Shared publicly  - 
 
Next steps in the #nymwars : suggestions for Google?

Please share and +1 this -- and make sure to link back to http://goo.gl/4KgEK so that it's easy for people to vote

+Bradley Horowitz and +Yonatan Zunger both described Google's recent pseudonymity announcement as the first step in a journey. There's a range of opinions* on just how significant a step Google's shift from a "real name" policy to a "Muggle name" policy (where pseudonyms are okay if they look like "name-shaped names") is, and a lot of people have a wait-and-see attitude: how well the appeals process for pseudonyms with "meaningful following" elsewhere online will work in practice? But at the same time, there's general agreement that it does address a lot of important use cases; and there's been excellent dialog in the announcement's aftermath. So if Google wants to continue on it's journey, now's a great time to take the next steps.

What should Google do next to make further progress ending the #nymwars ? I've tried to capture some of the the suggestions in the many excellent threads going on.

Please vote for whatever comments you agree with -- or add your own!

Thanks!

jon

* see goo.gl/qVFZQ for excerpts and links, Bradley's original post, Yonatan's epic thread with a lot of great comments, and a dozen different perspectives
18
8
Diana Studer's profile photoMichelle Potter's profile photoTufa Girl's profile photoCindy Brown's profile photo
43 comments
 
go slow: wait, let the dust settle, and see how people react

vote +1 to agree -- and feel free to vote for as many comments as you like
 
move quickly to build on this first step
 
apologize and make amends to the people who were harmed by Google's "real name" policy
 
continue the engagement with exemplified by +Yonatan Zunger, +Liz Fong-Jones, and other Googlers
 
formalize the commitments Yonatan made in his epic thread. for example that "name-shaped names" will not be challenged as pseudonyms, and that there's no mechanism for other users to cause a name-shaped name to be challenged.
 
publish objective levels of "meaningful following" in common environments: Twitter, flickr, LiveJournal, Orkut, Weibo, MySpace, BlogHer, DeviantArt, Dreamwidth, Fetlife, Facebook, 4chan, V Kontakte, etc.
 
remove the double-standard that "meangingful following" in an environment where weird names are common counts less than in a "name-shaped name" environment
 
include First name/Last Initial, First Initial(s)/Last name as "name-shaped names"
 
include mononyms as "name-shaped names"
 
introduce "verified names"
 
have a public review of the justification for the "Muggle name" policy, which to many people looks just as questionable as the now-abandoned "real name" policy, and drop it if it doesn't hold up
 
temporarily suspend the "Muggle name" policy now, subject to the results of the public review
Norv N.
+
5
6
5
 
formalize the commitments Yonatan made in his epic thread. for example that "name-shaped names" will not be challenged as pseudonyms, and that there's no mechanism for other users to cause a name-shaped name to be challenged
While a number of suggestions are worthwhile, this one is very important IMHO.
I wish I saw G+ switching at least to the status of "usable in pseudonymous state" instead of what Google calls "identified state". Otherwise I'm afraid I don't doubt these issues, along with accounts consolidation and privacy policy changes, will not assure a minimum of privacy and rights of people to be themselves across Google services, as per the popularly quoted Google privacy principles.
 
One important next step that is missing from the list is the plan to improve features for circling introduction, discovery, and comment moderation, to reduce cultural clashes when people are followed by others and interact with others who seem unfamiliar.

Zunger's justification for Muggle policy is a reported problem that some people who are fearful of handles leave the system if they are followed by people with handles. He has stated that the exclusion of handles is intended to be temporary until this problem is ameliorated.

On the one hand, I disagree fundamentally with the premise that if some people are fearful of a minority, then it is acceptable to exclude the minority. On the other hand, this set of features are good, useful, and healthy for community-building, regardless of name policy. I think the ideal would be to drop the Muggle policy because it is unfair and problematic to enforce. But if Google were to promptly release a feature where you can see key snippets from someone who circled you so you can see if they seem like a spammer/miscreant or a person, and simultaneously drop the Muggle policy and accept handles, I would consider that a win also.
 
Another important next step is to allow users who do not want Google to combine content from their various services to set up a separate account to partition the identity used for those services.

This proposal relates to the interaction between the name policy and Google's new proposal to consolidate services. One very positive bit of progress is that Google has acknowledged that some people have valid needs to maintain multiple accounts to firewall aspects of their identity, for example political activity. So a solution to the privacy problem posed by service consolidation would be to allow users to set up a separate account for services whose content should not be associated across the facets of identity. Discussed at greater length here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/101746196094367799224/posts/Ag1zZXU8fKU
 
I would love to see G+ move past this and distinguish itself by helping users manage their psuedonymity. For example allow circles to be real name based or pseudonym based and display the right name depending on which circle is chosen. Show profiles that vary by which name choice people are searching on. You know, deal with the hard technical problems instead of bogging down in policy that tries to change behavior instead of letting engage with their social network like they wish to engage with thier social network.
 
+Melissa Hall Showing a different identity per circle is extremely dangerous; this doesn't account for overlapping membership in circles, display to users not in circles, etc., and greatly increases the risk of someone slipping up and accidentally mentioning the wrong name. If you want separation between distinct pseudonymous and non-pseudonymous identities, use two different accounts.

There is a good reason that +Sai's proposal to drop down different synonyms for the same identity does not cover multiple identities in the same account.
 
+Liz Fong-Jones I agree that it is somewhat risky if complete separation is needed, however I don't and frankly managing two accounts makes it more likely I will slip up since I can't set stuff and stop messing with it.
In my limited experience slip ups tend to be first name only so not terribly revealing
In not offering tools to manage the problem you are not preventing it, you are just being sure you can blame the user.
 
Slight aside but as long as we've mentioned separate accounts for different ID's: As one who has several accounts (several from work, personal, and pseudonymous) I can tell you gmail's themes are invaluable for detemining where I am; themes for G+ would be equally helpful here, even just extremely simple color variation ones.

+Sai's multiple synonyms would be very useful within a single identity.

I consider it an absolute must for Google to consolidate and more formally update its naming policy considerations in order to reach as many people as possible. As it stands it seems to be collected in a handful of individuals' posts, not helpful for widespead awareness. You need some sort of repository or wiki; G+'s own format does not lend itself to stable information display.

"Meaningful following" really needs clarification and Google must keep celebrity/fame pandering out of it -- you have no idea how much resentment will.i.am's blythely granted name engendered. Best to avoid repeating that. 
 
+Liz Fong-Jones I think +Melissa Hall is correct here - it just requires multiple identities to be implemented correctly. As +Cindy Brown mentions, theme support is important; being able to customize themes per identity, and display prominently which identity you are representing as, would go a long ways to mitigate mistakes.

It's true that for the life-or-death cases, separate accounts are adviseable. (They should be manageable, but it requires a better-separated data architecture.) But for the more common case like me, where I'm just distinguishing my professional and social identities (one with wallet name, one with my established online handle) but data bleed isn't a huge problem, multiple identity support would be quite helpful...
 
In my view, #nymwars is a distraction from focusing on communities and culture. I fault Google for dragging us all into it, and I think they should apologize to those affected. I appreciate the work of those Googlers trying to make things better, but at some point, it feels like busywork, when we could all be focusing on community instead of individuals' names.

Identity is super important, and I believe self-determination of identity is a basic human right. The hosts of a discussion space have some right to help shape the experience, but Google should know that doing it with the names people call themselves is extremely intrusive and impolite. Google should also realize their size and weight in the world will help shape human culture itself; do they really want human culture to take name policing as a cultural norm?

Instead of fighting #nymwars , Google should be building a vibrant set of communities where people expect good behavior from each other, where good behavior is rewarded and systemically supported and encouraged, where bad behavior is easy to flag, and where bad actors get moved out of the system quickly and fairly. There should strong features for moderation, introductions, and reputation discovery as part of the service. There should be tools and norms to provide social context and social norming, and names would take care of themselves.

Nannying, especially about names, will build weak culture. Strong communities with the right tools will build strong, civil cultures. Let's work on that, instead of fidgeting about what people can call themselves.
 
+Peter Kaminski I cannot agree enough with the proposition that Google should be polite if it wishes to build polite communities.
Thank you.
 
Here's an option that was left out: - Stop using the classic BS-artist obfuscation technique of inventing terms which you then refuse to clearly and consistently define. For example, "commonly known by," "name shaped," "meaningful following," etc.
 
Thanks all for the voting and discussion. So far the top five are

18 apologize and make amends to the people who were harmed by Google's "real name" policy
14 formalize the commitments Yonatan made in his epic thread
13 continue the engagement with exemplified by +Yonatan Zunger, +Liz Fong-Jones, and other Googlers
12 include mononyms as "name-shaped names"
10 include First name/Last Initial, First Initial(s)/Last name as "name-shaped names"


One thing that's encouraging is that the top 5 are all straightforward for Google to do -- in fact they're already doing several of them.
There are a lot of others that have a fair amount of support, and in particular the importance of investing in tools for moderation and community building -- I left it off my original list, but both +Adina Levin and +Peter Kaminski brought it up and had excellent descriptions of why it matters (+Gretchen S. and others have also made great points in other threads). +Peter Kaminski comment has a heck of a lot of upvotes given how far down it is in the thread, so I would strongly recommend everybody reread it :)


CC +Yonatan Zunger +Natalie Villalobos +A.V. Flox
 
I am definitely seeing the nymwars as a smaller part in the bigger puzzle of peaceful coexistence of disparate cultures. How Google handles this is already taken as a signal by minority cultures/subcultures as to how they will be treated.
 
Agreed. And I also see it as a part of making G+ a less hostile-to-women environment.
 
Absolutely -- even though women are slightly in the majority, they have minority social status, which puts them smack into the same problem set of "how do we make it so all these disparate people are more likely to get along?"

I personally find that sites that accommodate small minorities well usually also get it right on the bigger minorities, assuming that they're not a site run by and for one small minority (not saying that safespaces are a bad thing, just that single-issue sites may not be as aware of intersectionality.) So seemingly trivial things like how the gender field is handled (can it be set private? Is it non-binary? May I choose not to answer that question at all?) are surprisingly indicative of how women are treated on a site, even if ostensibly that is there to be accommodating to people who don't fit into a gender binary. A site that is deliberately accommodating for disabled people tends to be better for women, too.
 
@Peter Kaminski

"In my view, #nymwars is a distraction from focusing on communities and culture."

Unfortunately, the nymwars are a necessary response to an attack on communities and culture by an outsized corporation with too much market power and no fear of using it.

"Google should also realize their size and weight in the world will help shape human culture itself; do they really want human culture to take name policing as a cultural norm?"

Yes, they do want that, and they want it bad. They have learned to love Big Brother and think it's high time you did the same. Do a search on Google and NSTIC, just for starters.

"Strong communities with the right tools will build strong, civil cultures. Let's work on that, instead of fidgeting about what people can call themselves."

How about we do both: build communities AND respond to urgent threats to fundamental rights like privacy?
 
I took Peter's response as saying to Google that we should work on building communities instead of limiting what people can call themselves, not as saying that we shouldn't be fighting the nymwars.
 
Okay, sorry if I misinterpreted you there, Peter.
 
Not so sure of that, +Gretchen S. -- they allowed privacy on gender field almost as soon as that need was pointed out, but still dragged us all into #nymwars over name conventions. That said, G+ mostly seems hostile in the generic I-am-a-clueless-relatively-well-off-white-male way which is pretty much found everywhere online...

However, I cannot possibly +1 Peters comments re behavior vs "name shaped" enough. This is what I find the biggest indicator toward women-friendly space: that inappropriate behavior is promptly stomped on.
 
+Jon Pincus, +Carl Houston -- right, my comments are directed to the Google side of #nymwars. I am all for responding to attacks on communities and culture and individuals, but in this case #nymwars is a battle neither side needed or wanted. If I understand +Yonatan Zunger correctly in the thread on his page, Google was trying to make a friendly place for community and culture. The effective way to do that is to foster community and culture, instead of worrying so much about names.
 
I wrote, "... a battle neither side needed or wanted." To look on the bright side, #nymwars has fostered a lot of intelligent thought and debate about pseudonymity. My hope is that after all this, we'll feel good about Google again, and we'll have that corpus of good work on identity to apply elsewhere. So maybe neither side wanted this to happen, but it will turn out to be what we needed after all.
 
+Peter Kaminski Hear, hear. While I don't think I'm ever going to trust Google+ quite as much after this (simply because it has underscored that putting important stuff like identity in the hands of a single corporation is inherently dangerous), I would love to get back to the point of feeling like G+ and Google generally are a net positive in my life. (And start using it for more than navel-gazing about the tool itself.)
 
+Cindy Brown -- yes... it's a "most sites" rather than an "all sites" sadly. I was really shocked when they said 'oops, our bad' on the gender field public thing, and then were so rigid about names.

Arguably, the fact that they had to have it pointed out to them at all that requiring a public gender field, having a gender binary, and by default setting everyone to male was wrong in the first place was another indicator of issues dealing with minorities/minority social status. But I had at the time hoped that the swift fix was a sign of wanting to get it right everywhere.
 
I was also very surprised at the contrast between the positive experience on privacy with the gender field and the rigidity with names. It's interesting going back and rereading my early posts; "A work in progress" in mid-July was very positive and a couple weeks later "Why it matters" was still optimistic that Google would work through problem quickly. So, I'm not sure why the difference.

As to whether or not it needed to happen ... historically rights have rarely granted without a battle; and identity has always been the most controversial of the rights called out in the social network users' bill of rights. At that level, it's a partial but potentially-significant victory: Google's agreed to at least a limited right to pseudonymity, which is more than Facebook has ever done. And it certainly helped those of us who believe people should be allowed to choose their own name meet each other and debunk some of the claims for 'real names'. Then again it seems to me that all of that could have happened without it turning into a war and as Peter points out we'd all be a lot farther along. Oh well. What happened, happened. Let's see what everybody's learned.
 
Interested to see the 'endresults' of the poll :)

Suggestion for next time: add a couple of editable stub comments for other options that show up later in the discussion :)
 
Peter Kaminski wrote: "My hope is that after all this, we'll feel good about Google again, and we'll have that corpus of good work on identity to apply elsewhere."

I agree on the second part. These nymwars are mostly about building up a conceptual framework to be readymade when the next near-monopoly decides to get cute and leverage its market power to sell out its users to Big Brother.

As to feeling good about Google again, that sort of unlikely restoration of trust is up to them to earn, and it's a pretty steep mountain to climb at this point. I'll start looking for early signs of rehabilitation once they stop digging themselves an ever-deeper hole with disingenuous double-talk and evasive stubbornness.
 
Updated results: here's the top 7.

26 apologize and make amends to the people who were harmed by Google's "real name" policy
21 formalize the commitments Yonatan made in his epic thread
20 continue the engagement with exemplified by +Yonatan Zunger, +Liz Fong-Jones, and other Googlers
18 include mononyms as "name-shaped names"
17 include First name/Last Initial, First Initial(s)/Last name as "name-shaped names"
15 remove the double-standard that "meangingful following" in an environment where weird names are common counts less than in a "name-shaped name" environment
12 strong features for moderation, introductions, and reputation discovery; tools and norms to provide social context and social norming, and names would take care of themselves.
Add a comment...