In the last couple days, Google has taken to quite actively enforcing its "real name" rule, banning or suspending accounts (with many reports of users getting locked out of all of Google
, as opposed to just +) with names that "look funny" (such as including symbols, "including period"), as well as actively suspending accounts of users who use non-real names.
For more information, I highly recommend readers read through some of the comments on a recent post by +Robert Scoble
, where +Gowtham S
, an "infrastructure engineer" at Google, responded with some details on what is being banned. (edit: There is some controversy as to whether this user is "for real" or not; however, it is the discussion that is interesting, not the credentials.)https://plus.google.com/111091089527727420853/posts/aUHFm3Q69uw
Personally, I think this state of affairs is ludicrous
... Google's attempts to enforce what a name is don't even stand up to the test of multiple cultures, much less the test of an online pseudonymous world. +Gowtham S
, even, was forced into the position of specifying a last name, something he does not actually have, and therefore falling back to an initial of his father's first name.
Meanwhile, one of my real-life friends, due to a very complex situation involving her parents' names and legal status in various countries, has a compound last name involving a hyphen, a slash, and a set of parentheses: a name that certainly contains more than enough symbols to drive Google+'s new rules past that brink of "fails when confronted with real world data".
However, when you live on the Internet, a lot of things get even hazier: almost everyone I deal with has both a "real name" and at least one handle of some form. I don't just mean hackers here: I mean people I met in college who are writers, and interact with entire communities online via a pen name.
These people do not consider it appropriate to put their real name up for anyone on the Internet to view, and certainly find it scary (in the "am I going to attract stalkers to find where I live and make my life horrible" sense) to attach their name to an actual picture of themselves, as websites like Google+ encourage.
Coming from the perspective of Google+, and their whole mantra of sharing only what you want to share with the people you want to share it with, this is even sadder... at least the other profile fields I've complained about the granularity of in the past can be entirely marked "private": the Name field on Google+ must
be visible to "Anyone on the web", with the concept of fully private profiles that can only be seen by people you trust (a feature that Facebook has had for as long as I can remember) entirely absent.
One could instead imagine a true unification of "circles" with identity, allowing my college friends to go by their real name (maybe "True-dy McRealName") to people in their "family" and "close friend" circles, by a pen-name ("Tryla Marina") to other circles, and being able to fully hide their account
to people they don't know at all.
However, even this solution assumes that these users are willing to divulge the link
between their identities to at least some people (given that the accounts will be the same, it would be difficult to not notice): depending on what you are writing about (or how you feel about your writing ;P) you might choose to keep your pseudonym private, even if it is your closest friends who are actually dealing with "both of you".
One specific person I know in this situation is not a writer, but is instead a hacker (of course in the good sense of "making things possible"): MuscleNerd, a very famous member of the iPhone Dev Team (with almost 230,000 followers on Twitter). MuscleNerd is an example of someone who is almost entirely
known by his handle, a situation quite unlike the oft cited Lady Gaga: despite most people not recognizing her real name, we at least know that it is "Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta".
In this case, however, despite the fact that millions of people worldwide know who he is and hundreds of thousands of people care enough about what he says to follow him on Twitter, MuscleNerd's real name is something that most people, by a vast majority, not only would not recognize, but have never heard... despite having worked with him for years on various projects, I
haven't even heard it.
Today, +MuscleNerd's Google+ account was suspended, as it was listed as "MuscleNerd ." (with a period as the last name: a common convention that probably led to the aforementioned outright banning of periods in names). Given how much attention +MuscleNerd was already getting on Google+, I think it will be very interesting to see how the reaction to his account having just disappeared today plays out.
As for myself? I actually have a normal first name, a normal last name, and neither are something that I have ever kept secret from anyone online; and yet, even I am quite unhappy with not being able to list my name the way I always do whenever asked for "full name": "Jay Freeman (saurik)", so as to include the moniker by which people actually know me.
In all of these cases, no malice is involved: no one is trying to do something bad to Google+, or to their followers, and using "weird" or "hidden" identities to do so. Instead, we have people from different cultures, with messy histories, who were taught to value their privacy, or even might be concerned about how they will be seen by others; all who are not just being told to leave Google+, but sometimes (if we trust the numerous reports of this occurring) being cast from Google entirely, losing access to their e-mail, documents, and maybe even phone numbers, because they decided to try out Google+.
Of course, not all accounts with such "sketchy" information have disappeared... my personal favorite name to date, +*****
, is still "going strong". (In case mentions get damaged, which I believe they do, when a user is suspended: that account is currently named "Sugarballs Mintfart".) (edit: At some point during the 12 hours after I posted this article, that account, with #102087412519409745072, was suspended.)
Wow, just: wow. :(edit: For those who find this subject matter interesting, or enjoy reading about edge cases in naming, I highly recommend joining the discussion that this post has generated on Hacker News: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2799471 .