Nym Wars

SHITCOCK

Yes, yes, let's just get this one out of the way now.

I hadn't been paying much attention to the Google "Real Names" clusterfuck, because it was so obvious to me that they were going to lose this one in the press that it would all be over soon. But it's still not over, and the Google brass appear to be digging in their heels, despite the universally bad press they're getting over it.

And then the other night I had dinner with a friend which turned into an hour long argument over it, because he thought that forcing everyone to use their real names was just fine. This is someone I've known for decades, so to say that I was shocked and horrified by his attitude is an understatement. It was as if my friend had suddenly started beginning sentences with, "I'm not a racist, but..."

I imagine that like my friend, many of you, my readers, fit into the category of "white, middle-class males who haven't left the cubicle farm in years", so let me give you some reading that will hopefully make you understand why even though you have nothing to hide and live your life like an open book, pseudonyms are really important to people who do not lead the cozy existence that you do.

EFF: A Case for Pseudonyms

There are myriad reasons why an individual may feel safer identifying under a name other than their birth name. Teenagers who identify as members of the LGBT community, for example, are regularly harassed online and may prefer to identify online using a pseudonym. Individuals whose spouses or partners work for the government or are well known often wish to conceal aspects of their own lifestyle and may feel more comfortable operating under a different name online. Survivors of domestic abuse who need not to be found by their abusers may wish to alter their name in whole or in part. And anyone with unpopular or dissenting political opinions may choose not to risk their livelihood by identifying with a pseudonym.

As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens put forth in deciding McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995),

"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation -- and their ideas from suppression -- at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse."

Just as using "real" names can have real consequences, mandating the use of "real" names can too, excluding from the conversation anyone who fears retribution for sharing their views. While one added value of requiring real names might be increased "civility" of the conversation, it is most certainly to the detriment of diversity.

When the rebuttal to your argument is The Federalist Papers, generally that means that you've lost the argument.

This post from Kee Hinckley has a great list of red herrings, and a great list of examples of people who need pseudonyms:

Anonymous speech on the Internet is a mess
This is absolutely true. Go to any site where people can create accounts just by entering a fake email address, and where there are no valuable relationships between users to maintain, and you'll find a mosh pit of spam and just plain garbage. Fortunately, nobody is asking for anonymous speech on Google+; we're asking for the ability to use pseudonyms—persistent names that aren't tied to our real life address, home and personal information. All the usual validation processes (SMS messages, voice activation on the phone, etc.) would apply to them. When people give examples of how pseudonyms create hostile environments, they are almost always referring to comment systems, not social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, or Google+.

This bears repeating, because this is the terrible example that my friend kept using: "Boy, those comments on Youtube sure are a disaster." Yes, they are. But you know what, just because Google has failed at creating a useful comment system on another of their products doesn't mean it's impossible, and certainly doesn't mean it has not been accomplished many times in the past.

So you think that if Youtube required real names, the comments would be better? And you think that Facebook's real names policy has mandated civility? Well allow me to retort!

Here's an example of a system that had only pseudonyms with millions of users and tens of thousands of effective communities: USENET. It lasted about 20 years. Here's another example: LiveJournal. It lasted about a decade. Here's another example: the blog you are reading right now. This blog began inside LiveJournal, so that's kind of the same example, but I have firsthand experience here that there are people who have been commenting here using the same pseudonym for ten years, and while I know them, I don't know their names. Some of them, I've even met in person -- and their pseudonym is more real to me than their real name.

(It's true that USENET and Livejournal have both pretty much died, after only a decade or two of wild success. Google and Facebook should be so lucky.)

This post from Stephen van den Berg has some dirt from inside Google (anonymously, oh the rich irony):

As suspected, many Googlers support the nymwars cause for pseudonyms. There are those that do not support it, but even they agree that Google is messing up royally in the way the name violations are being handled. There already are Googlers that left Google because of this policy and it is likely that more will follow.

The nymwars are a recurring topic during the company-wide Friday-meetings, at times even taking over the original agenda of a meeting.

[...]

Popular counterarguments (both raised internally and externally), and why they won't fly with Vic Gundotra (G+ product manager) or Larry Page:

- "Women, LGBT, abuse victims, etc, will be disadvantaged"
Larry/Vic: "There are other places they can go to, we don't have to fight every ethical and social injustice every time in everything we do, G+ is one of the occasions when we don't seek to right the wrongs of the world, we just want to get the work done."

- "White privileged men will be denied the diversity of opinions because of the bias of Google+ toward white privileged men"
Larry/Vic: "Most of them seem to be just fine with that. Sure, most people pay lip service to diversity of opinions, but what really gets their panties in a knot is when their search results show what they consider garbage."

You stay klassy, Larry and Vic.

He goes on to quote a source:

At one point before G+ launched, an internal petition in support of pseudonyms was signed by about 10% of all Google engineers, which was a huge deal for the petition organizers. It seems that the G+ team is currently overwhelmed with technical issues of the current system -- that, combined with Vic's attitude, means that nymwars is not going to be addressed anytime soon. [...] My Google friends who support pseudonyms are becoming very frustrated and worn-down. We've only been fighting the battle publicly for a month, but they've been pushing internally for much, much longer.

And finally, for comedic value, Google's enforcement of their Real Names policy is incompetent, as Gary Walker's testing demonstrates:

A Firsthand Examination of the Google+ Profile Reporting Process

Here's what I gave them instead: Now, if this "driver's license" looks familiar, it should. If it doesn't, you should probably watch Superbad some time. I went well out of my way to make this an obvious fake. My picture isn't aligned correctly, it isn't scaled correctly. The font on my name doesn't match the rest of the ID, etc. etc. Entirely aside from that, I don't live in Hawaii. About the only way to make it more obvious would have been to leave the "McLovin" signature on it.

That one deserves a Slow Clap.

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188 Responses:

  1. Helyx says:

    Also, a very telling quote that I am surprised hasn't gotten a ton more press:

    "The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity," Schmidt said. "In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it." ( Source: http://techonomy.typepad.com/blog/2010/08/google-privacy-and-the-new-explosion-of-data.html )

    usually when I hear something that I interpret it as "Governments ARE demanding it"..
    but maybe that's just me.
    I deleted mine after getting suspended a second time.. ::shrug::

  2. Maybe I should start using the Google account I created to re-register to Facebook. And if I use another computer, I could still use my un-pseudonymous main account.

  3. Ewen McNeill says:

    In 20+ years of online communication (much of it with people I either have never met, or only later met) I'd have to say the only reliable predictor of civil discussion is stability of identity, which allows reputation to work. You want people to use the same identity by which they are regularly known, so you can recognise it's the same person again. As you note this worked just fine for most of USENET's existence, through most of LJ's existence, and across a wide range of BBSes prior to that. It even works across a diverse, but loosely related by theme, set of blogs, and their comments, providing there's a general understanding that people will continue to use the same identity on all of them. (I said pretty much the same thing in a comment in one of Skud's early threads about this particular Google fail.)

    There's some correlation between that and people "always using their real names", but lots of people don't use their "real" names in everyday life either (middle names get dropped, or used instead of first names, all sorts of nicknames stick, etc). And certainly 20+ years on, there are lots of people for whom their "online identity" is more real (or at least more known) than whatever the government might consider to be their identity. So "always use your real names" is a poor solution to that problem, let alone all the other ways in which it is unfortunate (which your post illustrates, as do various posts from Skud, et al).

    I think Helyx is possibly on to something here. There probably are more governments that would like something like "show your government ID card before getting onlne, to link it to your online identity" (which is the case in some countries now, I believe). Given the offered solution and the claimed reasons don't really match up, it seems like there is something else going on.

    Ewen

    PS: I've used my "real name" online for most of the last 20 years, which represents a combination of knowing its too easy to link an online identity to a "real" one for it to be truly safely isolated, and a bunch of privilege (white, male, etc) that makes it practical just to not try to keep them separate.

    • JR says:

      The internet needs both provable identities and unbreakable anonymity. They each serve vital purposes in different areas. Either one alone would be insufficient for the proper functioning of society.

    • Hub says:

      Next time you meet somebody you know work at Google, ask to see their ID. :-)

  4. I've been one of "those guys" who has been in support of real names. Very voiciferously too.

    But tonight I sent Vic Gundotra this email asking him to stop the real names war: https://plus.google.com/111091089527727420853/posts/XQKT1XkPBgi

    I give him a few ways he can get what he wants, which is the aesthetic, while letting the community get what they want too.

    • Hub says:

      The aesthetic is probably the biggest turd in the argument.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        It's certainly the one that makes the least sense. I call it the Ellis Island Clerk argument. "Your name doesn't look nice to me. I'll change it."

    • Liz says:

      It would make sense to just allow G+ users to be able to include or filter out pseudonymous users, to allow for different levels of verifiability -- rather than refusing to allow pseudonymous/anonymous accounts at all. The "verified" badges could be a step in that direction.

    • Sling Trebuchet says:

      Perhaps it required the witnessing of the effect on 'well-known' people or people you know to bring about the change in your opinion.
      If so, I would gently suggest that there was a lack of wisdom and rigour in your original thinking.
      For many of us, the sheer impossibility of the thing was obvious from the word go.

      I think that your suggestions to Vic Gundotra are similarly challenged. They still envisage pseudonyms as second-class persons. They do not address *actual* verifiication.
      Twitter verification is the exception rather than the rule. I remember @mikkohypponen (CRO at F-Secure) tweeting that the verification process there was not worth the effort involved. He and @e_kaspersky (CRO at Kaspersky Labs) verified themselves *to each other* publicly in Twitter by reference to a conversation they had at a meat-space meeting. Observers of that exchange do not *know* that they are genuine. We simply accept the very high probability. Neither are 'Verified'.

      Actual verification (with teeth) for an international population of millions is simply not possible - other than having something like government-mandated identity keys and encryption.
      Any verification going on in Google+ right now is fake. It's window-dressing based on a fantasy.

      Gary Walker went out of his way to create a blatant flag-waving forged ID but still had it approved. http://gewalker.blogspot.com/2011/08/firsthand-examination-of-google-profile.html
      So pick a 'normal' name. Photoshop an ID that doesn't challenge. Give a $5 phone number. Verified! Yay! So easy and less than a coffee & bun.
      It's absolute nonsense. It's bonkers mad. In a room containing hundreds of millions of people, names are useless as a guide to the value of a person. We have to rely on our good sense. If we think that Google can assure 'genuineness' to us, we are simpletons.

      If people are so insecure in themselves that they can not bear to be confronted with a mind that does not wear a comforting label, I'd be happy with a voluntary flag on a G+ account that said "This is a pseudonym". Then leave it up to *people* - and not Google - to decide if such a flag was of any use as an option in ordering or presenting listings. Put the power to do that in the hands of individuals. Default should be to be pseudonym-neutral.

      A voluntary 'pseudonym' flag is the closest Google are ever going to get to realistically catering to the insecure. It should be that way around. Flagging other than a relatively very small number of accounts as actually verified is impossible.
      Perversely - a declared pseudonym can be seen as more trustworthy than a name that might or might not be 'genuine'.
      If someone filters out 'pseudonym' then they limit themselves to a very small incestuous mindspace.
      What about pseudonyms that don't flag themselves as such? Well, how do you actually know? (Hint: You don't). You have to evaluate for yourself. If you want/expect to be blindly spoon-fed in this, you could be in for some nasty surprises.

    • Sling Trebuchet says:

      Hi Robert
      You will be delighted to hear that Google+ are flagging fake names as Verified
      https://plus.google.com/117903011098040166012/posts/bPauQFdZfVw

      Extract: "People keep popping up in my stream startled because they've just discovered that their account has been verified. Not public figures. Not celebrities. Not people added to lots of circles. So far what they seem to have in common is that they previously were flagged for having an invalid name, and Google approved their change. Ironically, this means that people are being verified who not only aren't using their real name, they aren't using their common pseudonym either! Google is marking people as verified who made up a name to get around the Google+ name restrictions."

      Face it. If a 'Nam Doc Boo' posts something, that could very well be their real name - or not. It could be their name even though Google rejected it. It might not be their real name even if Google "Verified" it.
      What you are left with to deal with a posting by 'Nam Doc Boo' is whatever good sense you have got out of life.

      UnVerified 'Nam Doech Fan Got' could post a deep insight into the meaning of Everything.
      Verified 'Joe Brown' could post sense, nonsense, phishing and/or abuse - whether or not Joe Brown is their 'real name'.
      If you're going to filter/blinker your world view based on the acceptability/tone/aesthetic of a label, you will die as a small mind.

    • Richard says:

      I've learned something new thanks to the soon to be mandatory policy of only posting under Government Approved Idenifiers: "Scoble" exists outside the Fake Steve Jobs blog.

    • Lucretia Pruitt says:

      I've been staying out of the whole hullabaloo mostly Robert. But I am happy you are bending on this.
      I'd like to think that as adults, we have the right to choose who we will interact with, not have part of that choice taken away from us. Good design mandates that users can restrict privacy settings for themselves, not have it thrust upon them. Usenet is the best example of "yes, there will be trolls and pseudonymous assholes - it's the internet, you'll learn how to filter and ban" working.
      Google's just erring on the side of caution - but erring nonetheless. Hopefully Vic et al will begin to see that their time is better spent fixing bugs that actually *bug* people - not fighting the identity war.

    • vought says:

      Thanks for taking up for us Robert, but you know, I pretty much agree with Jamie and given that most of my friends were active on the Internets back in the days of cats.ucsc and ICB and NONE of them ever used a real name, I think Vic and Larry should just cut the bullshit and admit that RealNames is about:
      -Microtargeting advertising
      -Microtargeting your friends
      and the worst part of it?

      They actually seem to have gone from "We'll give you whatever you ask for with low-impact, low-bother ads" to "OK, Internet, now BEHAVE, so we can sell more ads for more money!!!!" in a little over ten years.

      Can you take a break from writing to Vic and get on the case of Google's misappropriation of Federal funds in the H211 LLC cozyup? Because it appears that while no "tech" journalist except JohnP at ATD is paying attention, Google actually got paid by the government to park all $60m worth of jets at Moffett/Ames. And they want everyone's real names. Aren't you just the slightest bit worried about Google's metamorphosis and insistence about "realnames" for performers, etc. given the turn the company has taken and it's obvious reluctance to do right by the 'community' it serves?

  5. JM Rooker says:

    It was as if my friend had suddenly started beginning sentences with, "I'm not a racist, but..."
    A few months ago, I had that exact reaction to a friend of mine for exactly the same reason. We're both atheists, which is pretty much the worst thing you can be in some parts of the US. We both know exactly why some people need to protect their identity.

    Or so I thought, anyway. One day, entirely out of nowhere, she spouts off on Twitter about people should use their real names online. I was completely shocked and ended up arguing about it with her and losing my temper.

  6. David Gerard says:

    For those who think the comparison to "racism" is over the top - check these:

    * Hong Kong users locked out of their email until they invent a name American reviewers like;
    * Google employee suspended because his name is Ping.

    These are the sort of names considered not "aesthetic".

    • One of the Chattacon staff's real name is Fong Dong (yes, I've seen his driver's license). I can't find him on G+ ... wonder why?

    • This is one of the more outrageous aspects of the whole real-names nonsense—it presumes that Google can recognize a real name when they see it. It is like the British rules in colonial India insisting that all subjects had to enter a surname and initials on government forms, even if they had a single name (as was normal in some Indian states), or present-day China, which imposes Chinese-style names on people whose cultural norms differ from the centrally mandated ones.

      Telling someone else what their name is is not at all respectful.

  7. Paul Crowley says:

    I keep reading things that argue for the advantages of a site on which people had to use their real names. A bit pointless, since that's not possible. They should try arguing for Google's actual current policy, by which both false negatives and false positives in the zillons are guaranteed.

  8. David says:

    Might I also point you to an article discussing Google's disapproval of the Korean government's attempts to enforce a "real names" policy as this shows their utter hypocrisy with regard to the issue. BTW Like Helyx (above) I deleted my account once they suspended it.

    http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2011/08/google_refuses.php

    • Widget says:

      Did you delete more than your google+ account? I'm about to do that, but it would be a massive inconvenience to delete my gmail account. Ditto, if I had a google driven blog.

      • David says:

        I'm working through an abandonment of all Google services. I started with the obvious and deleted my Google + account and then a couple of old blogs...largely forgotten anyway. Gmail will take a little bit of time and effort but all that is really needed is to move off my automated mailings (newsletters and the like) download a backup of all that was there then monitor it for, say, a year to be on the completely and utterly safe side sending any replies I need to issue from an address on a domain of mine noting the former account and asking people to update the address book details they have for me. Gmail traffic is already down to less than 10 % of what it was and falling so I'll soon be rid of the Google monster. I use a scraper (scroogle) for any Google searching so that is covered too.

  9. Another major problem with all of this is the number of people who don't really know exactly what is going on, but still leaving massive amounts of commentary on it all over the web. If you look at the article on Mashable about this, you'll get an entirely skewed point of view, that is inaccurate.
    I think that Ewen layed it out best...
    "In 20+ years of online communication (much of it with people I either have never met, or only later met) I'd have to say the only reliable predictor of civil discussion is stability of identity, which allows reputation to work. You want people to use the same identity by which they are regularly known, so you can recognise it's the same person again."

    It's not a matter of using your *real* name, but simply one that is common TO you, for those same reasons.

    I'm actually started to get annoyed that this is even a discussion anymore, honestly. I think the only time, and case this should be an issue anymore is for mononyms, or people with odd (legal) names that Google is still banning. Allow that to be fixed, and honestly this situation is over.
    I wrote a much more extensive version of all this over at my site.
    http://aberrospecus.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/whats-in-a-name/
    I just woke up, so I apologize for the fact that this is kind of rambly...

  10. Drake Wilson says:

    An earlier-Internet discussion of something similar is RealNamesPlease at the original C2 WikiWikiWeb. It describes the (reluctant) acceptance of pseudonyms that are “primary, invested, and permanent” which is similar to Ewen McNeill's “stability of identity” comment above.

    (Perhaps ironically, I'd authenticate this with OpenID, but my OpenID endpoint is currently down while I shuffle everything around and wait for new machine parts to arrive so I can set my main house server back up properly without having to do it twice, so…)

  11. Greg says:

    Thanks for writing this, it was a good read, and something I've been worrying about. It's nice to see I'm not the only one.

  12. Joe Johnston says:

    The utility of anonymous speech is clearly made in the passages you cite. You did not make a case why a commercial company has any such mandate.

    Also, USENET was perhaps a wonderful community in the 80s when 45 people used it. In the 16 years I've been on the net, it has mostly been stabby.

    I believe the key factor is the size of the user base. IIRC channels are fine when there are fewer than 20 people.

  13. Wouter says:

    A lot of good points, but I'm not sure if I understand "White privileged men will be denied the diversity of opinions because of the bias of Google+ toward white privileged men".

    I am a white privileged man. A lot of my (real name) Facebook friends are women or part of what you call the "LGBT" community – in fact these are often the most prolific users. I don't understand how a neutral comment/post system can favour skin colour, gender or wealth, as if there's some specific bias inherently tied to the HTML or CSS on these pages.

    Despite being a white privileged heterosexual male, I can have my own reasons for wanting privacy. Reasons as diverse as: political, philosophical or religious views, my job, whistleblowing, being bullied, an angry friend or ex planning character assassination, government or corporate retaliation, health issues, deeply personal information leaking out, internet and data security, real life security (such as exposing holiday information to potential burglars), even being drunk or generally having a big mouth.

    I guess all I'm trying to say is that – and I'm being slightly tongue in cheek here – this is bias, racism and discrimination against white privileged males as the eternal oppressor and perpetual perpetrator. Even big bad white males can be the victim of harassment, character assassination or sexual preferences/escapades becoming public – just as likely by women or some other member of this huge "non-white privileged male" victim group. Not to mention women can kill and gay people can rape their ex too, in the most extreme and unlikely cases of abuse flowing forth from the consequences of the lack of privacy.

    While I fully agree with the privacy argument, I just want to assert that I'm not so sure that white privileged males have less to lose or are in some way collectively instrumental in oppressing those poor little victim groups (which seems to be everyone else) once more – it reeks a bit like a certain typical modern day political rhetoric I just don't buy into and isn't even particularly relevant in this discussion in my opinion.

    Finally I'd like to point out (all along while admitting total ignorance about factual numbers) that Google undoubtedly has a lot of female, "non-white" or non-exclusively heterosexual employees and that anyone profiling them as the great privileged white heterosexual male army sounds like dichotomous abuse.

    • jlisa says:

      Agreed, "white, privileged men" is being used here as a shock category, when it is not what the writer actually meant, and that is just as unfair to white, privileged men as any prejudicial statement about another group would be to them.

      A more PC and perhaps clearer way to put it would have been that "holders of the majority, socially predominant or perceived-to-be socially dominant and acceptable viewpoint will be denied the diversity of opinions ..." which of course will reinforce to everyone that what people think is the socially dominant viewpoint really is, and that it is held by a greater percentage of the population than do hold it.

      Frankly most of us, regardless of ethnicity, sex, sexual preference or other categorization fit into this on some topics. We will all be denied diversity of opinion if those who hold different opinions feel muzzled or are silenced by having to tie their identities (and therefore potentially their safety and the safety of their families, co-workers, etc ...) to unpopular viewpoints.

    • ASG says:

      The only person who can honestly believe that things are just as hard for the white, privileged male as it is for women and people of colour is the one who has never had to go through life on the Internet with a woman's appearance, a funny name, or a userpic that people consider exotic. When people see a woman in the userpic, they constantly and relentlessly make comments about her appearance, her body, her behaviour, her imagined sexuality, and her imagined ethics. (God forbid she's overweight or disabled or conventionally pretty or wearing something 'ethnic' or wearing something 'revealing' or holding anything that people have (and feel the need to voice) their opinions on.) No doubt that's happened to you, like, twice in your life; now imagine going through that every day. Take it from me: IT GETS REALLY OLD BASICALLY IMMEDIATELY.

      And when you have a name like mine, it's all, "Ohhhhhh, that's so unusual, where are you FROM?" "New Jersey." "I mean where are you REALLY FROM?" "Er, I'm really from New Jersey." "I mean where is... you know... like, your BACKGROUND?" Of course people are too faux-polite to come out and say what they really want to say, which is "you look funny and I want to interrogate you about it" and/or "I refuse to believe that someone funny-looking like you is really American." Where my great-grandparents are from is none of your fucking business and my userpic does not give you the right to pursue that line of questioning, but of course I can't just "turn off" my skin colour so thanks to my appearance I'm fair game for everyone everywhere all the time. That, sir, would be why my Facebook userpic is a picture of my cat.

      So yeah, even if you claim you're being "tongue in cheek", you look like a tool. Don't be that guy. And before you pull out the "reverse racism" schtick (even if you immediately follow it up with the claim that you're ha-ha just-kidding), I recommend that you educate yourself about how that sounds when the words leave your mouth: http://mustardseedblog.com/2006/12/30/honky-want-a-cracker-a-look-at-the-myth-of-reverse-racism/

      Seriously. Don't.

      • Matt says:

        That was a fantastic article, thank you for linking it.

      • Malcolm Gin says:

        Agreed, thank you. One of the things that makes Tim Wise (the dude who wrote the article you linked to) so effective as an anti-racist activist in person is that he's Caucasian. A lot of people of color (like me) who say exactly the same thing in exactly the same situation don't have the success Tim does, apparently because we are people of color. That Tim is white sometimes gets beyond the automatic defenses some folks put up around hearing the message.

        • K says:

          Exactly - some people in the majority believe people in the minority should just work harder for equality, but unfortunately it often takes spokespeople in the majority to get anything done. To put it quite simply - who would vote to allow women to vote if women can't vote?

          That said, I do think it's important to avoid discrimination even within the majority - I've taught "minority" students whose parents were well enough off to send them to private school and get tutors when needed and "majority" students who were sent to overcrowded public schools while their parents worked two jobs to pay the rent.

          THAT said, when someone is saying they essentially don't care if women and ethnic groups are marginalized and forced out of their service it's hard to see them as anything but white and privileged.

      • Tyrone (yes that is my real name) says:

        Being white and male, I am waiting on my privileges to start. Who do I see about that? What exactly are they? Is that why I wasn't banned from G+ or is it because I have always used my real name?

    • Brian B says:

      Cracker, please.

    • Malcolm Gin says:

      Wait a minute. White privileged men are now a minority that need to be coddled?

    • Andrew says:

      It's a tactic akin to comparing every bad thing to the Holocaust. Eventually it makes the Holocaust seem not as bad. "Oh, I can't believe I had to deal with all of those Nazis to get my restaurant's alcohol license!"

      Once people call everything they don't like "White privilege", things that actually are "white privilege" lose their meaning and the term becomes useless. Damn those mostly-south-and-east-asian google+ engineers and their white privilege!

      This is also how Fox News is destroying America. Congratulations, people!

  14. John (Other John) says:

    The single time i verified who i was in real life, was at a sporting website whose author is front and center, well known and independent.

    I was silly to post as just "John" (laziness as the blog was young then) but it somehow created an argument with another "John" admixed which was a bit suspect because of the ad hominem attacks which came forth from this person, and that they seemed to be riffing off what i was saying.

    So there is some value to identifying yourself, under certain circumstances, to a trusted party. Is there an equivalent way to find a trusted intermediary, along the lines of a notary public?

    When bank accounts had to have signature cards, i signed with colored ink, so if it had to be checked, there was a shared secret. I am still impressed that worked when i had my whole wallet and ID stolen, and was in trouble. As to internet banking, in the name of security a bank i was with rotated a long sub list of required high strength questions, and i flaked it so often, they locked me out, must go present ID etc in person. I was very grateful for that, because not anybody is about to hack my online account.

    I am also in business for myself, and these riots in London may have given some fools the feeling they were free to ply me with menaces to extort money. So brazen, we are talking about identifiable people phone numbers, even emails and SMS text. Some people do need privacy in real life. I do not call this a matter of real names of pseudonyms, it is plain privacy and safety.

    A lot of what i write on blog comments comes from personal anecdote. I would be very unhappy to attach that to my real name, because it might invite sophisticated impersonators. Which brings me full circle to the way i identified myself: to a trusted independent. This has been fixed in law for generations. What is the motivation for not fixing this online? What are the reasons anyone gives to ask for "real names" (ironical, given the corp called Real Names was such a total fail and bordered on extortionate practices) unless they are acting for interested parties? I started seriously thinking that my gmail account probably can identify me with precision, and mistrusting that opportunity, and mistrusting the Real Names blag even more, because you could possibly actually verify uniqueness from the email data gmail holds, without even violating any service terms. I think this is instead actual bullying, and it coincides with very difficult times and infinite extensions of state powers nationally and locally. Living in the UK,civil servants can apparently inspect my email without warrant. That's a subject for another day. But what i want to know, is why if i am inevitably so identifiable anyway, is demanding i put my given name on a website anything other than browbeating? I actually thought hard whether to go "public" with my full name, but since i had to lawyer up for my family safety, that argument is going no-where at this time. Maybe later. But then i fear that precautionary measures would in fact isolate me more from society than the lack of full identification on a website ever could. And disconnecting from my environ society would be a genuine privation and sadness to me.

    - john

  15. gregorylent says:

    the feds insist google go for the real names ...

  16. [...] a pair of great (JWZ) posts (Kevin Marks) on the Nym Wars, in which Googlers, net users, and sensible people try to [...]

  17. person287 says:

    Apart from a few cases, like one I saw about an agent being in deep cover, I don't see the problem using your real name. If you wouldn't feel comfortable saying it in person, then why should you feel comfortable saying it online. Standards are Standards, they shouldn't really change that much whether online or in person. Maybe there are reasons I'm missing, but that's my opinon.

    • JR says:

      And here we have the pro-Real Names Only argument from "person287". You seem somewhat less than perfectly self-aware, so let me help you. Yes, there are reasons you're missing. Have you really never had something important to say that somebody might want to violently retaliate against you for? Can you really not imagine a situation where someone else, maybe someone you care about, has something important and risky to say?

      It's really not about being comfortable saying rude things. It's about being safe fighting for what's right, when that could get you hurt or killed. That does mean we'll have to put up with some rude things being said to preserve freedom. There is no surer road to a police state than outlawing anonymity. We are rapidly approaching a world where everything that everyone does online can be data-mined and correlated.

      Suppose you have a strongly held political belief. Now suppose that someone in a position of power in the government really hates everyone that holds your belief. It would not be hard for that person to start messing with your life. Maybe have a few false police reports submitted about your family. Maybe have you locked up "by mistake". Maybe force you to spend all your savings and your time defending yourself in court for a few years. Anonymity is a necessary check on power.

      As I said before, the internet needs both provable identities and unbreakable anonymity. They each serve vital purposes in different areas.

      • person287 says:

        Sorry, I'm only talking about stuff like Facebook and Google+, specifically designed for being social, and talking to friends (maybe less for Google+). Those places I think you should only use your real name, it just makes things easier, and helps eliminate possibility of 'hating'. I probably should've made that clearer!

        • person287 says:

          I'd also note that the main problem I have with anonymity on some services is continuity. I can't remember people by online aliases. Tomorrow I won't remember the name 'JR', but I would remember Charlie Lee or something like that. Sometimes you don't want continuity, you don't want to be traced back, but I don't think on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc you're going to be sharing information that would possibly put your life in jeopardy, it's just not the right place. As you say there's a place for each, and looking back on my original post I realise I didn't really write it very well.

          • codeman38 says:

            Unfortunately, your case isn't the case for everyone. I'm still not entirely sure of the real names of many people I know-- some of these people I only know by nicknames in real life!

            And then there's the issue of common names. It can be quite hard to find one particular Charlie Lee amongst hundreds of people of the same name. Several of my friends have quite common real names, and aside from linking to their profile through a mutual friend, the only easy way to find them online is... with a pseudonym.

            • person287 says:

              But the thing is most things online CAN be tied to your real identity through not much effort. By linking your domain I can see that you are William C B, unless that is a pseudonym! I guess it's different for me, but I don't think I know anybody be nicknames. Nobody I know has the same name as another person, but that's just circumstantial, maybe I'd think differently if I did.

              • codeman38 says:

                You're indeed correct. It's not hard to find my real name at all-- in fact, I originally meant to include a line saying "no, I'm not just some anonymous person, run a WHOIS on me".

                However, I'm almost certain that more people online know me by my pseudonym, because that's how I've been identifying myself online for years.

                Oh, and this also reveals another thing about anything that requires the name on one's bank account or state ID. Nobody in the real world actually knows me as William-- I go by my middle name. But I'm at the mercy of badly designed forms that don't realize that "F. Middle Last" is a valid way of writing a name!

              • Eevee says:

                I'm in a similar situation. My friends, significant others, colleagues, and even some family members all call me by a pseudonym, both online and off. My open source work is all credited to the same pseudonym. I'm actually somewhat uncomfortable being referred to by my real name, just because it sounds so artificial by now. But it's not a secret, and you can find mine just as easily as you can find the gp's.

                Using my real name on Google+ would mean that few of my friends could find me, many of them wouldn't recognize my posts as belonging to me, and I'd have to put up with the UI referring to me by my first name in an attempt to be colloquial. I don't appreciate being put in such a box to appeal to the nebulous political ideals of some product manager.

          • Sling Trebuchet says:

            To me, "Robert Scoble" - for example - is just a label. I see the name in different venues. It seems to be the same person in different places from the context.
            I don't actually *know* if his wallet name is that.
            If the same person posted *consistently* as say "person287", then it would make no difference to the value of what he is saying.
            How is it possible for you to remember "Robert Scoble", but not remember "Jim Flynn" if someone like Scoble was posting under that name as a pseudonym?

            If you say that you would remember a 'Jim Flynn', then perhaps your definition of a name that can be remembered is 'white anglo-saxon' or 'firstname lastname'. Perhaps you think that such names can not be pseudonyms, or that all pseudonyms are of the form 'person287'

            If you think that the real-ness of a name can be judged by inspection, then you are delusional.
            If you think that 'verification' via SMS verifies anything other than some person having access to a phone, then you haven't thought about it.
            If you think that a photoshopped ID actually verifies anything, you don't get out much.

            'Real names' is a fantasy. There is no way to actually verify that a few hundred million names are 'real'. It's superficiality.
            The measure of a person is not their name. The measure is their actions and their thoughts.

            • person287 says:

              Yeah, if it's persistent and 'normal' then I don't have any problem remembering that. Most celebrities don't use their real names, but the names don't seem that they aren't real. The key to me is believability, the photoshopped ID and SMS, while flawed, still do give authority, the pseudonyms I think don't.
              I've got to say though I have been swayed a bit by the arguments, and I do get the point of it a bit more now.

              • Sling Trebuchet says:

                You are laying yourself wide open to abuse by scammers, phishers and sundry black hats.
                A person who posts as "person287" is expressly saying. "This is not my real name. Concentrate on the logic/meaning/imagination/art of what I am saying."
                The bad actors will sign up with a vanilla WASP name like "Joe Brown". They will probably avoid the very common "John Smith". Did you know that there are more than 500,000 John Smiths with a Google profile? (That's Google, not Google+ - but it's early days yet)
                In the unlikely event of this 'normal'-looking pseudonym being challenged, they will supply a photoshopped ID and/or a cell-phone number.
                You consider that "Joe Brown" has more authority than "person287". Why exactly?
                Is this not simply self-delusional?

                Here am I discussing this with you - who posts here as person287. I am having a discussion with a real person - and not with a name.
                Would this discussion be any more valuable to anyone if you were posting as Joe Brown?

                • person287 says:

                  There are places for each, I get that more now, but I still think if you're doing something that is very serious a legitimate sounding name is important. In the end most of the world is more down to the impression you give than anything else, that's basically how fame works. Everybody knows that Joe Bloggs is mainly used as a madeup name, although I'm sure that there are people called that. I personally haven't tried Google+ yet, as Google Apps for Domains doesn't allow you to signup yet, but that's the way I see it on Facebook. It's different wherever you go online, but that's the way I feel it works when I'm communicating with people I know in the real world. Maybe it's different for you, I see from this it is :)

        • Richard says:

          I'm only talking about stuff like Facebook and Google+, specifically designed for being social ...

          Examples of non-social interaction between humans being?

        • K says:

          See, I don't have a problem with putting my real name on Google Plus - you're right, it's social networking and, for the most part, I'd be networking with people who'd know me by my real name.

          However, whatever I put for my Google Plus name will also automatically be my Google ID name, my G-mail name, my Google Docs name, etc - ALL of them are irrevocably linked to your Google Plus name.

          This presents a problem in that I've been commenting using my Google ID for I don't know how long. My comments are never things that I wouldn't say in real life in similar situations - in a party of acquaintances or at a conference of individuals who do the same job as I do - however they may not (I honestly cannot recall all of maybe five years of comments) have been things I would want to say into a microphone in front of my family, bosses, and students.

          I've already been in trouble once for writing something online using my real name - again, nothing I wouldn't have said in conversation to a friend in a crowded restaurant - and that's what taught me to not use my real name online unless absolutely necessary.

          The only people who *demand* you use your real name online are never doing so for benign purposes.

    • Ciaran Laval says:

      Social networking policies in the workplace are an issue when it comes to using your real name, companies generally support your right to freedom of expression except when the link to the workplace comes into it and a link to the workplace is far more likely when you use your real name.

    • vought says:

      Lemme guess: You're a guy. Maybe a white guy. You aren't a policeman or anyone who every says controversial things out loud, on the Internet or otherwise. You don't have a girlfriend - or if you do, she's someone who has never been assaulted, stalked, or sexually threatened. You're not a union organizer, gay, in the closet, or out of bounds. You've never been convicted of a crime. You've never done or said anything that might get you fired. IOW, you are the perfect little angel, and using your real name on the Internets would be just fine for everyone else too.

      Can't think of reasons not to use a real name? Think harder. A lot harder.

      • person287 says:

        I'm just talking about stuff like Google+ and Facebook, from where I see are mainly for interacting with people you already know. Other places fair enough, but places on the internet are different. However I'd admit that I probably think differently due to the fact I've never really done any seriously bad thing, or had anything seriously bad done to me, but that's just me opinion. There are places to be anonymous, and places you shouldn't be, and I don't think that on Google+ and Facebook you should be, but to be honest I can't yet get Google+ because it doesn't allow Google Apps Users on.

  18. "When the rebuttal to your argument is The Federalist Papers, generally that means that you've lost the argument."

    Thomas Jefferson, who never wrote under a pseudonym — not feeling the need for a self-serving "plausible deniability", as did Jay, Madison and Hamilton — would have strongly disagreed.

  19. wirehead says:

    I think it also kinda depends on what sort of last name you have. For example, there aren't too many people with my last name. It's pretty much a guarantee that they are all related to me and there's not too much repetition of names. Whereas if your last name is "Smith" or "Johnson" or even "Page", there's a decent chance that you can get a modicum of anonymity by saying "Dude, that's a not me, that's another Larry Page".

  20. nik butler says:

    this is by no means a justification --- but !

    Using real / common names excuses Google any legal requirement to defend copyrighted or trademark names for profiles. By sticking to the policy 'the name you commonly go by' they avoid any trouble with 'John smith bitters' or 'mike rowesoft' accounts requiring them to be the bad guys in handling name resolution.

    Assuming we use 'common' names then I might as easily call myself william tell or george lucas or micheal sheen all common names and equal to the ability to provide anonymity though not so easy to provide a mechanism for clear identity should I wish to use that name on a comment elsewhere.

    interestingly enough facebook have had this 'real name' policy for a while so why didnt we have a fym wars ?

    • vought says:

      "interestingly enough facebook have had this 'real name' policy for a while so why didnt we have a fym wars ?"

      Because Facebook is still letting employees do the driving in most cases, and all the FB employees I've met (about six or seven) have multiple pseudonymous accounts so that it's not completely barking obvious when they "Like" sites that the boss might object to.

      Google might actually want to start listening to it's employees before this goes really wrong. But then again, this is the place where some a-hole you've never met can completely screw over your review and thus, your livelihood.

  21. Sheilagh says:

    So what hinders Diaspora development? Or is it adoption that's the problem?

    Whoever gins up a social network with a [dislike/fuck you] button system will win the internets forever.

    • It appears to be akin to Linux in 1994. In discussion today with advocates, most of the stuff that would be the poiint appears to be vapourware on the roadmap. While I, like many, have a little RMS who pops up on my shoulder from time to time, spontaneously breaking into "Join us now and share the software" while smelling bad, I humbly suggest this may not quite be enough to lure over from Facebook or G+ anyone I might want to talk to who doesn't.

  22. D. Eppstein says:

    nik: I think Wikipedia's user name policy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Username_policy) provides a completely adequate solution to the problem you describe (fake accounts pretending to be famous real people). It allows account names to be chosen at will as long as they are not misleading, promotional, offensive, or disruptive — the example of calling yourself "george lucas" when that is not your real name would fall under the misleading category. Wikipedia also has policies against attempting to "out" pseudonyms by connecting them to real names.

    In the case of Google+, there would be even less problem with this sort of thing — on Wikipedia, the account name has to be a unique identifier whereas on Google+ the unique id is a number and multiple accounts can have the same name. So there is no need to resolve disputes over who really owns a name unless there is a case of fraudulent impersonation going on.

  23. Autumn says:

    I just had to leave G+ because of this. I legally changed my name at 18, and using Google+ with the names policy as it is makes me feel like a hypocrite. I am overwhelmingly angry about this, because outside of this issue, Google+ has almost every social networking feature that I have been wanting for years. I feel baited and trapped, and it sucks. I had to quit partly because I have a lot of other stuff to do, and this whole thing made me so angry that continuing to participate was taking up too much energy. This whole thing has really caused me to rethink my use of all Google products.

    Thank you very much for bringing attention to this issue, jwz. You have a platform, and I'm grateful you spoke up.

    • David Gerard says:

      "This whole thing has really caused me to rethink my use of all Google products."

      I've seen this too. Even search. How toxic do you have to make your brand that people will seriously contemplate Bing for search?

      • Autumn says:

        Haha, indeed. Yes, I did actually find myself contemplating using Bing the other day, and that made me even angrier at Google.

      • rjp says:

        The inability to once and forever disable Google Instant has driven me to Bing.

        • David Gerard says:

          I am so, so sorry you no longer have search. On the other hand, you can tell the kids what trying to find things on the web was like in 1998.

        • Richard says:

          Disable Google instant? Noscript. Obviously. What are you thinking allowing he Borg to run programs on your computer?

    • Hey Autumn,
      If you want an invite to Diaspora, whose network is awesome these days, you can reach me on twitter @onetruecathal.

      For my part, I'm extremely disappointed in Google. Not surprised, of course; I've only ever trusted them, as a publicly traded (=morally fluid) company, insofar as their rational self interest aligned with my needs. Now that they're in a "Win at Social" war with Facebook, it seems all bets about not being evil are off.

      I don't personally have any reason to hide my name, anymore. However, I did when I was younger, and I will impress in my children the good habit of using only pseudonyms, a habit they can break when they feel confident and secure enough to use their real name. I respect and advocate the right of any person on this meta-nation we call the internet to use a pseudonym if they so choose; I've felt the bad effects of anonymity and I've benefitted from the best effects of it too; for me, it's a clear cut case. Anonymity can hurt sometimes, but it's too valuable to sacrifice for commerical reasons.

      If I were living in any other part of the world these days, I'd probably be even more vociferously against Real-Names. If I were living in China or the US, I'd be goggle-eyed at the idea. I'm with the OP on the shock of seeing friends "Go Native" on real names. Doesn't matter to me anymore if Google+ fix this: I'm out.

      For anyone who wants to co-ordinate sending a message, I've announced that I'm leaving by September 10th and deleting my G+ account if Nymwars is still an issue. Anyone who joins in gets a Diaspora invite:
      https://plus.google.com/100608976953175253081/posts/EJnVZLxxwhy

      • Autumn says:

        Cathal, thank you. I am already on Diaspora. It was ok, but last I checked didn't yet have anywhere near critical mass. They have some interface issues that they need to fix, too. I recently filled out a survey for them saying I'd be willing to do user testing, and in the "extra comments" box, I said: Quick, you have a small window of time to make this work while Google+ keeps screwing up and people haven't resigned themselves to returning to Facebook!

  24. [...] One two posts from the G+ Nym Wars (via [...]

  25. Jim Strathmeyer says:

    How come nobody points out they need your real name in order to get more money for selling your personal information?

    • gryazi says:

      +1

    • gryazi says:

      The second point, which I haven't seen made yet, is that the use of pseudonymous-looking name strings increases the chance of a business account/corporate mascot/etc. sneaking through unchecked, which would permit free advertising, which is theft of product to the company we're talking about here.

      So there's that extra incentive to cockblock all the Dongs in the world, if it goads even one entity that would otherwise Mickey Mouse around into dropping a nickel per click.

  26. m0n5t3r says:

    For whoever says real names are mandatory to curb trolls/spam I have one word: Slashdot. Above level 0 discussions are pretty civil, including the more controversial topics of the day.

    contrast that with the current G+ comments, where I've seen spam, trolls and obnoxious folks with perfectly passable American (and Indian) looking names; the fact that nobody knows you're a dog on the Internet is still true, as long as you use a passable name.

    And don't get me started about how I don't know the names of the great majority of the people I've interacted with face to face in the last 28 years or so since I started talking; with me arty least, there can be hours to weeks before names come up in conversation

  27. m0n5t3r says:

    s/arty/at/ # swype FAIL

  28. The whole idea of making any kind of assertions about names is doomed and broken even before we get to important liberties.

    http://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/

    It just sounds really sane and solid to the insulated mind of a person growing up with limited exposure to diversity.

    • David M.A. says:

      Wow, those comments. Lots of programmers completely missing the point and shouting loudly and repeatedly "YOU'RE ALL STUPID JUST DO IT LIKE AMERICANS".

  29. Ra says:

    We had the same argument 20 years ago and more on the BBSes and pre-commercialized internet. Aliases won out every time. There's every reason to allow and even recommend them and no reason not to. A spam problem is a spam problem, not an identity problem. It is solved with an appropriate solution that addresses the problem, such as moderation of the spam, not with an irrelevant and uncivil action, like the wholesale banning of random people because of their names, that has nothing to do with the problem. That was all worked out decades ago.

    Has Google gone from being the home of the latest innovative things to a washed-up has-been trying to build yet another derivative copycat social network that's 20 years behind the times?

  30. Kevin Marks says:

    I wrote about this myself tonight too, in Google Plus must stop this Identity Theatre.
    I've been shocked myself by how many people with ample internet experience have the same 'if only they used their real names they'd be nice' reaction. I assume it is just poor pattern matching - the people they know have real names, and they're nice; a lot of the trolls have fake or 'other' names.

  31. piku says:

    I don't care about vulnerable adults needing to keep safe online, or LGBT teenagers who want to "be themselves" online or whatever. Most arguments against Google's "use your real name" policy include this somewhere and then it gets a bit hippy-dippy about rights to freedom and so on. It gets a bit tl;dr and "oh god the EFF hippies are at it again".

    What I do care about though is being able to have a private life involving the Internet, and then go to my day job as a school teacher without any of my students knowing what I do, who my friends are and where I live when not educating them.

    Really... some of my students aren't the nicest humans and if they found my Facebook or Google Plus profile I'd have no end of hassle on my doorstep.

    None of you may be teachers with this problem... but for those of you employed, wouldn't it be crap if you were easy to find by your employer (or prospective future employer) and they decided to take your Facebook comments into consideration?

    This is the kind of obvious stuff Google needs to understand - we're people who behave differently depending on the situation and who we talk to. It's not appropriate for me to tell my students what I do in my private life, so it's not appropriate for them to dictate how searchable I am.

    Google don't understand people, unless there's an algorithm that can look through their search queries to describe a person.

  32. There's one other item you might have added to this story: rba.

    http://www.jwz.org/gruntle/rbarip.html

    For those not familiar: rba, the really bad attitude list, was run by jwz for a select group (provably bilefully disgruntled) Netscape/Mozilla employees and alums to bitch about corporate idiocy and other crap life dealt. All safely isolated from Netscape by being run on jwz's private systems. Which was all well and good. Until Microsoft subpoenaed the whole kit'n'caboodle, specifically.

    The ultimate lesson is one many of us have learned and not forgotten, resulting in much self-censorship:

    Perhaps its best to just never say anything that you wouldn't want published.

    • fantasygoat says:

      I once had a bit of a rant on a private mailing list about a company I was having issues with in my day job, unrelated to the one I worked for at the time. One of the members decided to forward my rant to the owner of that company, who was friends with the CEO of mine.

      I was fired the next day for "showing poor judgement".

      The lesson I learned is to basically never put anything in an email or online you wouldn't want seen publicly when your real name is attached, no matter how "private" you think it is. What happened to me only reinforces the privacy argument.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Jamie, not to argue against the point you're trying to make, but neither Vic nor Larry actually said the things you quoted.

    Look back and examine the provenance of the quotations you cited, then realize that it was a second-hand anonymous source paraphrasing what they believe Vic or Larry would have said. I don't doubt the veracity of the original poster, but this is a complicated enough issue without putting words in people's mouths, and worse, putting those words in quotes.

    Can you only imagine how you'd feel if people were attacking you for words you literally didn't say?

    You may want to update your post accordingly. Agree or disagree with their choices, it's not the way to make the argument.

    Second, I think everyone is missing the larger point: Google isn't trying to compete with LJ, Usenet, or even Twitter, all of which allow for pseudonyms, but also peaked in the millions of users.

    No, Google trying to fend off Facebook, with nearly a billion users (and a real name policy).

    By virtue of Facebook's success, every day that goes by another site or ten adopt Facebook-only logins. Google is terrified, and we should be too, that Facebook is establishing an identity monopoly, and that the more radical alternatives (like OpenID, which Google has supported since the beginning) have failed to halt the momentum.

    Google+ is an attempt to combat the Facebook hegemony. The real name policy is just one consequence of that.

    I personally wish them luck, because I believe that the goal is good for all of us, even if I question some of the implementation details.

    • David Gerard says:

      I have seen no credible contradiction of the veracity of the report, and I've been asking around assiduously (particularly with current Google employees).

    • jwz says:

      If you have links to official statements from Vic or Larry about this, please post them. The reason people are posting anonymously-sourced heresay like this is that Google is being too quiet about this, and Google employees who talk about it apparently fear for their jobs.

      I can easily imagine how I'd feel if people were attacking me for words that I literally didn't say. My response would be to very loudly say, "I never said that, my actual position is..."

      If that's not their position, I'd love to know what it is.

      • Anonymous says:

        Jamie, it's not practical to expect a response from Larry against every anonymous allegation made about him. It just wouldn't scale, there are too many of of us on the internet (billions) and only one of him. (And my guess is that he hasn't even read your post.)

        As such, it's not fair of us to put words in their mouths when we know they can't possibly respond to us personally, just because we dislike a particular decision they've made. We can argue against the outcomes, but we should hold ourselves to higher standards in our rhetoric.

        But again, I think we're missing the bigger picture here. I don't think they're trying to suppress minorities, I think they're actively trying to prevent a run-away Facebook-owned identity monopoly.

        The difference between Twitter, LJ, MySpace, OpenID, Friendster (all small, or failed), and Facebook?

        Real names.

        • David Gerard says:

          See, you slipped there and listed Twitter as small or failure.

        • foo says:

          Real names on Facebook, seriously?
          I know many people (real life friends) who use pseudonyms on Facebook, because they don't want to be harassed by their family or their exes.As of today I don't see any enforcement of a "real name" policy on Facebook.
          Are we talking about the same Facebook here?

          • Facebook has a "real names" policy. They enforce it in exactly the same way that G+ does: it checks your name against a (presumably weighted somehow) list of "real" names when you sign up. If your pseudonym sounds like a "normal" anglo-saxon name, you get to use it until someone reports you, at which point Facebook's enforcement/appeals policy is, trust me, every bit as byzantine and user-hostile as google's.

            • David Gerard says:

              Ah, no, they do not enforce it "exactly the same way" - they have a filter when you create a name, they don't wait for people to sign up and get into using it run reaperbots over the account database like G+ does. Nor do you risk your email or photos or RSS reader, whereas G+ blocks have been observed to put all of those in danger.

        • Jubal says:

          @anon: the difference between your arguments and real arguments: red herring.

        • Elusis says:

          "Real names" on Facebook.

          Hahahaha, that's a good one.

          • vought says:

            It is pretty funny, considering that every Facebook employee I know has several pseudonymous accounts.

        • vought says:

          "it's not practical to expect a response from Larry against every anonymous allegation made about him."

          That's not what Jamie's asking for, Scarecrow.

      • I Love Nyms says:

        Hilarious. No one at Google EVER gets fired. Their biggest problem is that no one there has fear for their jobs.

  34. Ian says:

    Yep, as well as all that, you are jwz to me, not Jamie Something Zunpronounable-or-at-least-I-wouldn't-bet-on-getting-it-right.

    While on the subject of social networking evil involving real names, what are you doing about RSS feeds from evilfacebook since mid-June when they turned off the ones you so helpfully found? (It shows how often I read them that I only noticed today.)

    • jwz says:

      I use this to build my own feed, but I hear a nasty rumor that they're soon turning off that API too. Fucking whack-a-mole...

      • Ian says:

        Thanks. Did someone tell ever them that "proprietary crap" was a comment, not a request?

        There is a soccer team here whose fans sing "No one loves us, we don't care". It's clearly the management song at more than one company.

  35. Moribund Cadaver says:

    The often unexamined assumption in this debate is the one that "social" means "government IDs on the table please". That's an amazing leap to make - but it's the ultimate basis of much of the discussion over "real names on the Internet". That "social networking" is supposed to be for "real people only" and "real people" are defined as those who socialize using what most unthinkingly assume is a real name - that name in government registry.

    This entire framework by its nature, promotes a sweeping ad hominem attack on everybody else on the net. It presumes that what everyone has been doing for the last 30 years is somehow not "social". That webs of communication and relationships that frequently go far deeper than people who live in suburbs and don't even know the names of their neighbors, are still "not real".

    All this is just marketing, ultimately. It's Mark Zuckerberg and his cargo cult of like-minded executives and web maestros redefining what the internet is in mid-stream but without anything truly concrete to back up their sea-change ideas and claims.

    The problem with the argument over "aesthetics" is that it's too subjective and culturally biased. There's no way it can't be outside of the most extreme cases, such as names that contain profanity. What is a "pretty name"? If someone goes and gets one of those all-important government IDs that say their name is "Banana Republic", will some white shirt decide that they still can't "be social" because that white shirt's perception of culture is that nobody worthy of conversation would be named Banana?

    The ideology of people like Vic Gundotra (what kind of a silly name is Gundotra? That sounds like some kinda Gundam! Get a proper dignified name Vic!) is a cross between 1984 and Brave New World. The BNW portion seeks to gently guide the plebes in the direction of never even thinking that they shouldn't tell the world their personal details. If they don't think it, we don't have to worry about them upsetting The Plan even by accident. But if someone should deviate from the plan, then the Ministry of Identity comes into play, and we discover just how tightly these people want to control and shape our lives and what it even means to socialize.

    • Elusis says:

      This entire framework by its nature, promotes a sweeping ad hominem attack on everybody else on the net. It presumes that what everyone has been doing for the last 30 years is somehow not "social". That webs of communication and relationships that frequently go far deeper than people who live in suburbs and don't even know the names of their neighbors, are still "not real".

      This, exactly. That's exactly why I wrote this post back when W*** Sh*****ly and friends declared that all LiveJournal etc. folks who used any kind of a pseud, alias, handle, whatever you want to call it, were clearly trolls, nithings, and sockpuppets. 21 years and counting using this identity, married someone who met me via it and moved cross-country to be near a bunch more folks who knew me the same way, but clearly it's not worthy of being used in a real social network.

      The outright contempt some of the anti-nym folks show - "we don't want those kind of people here, etc." - is just breathtaking.

      • yndy says:

        Ironically? I wouldn't have twigged that this was you if you *hadn't* used Elusis. "Bob Jones" doesn't register, but there's only one Elusis. I may not have seen you on LJ in forever but identity isn't about socially mandated birth names or governmentally registered "legal" names - it's about consistency over time.

  36. Tony Sidaway says:

    I support anonymity but I don't see the relevance here. Nobody is required to use any specific website. I choose not to use Facebook for a variety of reasons. If I decide I don't like Google+ I'll stop using it. Same goes for Twitter and Diaspora. I stopped using Quora because it's nearly as tedious and pointless as Yahoo Answers but far more pretentious. I won't use Four Square because it's simply repellent.

    You get the idea?

    If I were going for anonymity I would probably use an anonymous blog controlled through an anonymizing proxy. Just saying.

    • Moribund Cadaver says:

      There are nuances here to why people are upset with Google's handling of the situation, yet there hasn't been a great outcry over Facebook.

      Services like Facebook were launched more or less as they are now and were accepted as such. What Google has done with Plus is to start redefining mid-stream what they want their customers and users to do, and even to be. Google repurposed profiles out from under everyone and permanently attached them to their new service and new policy. No matter how people try to detach Plus from Google as if it's a standalone website, *it's not*.

      Plus is an extension of Google services and part of the suite. Google seems intent on integrating it further every month. Now thanks to Plus, you *cannot have* a Google Profile using your chosen identity - "opt out" of Google Plus and this limits functionality or even outright access to pre-existing Google products that had nothing to do with Plus' terms of service.

      How much of an outcry do you think there'd be if Twitter abruptly changed mid-stream and began kicking users off randomly for not doing anything other than using the identity they'd always been using, either on Twitter, or around the web - and demanding to see scans of their ID?

      Beyond all that, there is the meta issue that Google is not just another website. Google has worked hard to "become the Internet". As Google turns, so too does the web tend to turn with them. We've already seen cargo cult net administrators jump on the bandwagon of suddenly requiring government names (which is what these folks really mean by "real"), emboldened by what they probably see as Google "changing the internet as we know it". With Google attempting to join Facebook in a similar set of policies, what we now have is a "duopoly" of the two biggest tentpoles of the modern internet trying to enforce a policy that doesn't really work for a lot of realistic human needs.

      Plus it's a bit of misdirection to say this is about "anonymity" in the literal sense. I'd say a majority of the people who wish to be allowed to choose the name they display on G+ because, y'know, they're grown ups and can make such decisions without Daddy Gundotra's help, are not foolish enough to think Google cannot find them via IP address (and other data) if Google chooses. Of course they're not literally anonymous. Most pseudonymous interaction on the Internet has little absolute protection.

      But that's why the "give up, nobody is really anonymous!" is just security theater to distract from the real issue. While Google may be able to finger a lot of "anonymous" people if given a court order, the ability to choose your own public name is still sufficient security for most *social* purposes. The average wonk who would harass you, your family, or screw with stuff like your place of work, doesn't have access to the information required to actually identify you - and they don't have the justification to force organizations like Google to turn your information over to them.

      So "just use your government name, nobody is anonymous!" is disingenuous at best. But it sounds good to at a causal glance, to those who are naive, so we see that one trotted out as well in these debates.

      • Aidan Kehoe says:

        Your response has a limited amount to do with what Tony Sidaway wrote, especially your ‘So "just use your government name, nobody is anonymous!" is disingenuous at best.’ Are you sure you meant to post it in this part of the thread?

        My opinion is that of Tony Sidaway, thank you for articulating it, Tony! I have a friend who relies on pseudonyms far more than I do, and while she accepts that there’s no obligation to use the service if you’re unhappy with it not accepting pseudonymity, she also thinks that it’s worthwhile to promote the idea of accepting pseudonymity as a default position on the internet. And that’s probably true.

        But … pseudonyms tempt people into saying or doing things they wouldn’t be happy having associated with their legal identity, while offering no guarantee those things will remain unlinked to their legal identity. And to me that’s a worse situation to be in than being careful about what you say because you know it’s linked to the identity you use for applying to government jobs or for visas for foreign countries.

        • gryazi says:

          But … pseudonyms tempt people into saying or doing things they wouldn’t be happy having associated with their legal identity, while offering no guarantee those things will remain unlinked to their legal identity. And to me that’s a worse situation to be in than being careful about what you say because you know it’s linked to the identity you use for applying to government jobs or for visas for foreign countries.

          Or in other words, you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.

          • piku says:

            If you have nothing to fear, why are you using an online name and not even providing a website for us to look at? You don't even have an image...

            And yes, at the moment you can opt out of using Google+ or Facebook. Just like you could opt out of using the Internet ten years ago.
            One of my students was doing the usual bored kid thing of sticking her mate's name into Google to see what came up. She nearly crapped herself when, after typing in her own name, was presented with

            Her Facebook page (which had a list of her friends underneath)
            Her Twitter account, with recent twits
            And six pictures of her family

            All of this neatly scraped by Google off the web, then indexed with her name. You just know that sooner or later Google are going to invent this awesome new "people finding" search that presents lots of aggregated social network data about a single person in a handy page.

            I mean, they managed to convince us that Google Latitude, 4Square and Facebook Checkins were cool and fun.

            If governments were doing this we'd be out protesting on the streets - putting images of our faces on the Internet then tagging them with our names, linking this to our friends and then telling the world where we are with accuracy measured in metres so it can tell what side of the street you're on. This is the kind of privacy invasion stuff we were worried governments were going to force on us (and makes the argument against biometric passports in the UK seem kind of quaint and amusing now - OMG the government might know my face! OMG Picasa can recognise my face based on six photos...)

            The amount of data we willingly shovel into large corporations that promise to "do no evil" is mental. And you know that this stuff only exists because it makes them a shit-ton of money.

          • Aidan Kehoe says:

            Or in other words, you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.

            No, that’s orthogonal to what I said, it’s related but distinct. What I’m saying is, you’ll probably fuck up at hiding things, and there’s every chance this will come bite you in the ass when you least want it to—cf. fantasygoat, above. At least when you’re using your own name it’s that bit easier to be conscious that what you’re saying can be traced back to you.

            • gryazi says:

              "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try."
              --Homer Simpson

              (That was actually the point I wanted to make in the first place, but couldn't remember a catchy piece of pop-culture snark to summarize it. I'm perfectly aware this identity can be compromised, and just enjoy the limited protection I get by forcing you to decide if you actually want to bother.)

              What do the edumacated name this type of fallacy?

            • gryazi says:

              Also, didn't the goat say the real name was attached, creating the plainly obvious link that put it on the boss's radar?

              With the shittiness of modern email systems, chances are nothing but "pseudonym@webmailhost.com" would have been visible when forwarded by a third party to a fourth, so while backtracking could occur, it again raises the time cost - and in that case, even if the boss knows, it changes the weightings re: "Is the connection egregious-obvious enough to sack someone over?"

              • gryazi says:

                (As already covered by the Cadaver's second to last paragraph a couple posts up, and the 'people broken enough to consider harassment a good investment are usually too broken to do the legwork' is a good one. My metaphorical fence doesn't guarantee your dog won't shit on my lawn, and the government can always seize it and make a dog park by eminent domain, but it raises the bar enough against all but the most dedicated assholes under standard operating conditions.)

        • Richard says:

          But … pseudonyms tempt people into saying or doing things they wouldn’t be happy having associated with their legal identity, while offering no guarantee those things will remain unlinked to their legal identity.

          Remind me to leave you my business cards next time we hook up, hung_daddy_69@hotmail.com

  37. art says:

    in california, presumably where google is located, your "real name"
    is whatever the hell you choose to use:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_change#Usage_method

    so this google policy is bullshit all the way down.

  38. moof says:

    I've heard (yes, this is hearsay) that Vic Gundotra's real name is actually "Vivek"; if this is true, it adds another layer of delicious irony. To be honest, I'm a little surprised nobody's "dox"ed him yet; this whole kit and kaboodle is not dissimilar to Schmidt's transparency thing.

  39. [...] the Nym Wars Tweet Here’s a pair of great (JWZ) posts (Kevin Marks) on the Nym Wars, in which Googlers, net users, and sensible people try to [...]

  40. Madame Hardy says:

    A public-health epidemiologist who blogged and Tweeted under his real name has just been told by the state that employs him to stop using social media or lose his job. His crime? He annoyed an anti-vaccine activist who began harassing his managers.

    http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2011/08/a-public-servant-blogging-and-twitter-under-his-own-name-is-silenced-by-his-employers.html

  41. Gary Walker says:

    Great post, JWZ. Can I just say that making it into a blog post from the man behind xscreensaver has officially made my year?

  42. Chin Hua Kong says:

    Here is my little lines.

    Removing the pseudonym equals to remove the rights to be fantasy, imaginary, dreamy. The world is too real without much dreaming space. We don't another real world!

  43. mrbill says:

    Hmm, I thought your blogging started with your 'gruntles' - but I suppose back then there was no such thing as a 'blog'.

  44. Evian Naive says:

    To think that this is about civility on the Internet is to swallow a whopper and choke on the hook, line and sinker. John Miller who lives in a another state could feel perfectly safe making obnoxious comments. My nextdoor neighbor might think twice, but anyone out of arm's reach or earshot has no Real Life reason to care whether I didn't appreciate their snark.

    This is about building commercially sellable databases tying identities to buying habits, location, advertising receptivity, political preference, info on social circles - what have you, anything they can sell. They could sell information to potential employers about your real name & what it does and says in its spare time - or more like to third parties who sell that, perhaps even third parties they own. Divorce lawyers and marketers of every stripe would be beside themselves to get their hands on data rich leads tied to real names and social connections. Data mining is the new prospecting.

    Also, Google wants to trade data hegemony for privilege to the government. They want to keep Arab Spring from happening here by tying social networking to arrestable and prosecutable identities.

    Google doesn't give a rat's ass about people telling each other they're butthurt.

    • vought says:

      I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but given what goes on behind the curtain at Ames research center w/r/t Google (which has denied NASA the contractually-obligated privilege to use Google's aircraft for science based on Larry's schedule), the Government is so star-struck with Google that Larry could ask for a gold-plated bridge over Stevens Creek to the Center Director's office - and he'd get it.

      Does it sound peculiar that Civil Servants (Federal employees with clearances up to Top Secret) can't enter certain parts of easily-observed (from US 101, for god's sake) Federal Property because of the constraints of a limited liability corporation formed to take care of Google's jets? Or that Ames and Chris Kemp would threaten people for talking about Google's jets that can be seen by literally tens of thousands of people a day driving by on 101, flying into SJC/SFO, or just working on the south side of Moffett Field?

      Remember that Ames is the lead center for NASA's data security effort, and that much of that effort is being championed and assisted by Google (remember, Ames was one of the first 20 nodes of ARPANET). Realize that NASA Ames' CTO is a Google starfucker. It all gets scary pretty quickly.

      I do think the part about Google teaching Ames how to use a crappy old SGI Altix for "cloud computing" is pretty funny though.

      Ever see a small fighter plane on Fridays around Mountain View? That's Eric Schmidt's airplane. And you taxpayers are paying to park it on your Federal land. Still feel like Google isn't evil?

  45. [...] been deleting users who use pseudonyms. JWZ has an excellent and important rant about the Nym-Wars here. I imagine that like my friend, many of you, my readers, fit into the category of “white, [...]

  46. Motmaitre says:

    I agree with all your points. But dude, your website is black and green. Black and green. Seriously?

  47. David Stewart Zink says:

    The Æsthetic argument is the most telling because it is the most ridiculous. And it is Vic's. Who won't use his real name because it is unæsthetic. Gundrota is a hard-core assimilationist. Which is weird for someone who is supposed to be overseeing an international empire. The effect is so similar to having your new CTO turn out to be a Christian Domionist that it is spooky. "What do you mean I'm getting reprimanded for working on Sunday?" If this is a new turn for Gundrota perhaps Oliver Sacks is the guy who ought to intervene.

    This quote bears re-examination: "Most of them seem to be just fine with that. Sure, most people pay lip service to diversity of opinions, but what really gets their panties in a knot is when their search results show what they consider garbage."

    "What they consider garbage" again sounds exactly like a male white supremacist christian complaining about seeing all that perverted crap when he googled "tea-bagging" instead of the hate rally he was looking for. And they do get their panties in a knot about LGBT results and so on, and write lots of letters and petition their congressmen.

    Think very hard about what sort of "garbage" we're not going to see with these nym-filtered search results, note how happy Google is to have the minority troublemaking populations (LGBT, political protesters, rape victims, etc.) just go elsewhere, and understand that Google really is intending to create the white-bread social network.

    • gryazi says:

      I think it's actually more of a very nerdcore reductionist approach to 'not' 'being evil.'

      In the US, the word of law guarantees equal protection, so to Googlists, the quicker everyone is 'outed' (has the veil of the illusion of 'privacy' lifted from their eyes), the quicker the inequities of reality will be shaken out one way or another. The problem is with government, for instance? Fix the government! Why, "it's a good thing!", that happens to be symbiotic with their business model.

      I can almost respect the idea of dragging society kicking and screaming into an equitable targeted-advertising utopia, where neighbors and employers are obliged to respect my anthropomorphic raccoon fetish if I respect their conservatism, but you need double pairs of peril-sensitive sunglasses to ignore the "short-term" collateral damage. (This 'failed economy' a little hard to swallow right now? Okay, try 'failed privacy' on for size.)

      [The founders' We have no privacy, we've gotten over it, but that doesn't mean we can't invest in countermeasures attitude, while rational, does communicate that they're using the rubes^H^H^H^H^Hvolunteers (their users) to test the theory before they try it on themselves.]

  48. MG says:

    So I got TOSed for using my Internet handle, same one I've been using for the past 5 years or so on Facebook, Livejournal and my blog on a registered dot com/net/org/biz . So fine, I went to the local coffee shop and created a new Gmail account with a nice whiteboy name and registered that. It will only be used for G+ , set my nick to my original handle. Stupid policy, easily gamed.

  49. Zato Gibson says:

    REAL NAMES = INTERNET POWER AND MONEY FOR GOOGLE.
    Facebook has shown Google that "owning" THE internet database, The REAL NAMES and dox of hundreds of millions of people is THE MOST VALUABLE internet asset.
    Google wants to "own" the INTERNET, so they need to "OWN" the "NAMES".

  50. There is also the question of what a "real name" actually is. In California, you can change your name simply by using a new name regularly in public.

  51. Jonn says:

    But you know what, just because Google has failed at creating a useful comment system on another of their products doesn't mean it's impossible, and certainly doesn't mean it has not been accomplished many times in the past.

    Strictly speaking, they failed at modifying the already existing Youtube comment system into something useful after they bought Youtube. And Youtube comments were the metaphorical Sow's Ear.

    Larry/Vic: "There are other places they can go to, we don't have to fight every ethical and social injustice every time in everything we do, G+ is one of the occasions when we don't seek to right the wrongs of the world, we just want to get the work done."

    Did he...did he just go "Not our problem" in PR doublespeak?

    /rhetorical

    • David Gerard says:

      He did say "it's not a problem because white rich men don't care" as clearly as it could be said.

      • vought says:

        Bingo.

        Larry has his jets, his trophy wife (with her own look-under-your-dress company) and his success. Like most silicon valley make-it-bigs, (our host excepted) he has now gone on to bigger, better things - namely, making his gravy train bulletproof and adding tonnage.

      • I Love Nyms says:

        I can't believe how white that guy is! They are the most WASPy people in the world!

    • K says:

      I believe it was more of a "sod off" in PR doublespeak. "not our problem" is too gentle.

  52. jasonq says:

    "stay put so we can regiment you into the ground."

  53. [...]  Nym Wars I hadn’t been paying much attention to the Google “Real Names” clusterfuck, because it was so obvious to me that they were going to lose this one in the press that it would all be over soon. But it’s still not over, and the Google brass appear to be digging in their heels, despite the universally bad press they’re getting over it. [...]

  54. [...] unterwegs sind, zeige, dass so ein System nicht greife, so Scoble. In diese Kritik stimmt auch Netscape-Mitgründer Jamie Zawinski ein, der sich in einem Blog-Eintrag darüber verblüfft zeigt, dass Google noch immer nicht eingelenkt [...]

  55. [...] chosen names use Google+ — but those things aren’t evil by this definition. For example, Google defends their real names policy by saying it’ll lead to better conversations. They still claim to be [...]

  56. [...] http://www.jwz.org/blog/2011/08/nym-wars/ Share this:DiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized by fozbaca. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  57. [...] has attracted huge amounts of criticism, but two particular issues worry me. Firstly, because of the way that Google [...]

  58. The need for "Real Names" to encourage civilised debate is just baseless. People who troll in the comments on G+ will just have their comments removed by the person who posts, and people who troll in their posts will just be removed from other's streams.

    Even if that weren't the case, Google will have enough data with user's clicking on the '+1' and 'share' so that in a very short order those things would probably not be necessary.

    Anonymity is pretty normal in the real world, too: when I am approached for directions by a tourist they don't ask for my ID, we have an anonymous conversation while I tell them where to go. When I buy a cup of coffee, I hand over some anonymous coins and I get an anonymous cup of coffee in return. When I ship a parcel to my mother I write some stuff on the back which is a return address, but I've shipped parcels with other people as the return address in the past. No problem.

    Apparently Facebook also has this kind of "Real Names" policy, but with half a dozen pseudonymous accounts on there I can say for sure that I've never seen it, so I can only assume you have to be pretty obvious and obnoxious for it to kick in, which is a much more sensible approach really: it's fine so long as nobody complains.

    It seems clear that a "Real Names" policy is pointless and unnecessary, and there are many and varied reasons why anonymity and pseudonymity are valuable and worthwhile as you have so ably expressed above, so why is Google harassing their users in this manner?

    The only conclusion I can come to is that all of this discussion is providing a nice controversy in the media, which means that many people would otherwise have been ignoring G+ by now are sticking around - at least to some extent - in order to comment on this. And maybe they'll post a photo of their cat while they're at it.

    Launching a new social network against an incumbent who is practically a monopoly is a really big task, even if you're Google, and it will be necessary for them to have controversy like this fairly continuously for the coming couple of months if they're to make a success of it, because money really can't buy this kind of advertising.

    I think they can probably keep this rumbling along for about another week before they "cave in", which will give another week of publicity (maximum) before the next controversy has to surface.

    What will they think of next?!

    • K says:

      I don't think so - if this is truly a publicity stunt it's poorly planned. I *highly* doubt it has made anyone more aware of Google Plus than before, but what it *has* done is stopped people like me from actually *using* and recommending Google Plus to others.

      Before this business I was sending out an invite a day and encouraging people to join me on Google Plus and keeping a tab constantly open on my browser. Now? I've e-mailed/chatted with everyone I've invited saying to stay far away from Google Plus and check it occasionally just to see if I've been banned yet.

      I believe this is plain arrogance and idiocy, but if it is indeed a strategy it is even more idiotic than I thought.

  59. Shava Nerad (yes, it's my real name) says:

    Hi! I'm CEO of a small indy games company and former VP of marketing for a Inc500 pop culture marketing dotcom. I'm also former execdir of The Tor Project. Yes, my life is very weird. But I've been hammering on this nym issue pretty hard. Here are a couple posts from my stream that y'all might find interesting, more from the marketing view than from privacy (which others have covered admirably!):

    https://plus.google.com/#101371184407256956306/posts/NsoYPgAx7jp (real names not desireable for marketing)

    https://plus.google.com/101371184407256956306/posts/GxJqoKMRGJC#101371184407256956306/posts/GxJqoKMRGJC (the neuromarketing/Zynga/social games theory of why Google might want real names -- follow the money. G+ as a "Game Preserve")

  60. K says:

    Very well-written article - fantastic points. I have to admit I have an abrasive personality all around, but to be honest I'm less polite when posting under my real name on Facebook than I am when posting under my pseudonym on Metafilter - posting under a "real name" will not "solve" civility issues on the internet.

    I am also less honest when posting under my real name on Facebook than under my pseudonym on Metafilter.

    So what Google Plus is essentially saying is they want the ruder, more dishonest version of me.
    F-that.

  61. [...] identity and privacy stuff for more than a decade, and the more I learn, the more I come to agree with jwz, who said: the other night I had dinner with a friend which turned into an hour long argument over [...]

  62. [...] Wie dat gelooft, overschat ‘echtheid’. Ook onder hun eigen naam – zelfs rechtstreeks in elkaars gezicht – zeggen mensen geregeld de vreselijkste dingen. (Kijk maar naar politici.) Een verplichting om online je echte naam te gebruiken, maakt een mens niet vanzelf beleefder, de onderlinge omgang niet zomaar beschaafder. [...]

  63. [...] Wie dat gelooft, overschat ‘echtheid’. Ook onder hun eigen naam – zelfs rechtstreeks &#1110n elkaars gezicht – zeggen mensen geregeld de vreselijkste dingen. (Kijk maar naar politici.) Een verplichting om online je echte naam te gebruiken, maakt een mens niet vanzelf beleefder, de onderlinge omgang niet zomaar beschaafder. [...]

  64. I really have no idea how I wandered over to this - blame it on interesting friends linking it after the parade passes by. But so happy to read it nonetheless.

    There is a deep confusion these days it seems between "anonymous" and "pseudonymous" - anonymity is very hard to achieve, requires near-Herculean levels of effort to achieve in a world that tracks your digital footprints far more thoroughly than the average person knows.

    The nym issue isn't necessarily about being anonymous (although it does encompass that) so much as it is about pseudonyms being disallowed because it doesn't make the data easy to categorize. If I comment here under my "legal name" as well as under a pseudonym? It's a simple matter for you (jwz) to compare IP addresses and link them. I then have to rely upon your discretion or anyone else's who might know they are linked when it comes to not "outing" one as the other. But Google wants to know that I am the same person who was on Amazon and Twitter and CNN today - and without a more complex algorithm and willingness of those other sites to give them deeper data? Linking my product choices to my political bent to my age & other demographics is impossible. But if I have just *one* identity? As they keep calling it a "common name"? Well then, problem solved. I am now back within the "easily tracked deepweb data" paradigm once more.

    Identity is seldom captured by a top-level field like a name. My first name is my maternal grandmother's and her maternal grandmother's and so-on. How do you know which Lucretia you're talking to? Contextually and with 2nd and 3rd level descriptors - nicknames, aliases, and age and physical attributes. My brother, father, grandfather & great-grandfather all share the same first, middle *and* last names - they were differentiated by context and generational suffixes (Sr. Jr. III IV...) but share that name with a rather well-known football coach. I was endlessly asked if my dad coached football whenever I told someone his name.

    Google's argument that "common names" or "real names" help validate identity is absurd. Even a first year database architect knows that "name" is not a unique identifier. But fortunately, we don't yet have to submit a social security number or passport number to acquire a G+ account... but maybe they'll work that in down the line - as "the government" requires it.

    N.B. "The government" is in quotes (should be air-quotes but typing those is tricky) because it displays the fallacy that so often is found in the U.S. that the Internet is somehow governed by the U.S. government. A strange notion if you've been on it for more than a decade.

    • I Love Nyms says:

      You really aren't paranoid enough, or perhaps just ignorant.

      Google, Facebook, and the like know who you are almost everywhere on the internet. Any page with a "Like" button means that facebook tracks you there. Any page with google ads means that google tracks you there.

      They don't need your name. They already know what you do on the internet.

      Hide your porn.

      • jwz says:

        I think I need to write a plugin to auto-ban anyone who hits reply to 3 comments in a row.

        Turns out? Statistics show that those people have nothing to contribute.

      • Lucretia Pruitt says:

        Actually, I am paranoid enough - but aren't we all a little ignorant? I use Abine when I'm on a windows machine. Like buttons, +1 and most of the normal tracking goop don't even load unless I enable them.
        That said, I did acknowledge the fact that IP tracking allows at least a modicum of trackability (unless you're bouncing and/or spoofing) but it doesn't make it *easy* nor do weak-link identification algorithms. We go back to the old 'no one knows you're a dog' argument. If, say, my husband or someone else used a computer and I was logged in at multiple sites? He could easily post with my name and other data. So you are forced to decide if I was really posting based on experienced identity.

        But then, pretty sure that jwz hit that nail on the head sufficiently above. Identity is not known online by a name, but by the interactions with a personality and their consistency.

  65. K says:

    Whelp - I guess I've been a little too outspoken lately - just got my banned notice today.

  66. [...] The “real names” emanate is some-more critical than certain people seem to understand. It’s during a core of all a sound since personal identity control is a core internet value. Even if Google+ figureheads are fine with violation their possess manners about identity, and fine with not carrying people like me .... [...]

  67. [...] Google+ insists that you use your real name on their service. This has given rise to the “nymwars” both inside and outside Google, where users are fighting over the right to use pseudonyms [...]

  68. K says:

    Erg - got my suspension notice yesterday. Was using just my initials - because that's what I'd been using for my Google ID for years. Initially I used my real name, but when I saw it changed my Google ID - well, I've been posting with my Google ID longer than I've had Google Plus, so that got seniority. I can't use my real name for my Google ID for work reasons (as I've said a million times before, I don't mind using it for Google Plus, just not for my Google ID that I've used to post online comments with) so I made up a completely fake name. COMPLETELY FAKE. That I've *never* used before.

    But I suppose it looks white, middle-class, and male enough.

    It was approved. No fuss, no muss, no extra steps.

    Moral of the story - Google would rather me use a name that is in no way connected to my identity but *looks* nice than me use the name I've been using with them through Google ID for half a decade.

  69. [...] Zawinski and Charlie Stross pitch in to the poisonous row about Google + and its “real names [...]

  70. Chad Douillard says:

    I read the comments on pseudonyms....when I started using my Apple ][+ back in '82, we used our names to prevent personal identifacation by authorities that would hunt down the pir8's of the old days. We wanted our dialup bulletin boards to be a Free society, that we could say what we wanted....if the authorities wanted to, they could put a trace on phone lines and stop dangerous activities....with the key word "dangerous." This America, Freedom of Speach, Freedom of Arms- both currently being ignored throughout America. As is freedom of Religion in Florida- Satanism is illeagle? Were are freedoms going?

  71. [...] me more than a little. In a world teetering on the brink, and in the midst of issues such as “NymWars,” this topic at the least seems finally ripe for discussion as well as action. From [...]

  72. [...] Nym Wars Yes, yes, let's just get this one out of the way now. I hadn't been paying much attention to the Google "Real Names" clusterfuck, because it was so obvious to me that they were going to lose this one in the press that it would all be over soon. Source: http://www.jwz.org [...]

  73. [...] of Google’s childish insistence on “real names” for its new Google+ service, jwz is scathing, but it’s this comment that gets it right on what mature online communities need to remain [...]

  74. [...] Nym Wars I'm not sure what offends me most about Google's idiotic approach here; the patronising parochialism that says they are the arbiters of what a "real" name is and how it's constructed, the heavy-handed use of Terms of Service to bully individuals, the disregard for the established privacy strategies of so many people or the "talk to the hand" strategy when it's all questioned. Whichever it is, it's offensive and I have no idea why the anonymous person who has decided to pick this fight and call in air-cover to protect them is doing so. (tags: Google Internet privacy) [...]

  75. Suzy says:

    I was on Usenet for years. Eventually one of the rooms (alt.comedy.standup) went to shit because of all the pseudonyms. Troll wars were out of control and the worst was when one of these trolls figured out how to hack all our accounts and started posting as US. Horrible, vile remarks that obviously we wouldn't post about ourselves. We left in droves.

    I have a blog name that's my twitter handle as well and prefer it that way, but have used my real name on Google+.

  76. Scammed says:

    Everybody discusses consequences but in the first place

    Why is the changing the ToS (agreement with end-user) retroactively and unilaterally started to be ubiquitous and legal business model?

    I’ve Never Subscribed to either Buzz or Google+ but My Google Private Profiles ‘re Unilaterally & Retroactively Published, then Dumped, Now Will Be Suspended?

    • jwz says:

      Even FSF does that, with their effort to get everyone to license their code as "GPL v2 or any later version". People only started noticing this poison pill once they discovered that GPLv3 was kind of full of shit.

  77. [...] jwz, Netscape and Mozilla founder and writer of most of your screen savers, is pleasingly brief on the whole problem of real names or for the more esoteric there is the obtuse political reasoning from the Neoist art movement in [...]

  78. [...] Nym Wars Yes, yes, let's just get this one out of the way now. I hadn't been paying much attention to the Google "Real Names" clusterfuck, because it was so obvious to me that they were going to lose this one in the press that it would all be over soon. Source: http://www.jwz.org [...]

  79. zippy says:

    I think some disobedience campaigns could easily be organized.

    Like everyone registering on G+ as Charlie Tan [insert number here] (as in Charlatan) for a few days, then swap to another name..
    If they want to start 'judging' names, then lets give 'em something to judge.

  80. [...] Det forklarer blant annet den brutale prosessen som har fått tilnavnet «NymWars»: [...]

  81. [...] pseudonyms are really important to people who do not lead the cozy existence that you do,” to quote legendary hacker Jamie Zawinski. (To say nothing of the fact that defining what a real name even is [...]

  82. [...] pseudonyms are really important to people who do not lead the cozy existence that you do,” to quote legendary hacker Jamie Zawinski. (To say nothing of the fact that defining what a real name even is [...]

  83. [...] pseudonyms are really important to people who do not lead the cozy existence that you do,” to quote legendary hacker Jamie Zawinski. (To say nothing of the fact that defining what a real name even is [...]

  84. [...] those not up on things, the Nym Wars debate as described above is said to be one of the most important factors in determining the [...]