Why the Google+ Name Policy is important to me

I've seen lots of people write about this, and I figured it's time I had a go at answering this question here. There may be people who look at all my posts on the names issue and wonder: why is she making such a fuss about this?

The thing is, I really like Google Plus. I think it has huge potential, and had very high hopes when I first arrived here.

I wasn't looking for another social networking site. I've been very happily using Multiply for social networking for, oh, I think about four years now, it's been a great place for both keeping in touch with family & friends and also making new friends, it's a place where I can share some of my stuff privately whilst also blogging publicly, it has worked very well for me.

The one major fly in the ointment for me was that many of my friends didn't like Multiply and stayed on Facebook. So, despite all the stuff I didn't like about Facebook, I kept up a presence there, just for the sake of keeping in touch with these friends.

So you could say I was happily using Multiply and unhappily using Facebook.

Then I heard about G+ and it sounded interesting - it sounded like it could be a viable alternative to Facebook. That's why I bothered to come and check it out - because I thought it could at last provide the solution to my problem: a platform that is similar enough to Facebook so that those FB-loving friends would find it easy to adapt to, but without the FB stuff that I don't like. And the major thing I have disliked about FB is their attitude to privacy - the way they keep changing things round and opting people in to things without warning, the way they have tended to keep all sorts of privacy settings hidden in cobwebby corners so you don't even know they exist until someone points it out to you, the way they allow all these intrusive third-party apps which demand access to not just your own private info but your friends' info too - the general feeling that Mark Z thinks privacy is very last-century and we should move on from that to embrace this wonderful age of openness and pretend that the internet isn't full of stalkers and paedophiles and various types of criminals on the lookout for private info they could use for malicious purposes.

When I heard about G+ it sounded like Google were taking the opposite approach, saying: we respect your need for privacy, we take your privacy concerns seriously, so we've set up your profile so you can easily control who sees each bit, and we've given you circles so you can easily control who sees each item you post, so you can use this place without worrying about all that.

That's why I got so excited about this place - I thought this could be the end of slavery to FB's whims, and the start of a wonderful new era.

And that's why I got so so so upset when I found that Google were, after all that show of caring about our privacy concerns, saying: well, yes, you can control who can see where you live and where you went to college and how many cats you have, but we insist that you must use the name you are known by in real life, and we won't let you hide your surname even if you have serious reasons to be concerned for your safety or the safety of your family. Oh, and if you don't like it that's just tough, you don't have to use Google Plus - oh, what do you mean you came here because you thought we respected your privacy concerns, come on, you didn't think we really meant that... Oh, you're not happy about losing access to Google Reader and Picasa if you get thrown out for not using your real name? Well, tough, you should have realised we could shift the goalposts half-way through the match, and no, we didn't think we should warn people what the risk is... Oh, you're not happy because people using their real names are being thrown out because their real names don't fit our name pattern? Well, come on, does it really matter if someone with a mononym has to make up something to put in the last name field? Does it really matter if someone who is known to everyone in real life as CJ is forced to put his name down as Charles and be unrecognisable to anyone who knows him, all in the name of a policy which is supposed to be helping people who know you to find you... Does it matter if a whole load of people who are already marginalised will not be able to take part in any of the public discussions here, so that any discussions will be skewed... Does it matter if trolls or spammers can set up accounts in nice real-sounding names like John Smith and go unnoticed whilst people who dare to include their nickname in quotation marks are told no, you can't do that here, even though it is a very normal way of writing names in English...

I could go on.

It matters to me because Google have created something that could be fantastic, it could be a great place for even more than what I thought at first - I was looking at it as a potential Facebook-replacement, but with the way things have been set up here, with the ability to add people one-way, Twitter-style, this can be a lot more than just a place for keeping in touch with friends and family. You can use it for consuming content, by following people who write about stuff you're interested in. You can use it for public debate. You can use it for spreading frivolity and making people smile. (I am very grateful for the odd LOL that appears in my stream now and again.) In terms of the technology, this place has huge potential. (Though yes, of course there are still things that need to be ironed out, but we were told it's in field trials stage and that's fine.) The thought that Google may have built such a fabulous platform and in the end its use will be limited to just those who (a) don't have issues with the names policy and (b) don't care about those who have issues with the names policy being left out - to me that seems like a massive waste of valuable resources. Like many tools, G+ can be used for good or for bad or for neutral purposes. Limiting the scope of who can use it in this way, excluding so many people from the dialogue here - to me that very definitely does not look like using it for good.

That's why I keep going on about this issue. Because I want to see G+ fulfil its potential. I don't want to see it wasted.

If you think the people affected by the names policy are only a tiny minority, you might like to look at the web page "Who is Harmed by a Real Name's Policy" http://j.mp/pojGSo and the site http://my.nameis.me

+Vic Gundotra +Bradley Horowitz +Larry Page
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