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Nymwars Not Over, But Situation Much Improved

+Yonatan Zunger's mega-thread here:

Key points:

Enforce Behavior, Not Names

"We thought this was going to be a huge deal: that people would behave very differently when they were and weren't going by their real names. After watching the system for a while, we realized that this was not, in fact, the case. (And in particular, bastards are still bastards under their own names.) We're focusing right now on identifying bad behaviors themselves, rather than on using names as a proxy for behavior." -- +Yonatan Zunger

This is a huge shift in policy, and deeply important.

People may now adopt "name shaped" names that are not one they have ID for

Pros: protection for marginalized people, full pseudonymity all the way down if you wish, no more losing your Jane Smith named account for not having ID with Jane Smith on it. No more unpublished authors worrying if they can't use their pen names yet because their work hasn't appeared anywhere officially.

Cons: still need to go through a review process for "non name" names. No objective criteria for "name shaped". No objective guidelines for what consitutes a "well used" name on other social services. No way to prove that you have been using your "non name" on a private social service. In effect this is just the same "celebrities get exempted" process but with a lower bar for what constitutes celebrity. But if that bar is, in practice, set low enough that an ordinary twitter or LJ or Facebook user with a few dozen mostly symmetrical relationships counts, that may be less of an issue than it looks like at outset. It would still be ideal if it were possible to predict if one's public social network use elsewhere constituted sufficient footprint to establish that identity here, without having to try it and get rejected.

In progress: Fairly common but unusual to Western eyes human names like mononyms and combined English/Chinese names still going through review, but they're working on folding them somehow into the automated acceptance process. +Sai for instance is now fully mononymous and other mononyms will be getting support. I don't know if mononyms will still have to produce physical documentation -- if so then that is still an unfair process. (As a side note, the copies of physical documentation are attested by Yonatan to be pushed through secure channels and destroyed when no longer in needed; EDIT: see Yonatan's comment below; this is documented right on the form I'd like to see that documented somewhere other than in a thread, but that's a very good thing to know.)

Note that the signup process still emphasizes use of "common names" and implies use of legal names, with no good elaboration of all of these other options. There's no good documentation yet as to whether or not it is legitimate to, for example, use an initial in place of your last name. I think this is a deliberate choice to encourage people to use their common names, but I would really like to see a link to the other options even if it is de-emphasized in the UI.

Nickname Display

Extremely useful for people who want to support multiple publicly linked identities. Nicknames are not pseudonyms but are important in their own right.

Multiple accounts used for identity compartmentalization

Prior to this, you could have multiple accounts but only if they used variants of your wallet name. So if I were named Gretchen Oda Smith (hypothetically) I could be Gretchen S or G Smith or Oda Smith or Gretchen S (Grey) or Grey Smith. ("Grey" might trigger a name review because it is a nickname that sounds like a common word.) Combine this with the above, and I can now have multiple accounts named Jane Eliot and Gretchen S and Oda Smith. I could apply to have my twitter account Orange Avenger (note: not really my twitter account), and they will check my twitter account in some mysterious way and if they think it is good enough, then I can be Orange Avenger.

Pros: Officially allowing us to compartmentalize identity is an important change highly important for privacy.

Cons: The mechanics of it is very clunky; you will want to use multiple browsers or the new Chrome multi-session support. It is easy to cross-contaminate your identity.

These are mechanical issues already familiar to anyone who has been compartmentalizing identity all along, and as long as Google keeps smoothing out the gotchas, and does not start "crossing the streams" between multiple accounts, it is a good trend.


This is just my own understanding of the current state of things. Please correct me if I'm drawing any wrong conclusions!

This is not a full solution; a full solution is allowing us to self determine our names, and recognizing that there does not need to be a notable public use on a new name to make it an actor in good faith in the community. However, it is a very important set of steps and it is positive progress.


Special thanks to +Yonatan Zunger for being open to lots and lots of feedback and answering many questions. After the sudden apparent "gag order" a month or so after the #nymwars started, it is very heartening to see a return to openness. Many, many, thanks to +Liz Fong-Jones for her tireless efforts in this cause. It is clear that there is a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes at Google by many other people as well, and Google has put in new automation and process to facilitate people using their "non names" in their accounts. I still think they are doing a lot of extra work they don't have to, but they are now doing this work at all.

Discussion with +Yonatan Zunger and with +Trey Harris has clarified to me that these are not just surface changes for PR purposes, but that there is process and thought behind them, and a desire to explicitly give people pseudonymity, even if they might have to establish a new "name shaped" pseudonym to do it, or in some fashion deliberately build a public display to establish a "non name" pseudonym that is new or had no prior public footprint. There is no longer an inherent belief encoded in the policy that pseudonymity correlates to bad behavior.

As always, the implementation is as important as the policy, so we will have to see what happens as people begin to see if they can establish their "non name" identities. Most importantly for our Second Life citizens and other people on private services will be their ability to import those identities to here. So there is an element of "wait and see" here as well.

(From side discussion in the thread, it looks like they're looking at ways to thread/split discussions too. The thread itself makes the need clear. Anyhow, yay!)
Gretchen S.'s profile photoShuri Pentu's profile photoAdina Levin's profile photoKee Hinckley's profile photo
Enforce Behavior, Not Names

It is a little weird to me that he's claiming that they have proven that the problem isn't that the pseudonymous ARE bastards, but that people will EXPECT them to be bastards, and therefore they still need to be quarantined.
+Gretchen S. Thank you for writing this; it makes me think that we're managing to get across what we really meant to. This, definitely.

So to clarify some of the points you asked about:

* Mononyms trigger the same review process as anything non-name-shaped, so either physical documentation, or online documentation, can be used.

* The destruction of physical docs is stated in the data submission form itself. It says, "Anything you submit will only be used to verify your name. We’ll delete it after the review and won’t use it for any other purpose." This is an official statement about the data.

* WRT identity compartmentalization, we're generally pushing people in that direction in order to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. If a single Google account were to be associated with multiple identities which needed to be firewalled, there would be a huge risk of data leak bugs accidentally exposing users, as well as Google itself having access to information which is frankly dangerous for us to know. We're working on various product features to make it clearer to you as which account you're acting – something which is of particularly pressing concern to Googlers, who often have both a work account on our intranet and a public account under the same name. You really don't want to mix those up. :)
+Chris Koeberle -- yes, this is my biggest remaining objection. It's an example of setting policy to assuage people's untested biases. I can come up with many other examples of generalizations that people believe that I would not want to be encoded into any policy, from the trivial to the career and life-affecting:

Compare: "People with funny names look like untrustworthy troublemakers to new users, so we should take extra steps to restrict funny names."


* "Lots of guys think that girls can't play rogues or tanks... so we only look at their app if it's for a healer."* "Some people think D&D players are all Satanists, so no D&D in the library."
* "You shouldn't hire women for startups. They cry more."

* "Christians are all ignorant bigots, so I would never consider this Christian for my open HR position."
* "Atheists are less trustworthy than rapists; this atheist's resume goes straight into the wastebasket."
* "Brown and black people are prone to steal or blow things up, so we should monitor them more carefully than white people."* "Disabled people are such an enormous burden to take care of that if their caretaker murders them, they should get a pass. It's a mercy killing."

Obviously there are differences in impact and scale here. Being passed over for a job (or worse, arrested indefinitely or murdered) is clearly far, far, worse than losing your social network, more along the lines of the first two (which do make people unhappy enough to quit games or leave circles of friends, so they're also not trivial expressions of bias.) Even though it's not on the extreme end, it's still an expression of untested bias, and it's still objectionable on those grounds.

But now there is, at least, a way to have a pseudonym at all. Prior to this, people were winked at for having a "name shaped" pseudonym but were still subject to account removal because it was against written policy. Even worse, the inconsistent enforcement of policy meant that people with very similar names would have different results when going through the review process. (One of the things I very much hope is that along with this announcement is a back-end clarification of policy so that even where it is not working in a fashion I would consider ideal, it is working consistently. People are a lot happier with black box systems if they issue predictable results.)

Celebrities were exempted from the requirement to have a "name shaped" name, and now more people will have access to these "not name shaped" names if they can prove ownership in some (yeah, fuzzy) fashion. I still think it's an encoding of bias, but it's a better encoding than the prior one which strictly disallowed a much broader class of people. The way it's been enacted does not preclude improvement, as well. (And it's possible that if the bar to establish use is low enough that one does not have to be a microcelebrity but only needs to be an ordinary user who posts to a circle of friends, it will not make these account names any more hard to get than "name shaped" account names. That we will need to see in practice.)

+Yonatan Zunger -- thank you very much for the clarifications!

* Regarding mononyms, will there be some provision for cultures who are traditionally mononymic? (I.e. account creations from Indonesia skip the review process?) This is still hard on say American mononyms, but makes at least the Indonesian lives easier.

* Regarding destruction of docs, I'll revise my understanding of the process and edit this; it didn't used to be very clear earlier in exactly what happened to these docs, and often they were accepted via email. It's very good to hear that this is fully documented right on the form.

* I am very happy to hear about the better support for identity compartmentalization. I've noticed an improvement in notification alerts in services like gmail, as well as the theming support, which makes it very easy to distinguish between gmail accounts, so something along those lines would be great.

I know that many people don't think they need to compartmentalize identity, but in actuality anyone who works under an NDA who uses the Internet both at work professionally and at home (or from their phone) for personal use is legally bound to compartmentalize their identity. It is also usually wise to compartmentalize personal activities, no matter how benign, from professional identity, even if you are not under an NDA.

So support for compartmentalized identities is more crucial than it looks. I'd guess that Google's intranet services are very similar to Google's external services, as well, which makes the potential for embarrassing confusion huge.... At Microsoft they call that "Eat your own dogfood" and at Sun they called it "Fly your own airplanes." :) (As a former Sun enthusiast, btw, I am actually generally happy to see Google making Sun's other motto, "The Network is the Computer" a reality.)
+Gretchen S. Regarding mononyms and different cultures, yup, known issue; we're obviously going to have to do something about this.

And with regard to your response to +Chris Koeberle, yes, I agree. I actually was saying the same thing to someone this morning, just not quite as eloquently. It's a problem and we need to fix it, and I hope to do so in the future.
+Yonatan Zunger -- it gives me a lot of hope to see that you hope to fix it! Thank you very much for working on this.
Update from the monster thread which is approaching 300 comments now: there was discussion of people using legacy nicknames on other services because they wanted privacy on that service, but with the new combination of services there are now privacy issues with these nicknames. +Brian Fitzpatrick has filed this as an issue which means it's on the radar. (Likely solved by migration of a service from the combined account, using Google Takeout and then re-importing the data for that service into a fresh account for the nickname, but that's speculation on my part; +Sai is suggesting inline budding which would be much more pleasant from a user point of view.)
+Gretchen S. Yes, allowing pseudonyms and not allowing "handles" is definitely an improvement over what has gone before. And I definitely should have been clearer - the response I was discussing was actually very clear that pseudonyms are NOT a problem, but handles are considered by Google+ to be a serious problem that may never be overcome.
+Chris Koeberle -- I'm hoping that with time they will relax on this issue, especially since they now have a big seed population of people who are using name-shaped names. I think they made some incorrect assumptions here as well, but they've revised their initial belief that pseudonyms correlate with bad action; I think in time they will revise their belief that handles correlate with bad community.

In my own experience, the best correlation with good community is the ability to personally operate or call on prompt moderation of bad actors. So their anti-spam efforts are in fact going a long way towards promoting good community. I currently rate them high on anti-spam and low-to-middling and rising on anti-harassment. Gmail took a while to get really good at anti-spam so I'm willing to give them time there; harassment is a very hard problem that is even harder in this sort of setup, and there were some things in the initial setup that weren't obvious lead-ins to a culture that promoted harassment but turned out to subtly promote harassment, like lack of diversity in the seed early adopters (probably one of the biggest issues and still ongoing as the service still has the reputation of being "where your parents don't go"), having a name policy that was at odds with a big segment of early adopter culture which caused cultural polarization and early wrangling, and lack of prompt attention to harassment reports as well as lack of any good way to report a harassing comment in someone else's thread. (This last is a very big deal and has improved with comment flagging. My perception at least for a while was that while spammers got pounced on and nullified very quickly, people could target other people with unambiguous aggression and harassment and get a free pass even if multiple horrified onlookers reported them.)
+Gretchen S. having a name policy that was at odds with a big segment of early adopter culture - I think what made that even worse was that it was a policy that a small, vocal segment of early adopter culture openly, aggressively, and repeatedly endorsed. If the parties had just been "Google+," "people who won't use the service unless it allows pseudonyms," and "people who don't care because it doesn't affect them," I don't think it would have been nearly as damaging; adding in the "people who are very angry at anyone who wants to use a pseudonym" faction made it an unpleasant place to be for a lot of people.
+Chris Koeberle -- agreed, especially when they started coordinating stream comment flooding on pro-nym advocates. (I never saw or heard of any evidence of retaliation to that tactic other than passing around lists of offenders so that potential recipients could proactively block them, which gives me faith in humanity.) Their behavior fell short of harassment in most cases (though I feel that coordinated stream flooding is pretty clear-cut) but it was still unpleasant in the extreme, and I know it scared a lot of people out of the discussion entirely.
/sub (for once I have nothing to add :-O)
I'm copying over this comment by +Yonatan Zunger from his thread because I think it's deeply important and don't want it to get lost.

So this is actually drilling into something else which I realized this morning and wanted to bounce off of you. I'm seeing two different ideas coming up in this conversation:

(1) Identity is fluid: people are known by different names in different contexts, and by different groups of people.

(2) Names are personally important: to deny someone the right to use their name is to implicitly deny the validity of their identity, and such this is a moral issue.

When you combine these two ideas, you get a curious notion -- that people use multiple identities in multiple contexts, and to prevent them from choosing which identity they use in any particular context is a moral issue. I can understand that argument, but I don't think that I agree with it.

I'm instead coming to think that by conflating this, we've actually conflated two different kinds of identity problem, with different underlying social dynamics.

One case is what you might call "core" identities, names/identifiers which are extremely personally important to a person, so that to deny them is to implicitly deny their personhood. The other case is multifarious identities; for example, when a person has built up a reputation in one circle under one name, in another under a second name, and so on. This latter case applies not only to handles and so on, but even to much more common things like professional names. (Take, e.g., the case of a writer who uses multiple pen names in multiple genres, and who has built up a brand identity under each) In the case of the latter, while I think that it's advantageous to a person to allow them to interact in a particular context under any particular identity, I don't think that it's a moral issue in the same way as the former case.

I think that we've accidentally conflated these cases in our discussion, and I suspect that several of the people on this thread fall into each category.

I'm making a tradeoff in this service by restricting the space of names to things which are, by some criterion, "name-shaped." On the one hand, the exclusion of handles has a nontrivial cultural effect, because handle-based cultures such as Internet fora, YouTube, some parts of fandom, etc., have established cultural norms which are (on the very large-scale average) ultimately somewhat similar to one another and very different from those in many name-based cultures, such as G+, FB, or meatspace. Since we have made an explicit decision to make G+ a name-based culture, and since the large bulk of our users come exclusively from such cultures (i.e., have little or no familiarity with handle-based cultures), there are significant culture clash risks associated with culture mixing and we've chosen to resolve those by basically excluding handles. (With rare exceptions for very established handles, which is an exception people are used to because they see those cases as intrinsically exceptional; as an extreme example, Lady Gaga) On the other hand, this excludes identities which come from handle-based cultures.

When the excluded identity is in the second category, then this is frankly working as intended: I'm trading off one virtue of social health (building up a unified culture on G+) against another virtue of social health (allowing as many identities as possible to be represented on the service). However, when the excluded identity is in the first category, this is a tradeoff between a social health virtue and a matter of recognizing personhood, which I would consider a "moral virtue." This sort of tradeoff prompts an understandable moral revulsion, for the same reason that offering to buy someone's children would; it offers an exchange which mixes moral categories.

The resolution that we're aiming for amounts to attempting to structure the name restrictions as narrowly as possible in order to attain the social health virtue of building up a name-based culture. Unfortunately, when working at large N, even a very small probability of collateral damage means that people will be affected, and as you well know, under the new policy identities in the first category are still getting flagged. (And even getting flagged for manual review is a cost; it signals that a person's identity must be questioned, which is at its root hostile) So we do several things to alleviate this: first, to have actual humans in the loop for all exceptions, including me (and a few other senior people) as a last-tier reviewer. Second, we are steadily (post-launch) reevaluating our metrics, the set of people who are undergoing manual review, what we are learning from them, who is passing review and who isn't, so that we can better identify those first cases and minimize the pain for them. And most of all, we're continuing to try to craft the policy to be as narrow as possible. The sign of health in the system is that most reviews are rejected: i.e., if someone is getting flagged they are genuinely not supposed to be in the system. Since Monday’s launch, about 99.2% of cases submitted for manual review have indeed been rejected, out of which only about 0.2% were even slightly ambiguous; the large majority have been clear cases such as people wanting to know why their business couldn’t be their personal identity.So this is a good sign, but it still means that there were a few dozen people who were asked to prove their identities when they shouldn’t have been. (Many of whom are on this thread) That means that there’s room for improvement.

This is hard because I’m making a tradeoff which will, when it errs, inflict a moral harm on people. This leaves only two choices: to not make the tradeoff, counting any moral cost as too high, or to make it and attempt to minimize the collateral harm done. I think that the virtues of building a name-based culture on this network, compared to a handle-based culture, are significant enough that I’m willing to make that tradeoff; this was not a decision come to lightly, but one which has cost me a number of sleepless nights. (Not least because the people harmed most by this are, in my heart, “my people” -- these cultures of old Internet folks, and fandom, and so on and so on -- you all know who you are -- are the people I grew up with and the ones with which I have always felt most at home) But at large enough N, even a very small probability of harm turns into a nonzero number of people, and to completely avoid that would mean to never do anything.

None of which justifies the pain and anger which I know some people are feeling over this issue. I understand it and know that it is a consequence of decisions which we, collectively, and I personally have taken. But looking back on it, I do think that the overall structure of the policy -- or at least, of the refined one we released on Monday, and the refinements that I hope to add to it in the future -- minimize harm as best as I can.

Per mea culpa; also, some days it sucks to be an officer.
I sympathize with +Yonatan Zunger about being in the hot seat for hard decisions. And urge him to re-read this statement.

"there are significant culture clash risks associated with culture mixing and we've chosen to resolve those by basically excluding handles"

Substitute this minority with other minorities where there are prejudices and concerns about "culture mixing." It reads really badly, doesn't it?

The right way to deal with prejudice is not to exclude a minority which is stereotyped by a majority
/sub (you know, these used to work even if immediately deleted, but at some point that got killed. I don't understand why, when 'mute' would solve any perceived problem)
I don't know if anyone wants to make a throwaway account to test but it seems like all 2 byte names (homographic obfuscation) may get a pass. Like "Ѕаі" instead of "Sai". ("Cyrillic Cyrillic Ukrainian", "Latin Latin Latin"). It was mentioned in another thread that Japanese users have some non-names - but that uses a CJK character set. Not exactly analogous to a unicode name. (Or look for a character set or language where dictionary attacks against names would result in an untenable amount of false positives.)
+Adina Levin The right way to deal with prejudice is not to exclude a minority which is stereotyped by a majority

I 100% agree with this, and I do believe that's an accurate characterization of what's happening here, but I'm struggling to put into words something about what's going on here that's different from most such incidences.

We have +Yonatan Zunger telling us (please, someone correct me if this paraphrase seems inaccurate): "I don't have a problem with handle-shaped names, but people seem to have a real problem with them." And as far as I can tell, he has not offered any metric by which we can identify handle-shaped names - except, of course, that they "don't look like a name in any culture." But we also don't know what constitutes a culture for purposes of defining "name-shaped," except that cultures which use handle-shaped names cannot possibly be cultures specifically because they use handle-shaped names and no culture uses handle-shaped names. +Yonatan Zunger consistently uses the term "subculture" when discussing cultures which use handle-shaped names, but I haven't seen any means of distinguishing between a culture and a subculture (except, of course, that if a culture uses handle-shaped names, it must be a subculture, because all cultures which are cultures use name-shaped names, per above.)

So we have, as far as I can tell, a hypothetical majority that is prejudiced against an unidentifiable, nearly un-characterizable majority. And the champion of that hypothetical majority repeatedly distances himself from them. I find this unsettling.
And I'm feeling like I'm being very harsh and abrasive on this, and I'm sorry about that. I do greatly appreciate the amount of effort and humility +Yonatan Zunger has put into having this discussion, and I am pleased that Google is interested in moving in what I consider to be the right direction on this.
+Chris Koeberle Ditto. I don't think that this kind of harsh is insulting, though; it's standard hacker culture to me to not hold back when testing ideas or products, so long as you don't start being fallacious, attacking the creators personally, or causing unnecessary damage to other users. I think Yonatan gets that. :-P
Well, I have the words, and I'm not afraid to use them. My main tool at this point is the word bigot. The word bigot perfectly describes this hypothetical person who "doesn't like the atmosphere" for the sole reason that some people use "handles."
Labels don't make the atmosphere in a conversation, only what is said can do that. People who judge others by their names, before those others say a thing, are bigots. Such problems could only get worse when G+ becomes more culturally diverse.
I am also willing to assert the opinion that catering to bigots is actively evil. At least, once one has recognized one's actions for being that.
+Bob O`Bob FWIW there are actually plenty of good cultural parallels. Consider eg that American black culture often has very clearly marked names; ditto Shi'a vs Sunni muslims; ditto Jews; etc. etc. Naming has lots of nice traditional hatreds and bigotry to point to. :-)
OMG, the names bigotry. Oh boy do I have anecdotes... I used to work next to a guy who was IMO a little unbalanced. Paranoia, of a mild type. One day he finally exploded and accused everyone around him of anti-semitism. Most of us had literally no clue that he was Jewish. To him, it was obvious that everyone could tell from his family name. But really, we couldn't. There probably are people who keep mental lists of "Jewish sounding" names, but I don't think any of our co-workers did. I would not even dispute the probability that he had encountered such people before, and been discriminated against.
I don't actually think it's harsh to label behavior or policy that disproportionately affects POC and women or LGBTQ or other marginalized people as 'discriminatory.' It's an accurate description.
There was a study not that long ago showing that resumes with identical content and identifiable African-American names get screened out more often than people with names not identified with this culture:
Blind orchestra auditions (names screened on resume, musician plays behind a screen) have done wonders for musician diversity.
Just to clarify, I don't find [characterizing repulsion at handles as bigotry] to be harsh or abrasive. [Characterizing +Yonatan Zunger as the champion of hypothetical bigots] is the part that makes me uncomfortable, because I don't think +Yonatan Zunger is actually intending to advocate for bigotry. I think it's an accurate characterization; I'm not backing down from it; it just bothers me that circumstances are such that I'm applying that characterization to someone who really seems to want to move things in the right direction.
plus a thousand -- I also do not think for one instant that it was intended.

But it is the result. Just as I feel the result of conflating together all the disparate types of Google accounts into one type, without opt-out, for streamlining privacy policies, ends up being a violation of the intent of pretty much every privacy policy ever written. ...but that's not a Plus issue right now ...
Norv N.
Actually, it is a Plus issue, +Bob O`Bob - if it means that the criteria for acceptability of a name on G+ are transfered to other services and their availability. If this is correct, then we're not discussing here only the criteria for accepting a name on a social network, but accepting a name for many services, and linking those criteria to those services too. Those which used to be under different rules - and handling.
(sorry if the phrasing is poor).
I guess it is. I abandoned my original Youtube account when Plus pushed me, it was just a handle. Not that the new one I now have isn't just a handle.
Notifications keep breaking on the mega-thread, and lots of new posts have been added, so go check it out if you're still watching it.

I am highly pleased that it has managed to keep coherent discourse throughout.
Is notification "breaking" per se? I observed a while ago that high-traffic threads seem to have some sort of throttle so that you get notification for some small fraction of posts. This is actually helpful if you yield to the temptation of commenting on a Scoble thread which gets hundreds of comments. But is anti-helpful if you are taking part in a high-volume but high-value discussion. If the behavior actually is a throttle feature rather than a bug, it would be great to be able have a discoverable feature to tune the notification level for a megathread. Right now now your choices are only "mute" and "send me a random amount of notifications".
My observation of the behavior is that high-traffic threads seem to 'mute' themselves periodically even if I'm still contributing to them or +1ing comments. Since I find that counter-intuitive behavior, I'm defining it as 'broken'. I totally agree about wanting it to be a tunable setting, if that's in fact deliberate behavior for tuning down high-traffic threads.
+Adina Levin You get notified on a thread for a few comments after you post, or if someone mentions you. Otherwise, if you comment on a Scoble thread or something it ends up permanently pinned at the top of your stream. Tuning this is on the list, but we haven't had many threads quite as epic as this one to tune things off of. :)
Interesting; I can see how it's a feature and not broken for something like a Scoble thread, or any of the threads with lots of "me too" style comments. I had gotten into the habit of reflexively avoiding those back when they did pin, so I didn't notice the change in behavior.
I don't believe I've ever received a notification for the mega-thread.
+Gretchen S. I've noticed that too. Ideally, I'd get notified about all comments I give a damn about seeing. In scoblethreads, or posts by a highcircled user about something mundane, that's hardly anything at all. In +Yonatan Zunger's more esoteric threads, that's nearly all of 'em. Not sure how to predict it though short of a full on comment recommender-classifier that can guess whether I would +1 something.
+Yonatan Zunger thanks for clarifying. Yes, this would be great to improve, and the improvements relating to names and culture are higher value :-)
Still, I would like a way to "group" a few threads and hold a reference to them - something more portable than just pinning chrome tabs with them in it. I am, for now, taking all the favorable comments about discussion threading by +Yonatan Zunger as personal opinion, not official anything. But I'd like to encourage that to change :-)

As an interim measure, if every "OP" (thread starter) of the current running threads were to add a common hashtag to the initial post, such as #resolvingnymwars then they'd form a searchable group, to which others could add more. By my reckoning, that additionally includes +Bradley Horowitz +Sai +Jillian C. York +Violet Blue if they would like to bring their threads into such a searchable group. Such a group would also slightly facilitate "rolling over" the mega-threads into replacement versions of each, if comment count limits are still troublesome. But "rolling over" can already be done fairly simply, by the OP posting a re-share, adding a final comment pointing to the re-share, then closing comments on the old. Would be nice to add an initial comment pointing back to the original thread too.
+Bob O`Bob yes! keeping tabs open is the hack workaround. But it is death to browsers. Also, unlike the main stream, a permalinked post in a browser window does not auto-refresh, so you need to manually refresh it, which is annoying.
+Bob O`Bob Yeah, agreed. BTW, I'm generally favorable on comment threading, but I'm by no means convinced that it's the best solution in this case. I think that there is a broad consensus that we need a better way of structuring posts with a large number of comments, but there's a lot of room for UX improvements in many directions there.
Hmmmm trying to think of an algorithm that would detect when I want to see notifications and when I don't! That's... tricky.

Off the top of my head: once a thread reaches N comments, send me notifications only by people I have circled.

Or: When I reach for the mute button, show me a slider similar to the circle volume sliders.
Or: Send me a notification if someone performs thread necromancy on a thread that's been silent for 24 hours.
+Gretchen S. +Sai I think that the right algorithm would basically be a classifier that tries to predict your interest level in any given mutation of the post, probably using a linear model with coefficients learned from your past behavior. Above a certain threshold you bump the post to the top of the stream, above a higher threshold you also notify.
+Bob O`Bob and +Yonatan Zunger think about mobile devices when proposing comment threading, please. Disqus threads are unreadable on my iphone - the conventional design for large screens does not scale down.

(after a couple of comments, you see a long stream of single characters down the right side of the screen, and then nothing until the stack pops)
I agree that many alternative mechanisms might solve the complex discussion issues as well as threading. But I also suggest that threading is a fairly well understood mechanism, and G+ should never have to deal with the propagation issues that USENET did (e.g., parent articles arriving later than their children). I'll create a separate post probably in a day or two, where I hope to get some discussion going about how threading might be added to G+ but I'll certainly be interested in alternatives, too.
+Adina Levin You really have to treat mobile clients as first-class citizens, nowadays. (Although I have to say that most threading interfaces aren't that great even on desktop. If you look at LiveJournal or Slashdot, say, they become pretty unreadable pretty quickly as the threads get deeper.
+Yonatan Zunger -- The major thing I've been yearning for is an indication/jump to where I last left off reading a thread, even if it's flat. That would be helpful on both mobile and desktop.

Some better way to reference/quote text would also be really great -- like being able to select an excerpt of someone else's comment, and have that show in your own comment, and clicking on the excerpt returns the reader to the excerpted comment, or pops it up. Even just some way to refer to an individual comment would be great. I've seen some twitter mobile clients that handle tweet comment chains pretty well, though they have the luxury of not having to contend with big comments. (Excerpting/summarizing may work there, on mobile.)
Actually, +Gretchen S. a facility to selectively quote other comments could bring a significant portion of the advantages of threading, even without a threaded structure. And indeed the indentation model of viewing threads falls apart on small screens. I now spend a significant portion of my time on Android, both handset and tablet, and I agree that they almost deserve primacy now. Almost. Whatever the realm, I'm pretty favorable toward inclusiveness these days, as a design goal. But I do remember reading threaded USENET via a CLI (command line interface - think of a window that can only ever be one line tall) and if it can be done there, it can be done even better on a handset.
+Bob O`Bob Comment quoting could work… buuut I'd be concerned about people overquoting. (Think eg the people who quote several paragraphs of email to then say 'yes'.) Gmail-like collapsed partial quotes could help with that.

The classic problem with threads are they keep intertangling, it's not really tree structure. I've never seen a good solution for that. Not saying there isn't one; I'd just be surprised and impressed if there is.
+Sai [Comment quoting could work… buuut I'd be concerned about people overquoting. (Think eg the people who quote several paragraphs of email to then say 'yes'.) Gmail-like collapsed partial quotes could help with that.]

I'd be a fan of having a quote option. Occasionally I fake it. It'd be nice if there were automagic quotes that collapse and provide a link to the comment / post / source that was quoted.
I've been thinking through it in my head, and having a quote option would actually cover most of what I like when I say I want "threading" and is more mobile friendly because it can be handled flat.

I envision something that collapses the quoted segment but allows me to flick the collapsed bits open to read all of it, and to tap a link to see the entire quoted comment/post whole.

It could be a pretty fluid experience where I'm basically following links of a chain to refresh my memory of an exchange within a thread. That plus simple bookmarking that remembers where I last left off reading a thread (preferably with the session kept whole enough that I can stop reading on my desktop, pick up my phone later, and the new notifications on the thread have a 'first expansion' that shows back to where I left off, and optionally allow me to expand all of the comments in a thread.)

Being able to reference comments in other threads would allow people to easily break a thread up into pieces, too. Treat these references like shares so that people can find each thread from the other.
Actually, there was a Chrome extension that would keep track of which posts you have read, and could collapse them by default. When you would return to a discussion, you could easily see the new comments then.

Personally I haven't used the extension, mostly because it recently broke judging by the comments on the extension ><
I believe the extension was called G+me:
+Filip H.F. Slagter -- I used that extension and miss it very much; it recently broke because of the UI change and I keep losing track of where I was and what I've read now; G+ is a cognitive hash without it, for me.
Norv N.
[off topic]
Clicking on the +1 count of one of the previous replies, it displays Sai . (with a dot, that is). Even though the normally displayed name doesn't have the dot anymore. I'm not sure if this little detail is already on the list to fix, concerning the extra-field for monomyms.
[/off topic]
Oh, and -- the Epic Megathread has reached 500 comments and is officially (and by necessity) closed. As +Yonatan Zunger said in his capstone comment, it's done a huge amount of good as well as been the most thorough exercise the comment system has received to date. Many bugs have been filed, and many subsidiary threads working on elements of the issue and on deeper issues have been spawned. I certainly don't feel like the thread is dead; I feel like it is getting a much-needed rest while younger, more energetic threads get to split up the work.
A mere sampling of other related threads:

+Sai -- Proposal for bidirectional social signaling and name choice

+Adina Levin -- The problem with Google service consolidation

+Rowan Cota -- the discomfort of "unknown circlers" and "collectors."

+Jon Pincus -- Next steps in the #nymwars : suggestions for Google?
Sorry to necropost, but I just tried to link this to someone and realized that the link to the megathread itself had broken, possibly due to the switchover to +YonatanZunger in the URL rather than the ID (though I had thought those were backwards compatible? Did I mess up and share to his profile instead of the post itself? It's possible.) After some searching I found the working link:

+Yonatan Zunger -- notifying you in case the loss of the link was a bug rather than a My Bad.
Actually +Gretchen S.: I think has always been a wrong url, just judging it from the form of the url.
Think about it: it only mentions Yonathan's user id, and /posts only indicates it points to his profile's posts page/stream and not his about page or something else.
The think what's missing in the URL is the actual thread id.
+Filip H.F. Slagter -- I think that originally it linked to the post? Showing a snippet of the post, with the link to the actual post ID. But I could very well have linked it to the profile accidentally instead, so I'm not certain.

I think I've seen a couple of other older links to posts "go dead" in this fashion, relinking to the person's profile, but again I'm not absolutely certain the links are being rewritten. It was something that I found puzzling where if I was reading older posts in someone's profile, and they'd shared a link to a post, and had a comment thread discussing that link... and it just went to the profile, not a specific post. Of course I can't find any of those specific examples now.

If anyone can remember reading this when I originally posted it and thinking, 'gee, she should have linked to the post, not the profile' let me know. :)
I seem to remember it being a working link.  After this much time it's hard to be sure, but I believe I would have remembered such an error, especially given the size of this thread..
Yeah, that's why I'm puzzled -- people who follow me are good at pointing that sort of thing out. The other threads that were pointing at profiles instead of posts were similar; meaty discussion threads that never asked why it was pointing at a profile page.
I do actually remember that your link pointed to the posts list, and not the post itself. I assumed there was a good reason you didn't link directly to the post itself.
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