to see that the name has already been evaluated to some level and needs to explain why they think a further review is needed. Others would get to comment on it.

    It is strange that google want real names for profiles but tolerates anonymous reports.