Nymwars Not Over, But Situation Much Improved

+Yonatan Zunger's mega-thread here: https://plus.google.com/103389452828130864950/posts

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 No more unpublished authors worrying if they can't use their pen names yet because their work hasn't appeared anywhere officially.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!)
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