Google plus and real names: filtering users based on their intentions



This morning the topic of G+ and real names was buzzing because of  Eric Smidth’s statement:

If You Don’t Want To Use Your Real Name, Don’t Use Google+

See the source on Mashable.

It’s funny that I read that article this morning because it directly relates to the book review I had just written about “The myths of innovation”. If you read that article, you’ll see that I was reporting my breakthrough about “good” and “bad” technology. I had found that “good” or “bad” technology happens because of users’ actions, and you can’t prevent users from using badly a technology because you can’t control users’ intentions. No application can filter its users according to their intentions (no application can read your mind, yet). Well, apparently I was wrong because that’s exactly what G+ name policy is trying to do. The article reports that Eric Smidth said:

would be better if we knew you were a real person rather than a dog or a fake person. Some people are just evil and we should be able to ID them and rank them downward.

which implies that “using fake name” => “has bad intentions” => filter.

G+ is not a creative tool

For me G+ name policy just means that G+ is clearly not destined to be a creative tool. It’s rather meant to be a network/directory of people sharing about their realities. It’s a self marketing tool, or as I call it another self portal tool (see digital narcissism article and show me the numbers article). It’s fine since fortunately other tools exist to share more creatively. So indeed if you don’t want to use your real name, use something else. But I regret not being able to use G+’s great UI for simple blogging. I think that’s the most frustrating thing about it. Because G+ is probably the fastest way to create content at the moment, but you can only use it in strict conditions: use your real name or don’t use it. I wish I could use it to create a microblog for my daily updates without having my name all over the place. So because of that policy I hesitate to get an account. I don’t care of being in the network, I just wished Google used the same fast technology for Blogger for example, that would be fantastic.

G+ and advertisers

The official reason for the name policy might be to ID bad people, but let’s not forget that google is also the world’s biggest advertising company. If they want our real names it’s probably also because the advertisers need to know they’re not selling things to a fake audience. So it’s probably better to have a directory of real people, really stating their interests to target them better, than to have a directory of duplicated accounts where the “person” is dissolved and can’t be targeted. Probably.

Also, strange thing, Google is the owner of Blogger, why don’t they use the name policy there too? I mean, if they prevent someone from using G+, the normal thing to do is to go use Blogger instead. The policy is really weird. But it’s gonna be even freakier when they prevent you from posting a non facial profile picture. They could easily install a facial recognition system on your profile pictures and ban you for representing yourself with something else than your real face. How stressing is that.

Why not use a real name?

Wrong identity model

Self portals assumption is “person” = “1 center of interest” = “1 identity” = “1 sharing platform” = “1 real name”. But it’s really wrong. It’s more “person” = “several centers of interest” = “several identities” = “several types of content to share” = “several accounts”, but impossibility to have several accounts with only 1 real name. A name policy could make sense if the name stayed private, and a different handle is used depending on the shared content. Something like that.

I personally don’t want to share about technology and art or food for example in the same place, even if all are parts of what I could share, of “me”. It doesn’t depend on the circles, I could share all of that publicly, I just don’t want readers to read a mixed content, just as I don’t like seeing the wedding pictures of someone I follow in the field of technology. Seeing too much personal info in the middle of a stream I’m interested in usually makes me walk away fast. I wouldn’t like potential readers to walk away because I mentioned the soup that almost choked me at lunch. I mean (…). There is always something personal of course, but it’s the topic that changes.

The Internet is a place for information, you share information, you get information, if the information is super messy, mixed and not making any sense, why make it available at all? So I don’t like using my real name because that supposes I’m putting all of my identity there, which I don’t because the identity model is wrong. As of now, with my real name I can just share about my dominant center of interest, the side of myself I’m ready to publicly present. So it trims a lot of my full identity which my name is supposed to stand for. And still, I don’t want any person who barely knows my name to check what I share. Ideally, I would like to share with the people who are interested in what I have to share, not with the people who know my name. Additionally it’s also personal, it’s the same deal as having a url named after my real name. I will never have that because it tells the world “this is everything I am”, when I don’t exist online only. I don’t like the limiting effect that identity digitization has. But that’s probably too much metaphysical thinking.

Maybe google should consider creating “public circles” and allow people to share with different circles and about different topics, both publicly and privately, and allow them to keep their name private, even if it’s real and use handles depending on the content. The real name stays between the user and google and the people the user agrees to share it with.

Tumblr has a better identity model. Unfortunately, compared to G+ it’s incredibly slow and lacks G+ features. The difference is in the ease of use, i.e UI. I think people’s frustration about G+ comes from that. It’s so easy to use, but, wait you can’t use it.

Using a stage name

In the early days, the Internet was seen as a place to reinvent yourself, well now it’s clearly turning into the place to get stuck with yourself. There are plenty of reasons to not use a real name other than having bad intentions. Some invoke safety, some privacy, some have other good reasons. Artists use a stage name for example. Andy Warhol would be banned from G+ for not using his real name Warhola, same for Natalie Portman not using her real name Natalie Hershlag, same for Madonna, Lady Gaga etc. etc. It’s just a matter of choice about how you want to present yourself and the information you have to share. Are you against choice?


As I said, G+ is not a creative tool. It’s a normalizing tool (for now), meant to share usual information. If google gets it though, hopefully they’re gonna transfer their fast technology to blogger, their other sharing platform, increasing tenfold the shared content. It’s really difficult to understand why they create such a great publishing tool, and limit its use when their goal is to eventually capture any information you might be able to share.

There’s a real reflection work to do about “identity” just like about “privacy” before asking people to “database” themselves. Fortunately the Internet is still open, we can do things ourselves and share if we really want to share, and how we want to share, but it takes a little more effort than just opening an account.

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