You may have heard that Google+ started culling accounts – businesses first, which didn’t seem like such an awful thing since they’re promising special support for business accounts in the future. But now the crackdown has extended to pseudonyms as well – that’s right, now you have to use your real name on both Plus and Buzz or you risk getting your account suspended. According to the community standards, this means “the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you.” For the two of you out there who still use Google Buzz, you might have noticed some name changes this morning – as the service now requires users to use a last name. And it has to be your real last name.
Here’s an example of something that’s not a “real” name: Opensource Obscure, whose account was suspended because of this issue. A partial response from Google is the solution of having an “other names” field on the profile, noting that “we are generally working with people to change their profile to include their real name, and then use their ‘avatar-based name’ in the field that asks for other names.” Though it looks like Obscure’s account has been reinstated under this rule, that doesn’t help anyone who specifically doesn’t want to tie their online pseudonym to their real identity.
Though a lot of people don’t understand why this is an issue at all (why would you need a fake name?), there are actually a lot of people that this could inspire not to use the service. I for one have people whose real names I don’t know that I would still consider part of my social network. Good examples are people who play roleplaying games or otherwise spend a lot of time in virtual worlds online – it’s not unreasonable that you might want to interact with people in those “online only” social networks in a setting outside the game, and equally reasonable that you might not want someone that you’ve never met in person to know your real name. Or perhaps the issue is more of specifically keeping your real identity separate from another persona – maybe you participate in online communities that you don’t want your family/friends/coworkers knowing about. Using Plus’s “circles” doesn’t solve the problem of two completely separate identities.
The problem is Google assuming here that people don’t ever have separate identities. Other privacy issues aside (e.g., someone who doesn’t want to use their real name because of a stalker), the truth is that the Internet has provided a way to compartmentalize parts of our lives if we want to, and a good online social network should support that. I know plenty of people who have used Buzz, with its myriad issues, rather than Facebook, for that very reason. If most social networks start moving toward identity verification I guess we’re stuck with Twitter and interacting in 140 characters or less.
What about you? Do you think Google should allow pseudonyms? Do you use one?