Open Letter to Larry Page: Google+ Is Great. Now Can We Please Drop The “Real Name” Nonsense?

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Social Tech
Tags: , , , , ,

Dear Larry,

Congratulation on Google+! Contrary to many predictions, you’ve nailed it. Your team has certainly learned from successes and failures of others and it shows. Google+ Circles make targeted content sharing a breeze, the no-strings-attached Twitter-like following is going to be a solid weapon against Facebook, and even the terminology is thoughtful – finally, the word friend in a social network can be meaningful again. But your team didn’t finish the job. For some reason, they chose to imitate a Facebook policy that should not have been touched with a ten-foot long pole.

Two days ago my Google+ account was suspended for violation of your Community Standards. I was informed that in order to unblock it, all I need to do is to provide my real name. This is not something I’m going to do — even if this means being kicked out of Google+ for good — and this is why I’m writing this letter. I’d like to be very clear, it is not about moral principles or consumer rights. In this context, things like this simply don’t matter. Google+ is your company’s product and it’s completely up to Google to decide what policies to enforce. However, as a business decision, it’s a very shortsighted one, since it turns what could have been your major differentiation into a serious weakness.

When after decades of usernames Facebook came out with Thou Shalt Expose Your Real Name policy, it was novel. It is not anymore. Clearly, it has not prevented 750 million people from joining Facebook, but the fact that millions of people have been trained to sacrifice their privacy in order to use a social network doesn’t mean they like it this way. Privacy may be gone forever — and Google knows more about this than any other company in the world — but people still want to feel private. They agree to let companies like yours to watch their every step online, but they still wish to be in control of what they disclose to everyone else. The growth of Twitter and Tumblr is a testament to this. The “real name” condition pioneered by Facebook ignores that desire, and while imitating it may seem attractive now, in long run it’s simply bad for your business.

Self-promotion and attention seeking aside, what people want the most when they join a social network is to be themselves, while connecting with others. “Real name” policy puts limits on self-expression, which is why the depth of connections on a network like Tumblr is orders of magnitude deeper than on Facebook. Facebook connections extend our existing relationships, based on our work, location and background. Tumblr creates new relationships based on who we are or who we want to be. By creating a Facebook-like system with superior features and an open self-identification policy you may have a real chance to beat Facebook in its own game. But when you borrow Facebook’s obsession with “real names” you position Google+ as a cute me-too solution. It may have some superior features, but not enough of a value to drive sizable migration of users from Facebook. After all, how many ways to connect with the same people do we really need?

The deep irony of the situation is that neither Googe+ nor Facebook actually ask for my real name. You only ask for what looks like a real name. I could have called myself Joe Smith or even Larry Page — and your system would’ve let me in, without bothering to verify correctness of my claim. In fact, you already have much more valuable information about me – my IP address, a list of sites I visit, and even my personal communications. And yet,  when I state openly that on Google+ I want to be known as Unmaskd, it’s not good enough. Ironically, it is good enough for thousands of people who over the last year have connected with me on Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, YouTube, email and even Facebook (that somehow let its guard down). These people may be curious about my real name, but they keep connecting with because they are interested in me as an individual, regardless of the sequence of characters printed on my driver’s license. They would’ve connected with me on Google+ (and some of them already did), but alas, your policy prevents them from doing this.

It’s no secret, that when it comes to social networks, it’s not about features. It’s all about getting and keeping a critical user mass. You have a chance to create a next generation social network – one that operates on a huge scale that only few companies in the world can support, yet allows people to be open in expressing themselves. A social network that would actually enrich people lives instead of simply being a utility for connecting with their existing networks. I hope you will use this chance.

Sincerely,
Unmaskd

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Comments
  1. I completely agree with you on this subject. A company like Google has no real reason to require names, since as you noted, you could easily make up a fake name. You never really know if that long lost “friend” that found you on Facebook, who happens to live 2000 miles away is actually the person you think they are…it could easily be a fake. On social networking sites people want to be free to be themselves without worrying about people “finding them” when they don’t want to be found. You want to be able to complain about your spouse, bitch about your boss or just be whiny or silly without fear of repercussion from the judgmental people you deal with day in and day out. If Google wants to compete, they need to let this issue go.

  2. Very well-written letter. :) I think you’ve made excellent points here. The thing is, if they want to push this rule so hardcore, they’re doing so in a slightly discriminatory way. They have no idea if I (or anyone else, for that matter) am using my “real name”. What lengths do they go to to secure knowing those given names are real names? Are they going to background check each person? Since they seem to be arguing this to be a “safety issue”, one could certainly argue that any predator or whatever can be hiding behind the name “Joe Smith”–so long as that name looks normal–they’ll slip right by. And the way google is set up is actually very safe already in the way you can choose who to put in your circles (or not), and who you share certain things with. In your circumstance, I would hope that if they actually look into this fairly, they will see you are of no threat, seeing as how we have all been interacting with you for well over a year now. And I know you said this isn’t a moral issue, but one’s common sense should tell them your intentions are true just by the simple fact that you didn’t just bullshit some name to slip through the system. Not even after being asked to give a “real name”. That in itself should be deemed highly trustworthy and noble in a time where many people would have no qualms about doing so.

  3. Mayb a petition *Equal rights for Masks* would be appropriate?

    Google+ need to get their act together … they even stop accounts where people HAVE given their real name cos they don’t believe them #gofigure

    So even if you gave them your real name they probably wouldn’t believe you ….hoho #irony

    #gogetemmasky :-)

    #bigbrotheriswatchingyouandhescalledlarry

  4. …Privacy is an important right…even for *Masks* … ESPECIALLY for Masks …

    Though just one point? I presume you can trust their confidence… ?

    If you did reveal to them your real name…they would be obliged to keep it quiet …

    Mm… #toomuchunmasking

  5. Very good letter! Let’s wait and see what happens when they review your profile again (but I’m not very optimistic :-(

  6. Anonymous says:

    How about we all just go to a random word generator and make up usernames to use for Google+? That wouldn’t lead to fake account overload, would it?

  7. Aura says:

    You spoke the truth, that’s it. I remember when there was no need of facebook authentication or the need of be identified everywhere online, there was more freedom, now you can’t even say you not like someone or something, in peace, lost somewhere online sharing it with just few friends that, the thought, needs: a firm, your birthday, your status, your interests shared. It’s unreal, it limits to be yourself, and if, you can’t be your real self, that’s not even your/a profile, so whatever is your name or avatar in it not represent you even if registry is correct or that’s your real face. I not like what Google+ is doing, neither other socials which pretend this forced identification. If they not help… cut the name Un Maskd… or use The as name and Unmaskd as surname. Great post again.

    • unmaskd says:

      >> cut the name Un Maskd… or use The as name and Unmaskd as surname
      I can live just fine without Google+, just like I’ve living without it until now :) The point of this letter is to have an open discussion on what I believe is going to be a fundamental issue of online identity that will (and already have been) shaping behaviors of millions of people online.

      • Aura says:

        >> I can live just fine without Google+, just like I’ve living without it until now :D
        I can’t… lol. It’s stronger than me own accounts everywhere as myself or with my personal “mask” :
        I got the message. By the way, to me whoever is behind a blog, twitter or wherever, in the end, when I read the posts, it doesn’t matter cos I reflect on the posts written, the meanings of, not on the whoever is behind or whatever is the work of… it’s probably a will of notions acquisition for the own life. But whoever you’re Mr. Unmaskd I like your use of grammar. And Google+ is moronic. Bye :)

        ps. by the way, again, I’m on google+ from days and sincerely you’re not losing the fun there, cos is a boring social with a no great graphic.

  8. Ryan Popovic says:

    Hmm,

    I like the real name policy. I think fake names just equate to tons of spam and idiotic crap posted. Look at MySpace and Twitter. Filled with spammers and shady offers. I personally think Facebook does it right. If you want a fake name, just create a page. Google will have to eventually add something for businesses, when it does, you can have your anonymity.

    Ryan

    • unmaskd says:

      Thanks for the comment. I have nothing against real “real name” policy. In some cases it works great, e.g. on LinkedIn or Amazon. But what Google drives is not a real name. It’s a real name lookalike policy that has nothing to do with protecting user experience. I can still register under any name and create pages of spam. In fact, I can have my anonymity on Google+ today just fine. All I need is a name that looks like real one, which is why it’s a moronic decision. It doesn’t protect anyone against spammers in no shape or form.

      To protect against spam they need to avoid opening the system up to automated feeds, which what’s been turning Twitter into a botland.

      • A Fake Name says:

        That’s not really the point. Fake names scare away normals. Google plus wants normals, not just geeks, to join the network. Think of others, not just yourself.

        (that being said, Google seems to have caved in and will allow fake established names)

    • Mexie Mex says:

      This could be an argument for the policy if there was not tons of spam and idiotic crap posted on MySpace and Twitter from people with real looking names, but people with real looking names do post rubbish too, so QED the rule is pointless.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I appreciated your letter, very much. As with anything, I think many of us would agree there is a high and a low side to social networking. This goes for whether one posts anonymously or as themselves. As a networker who networks on three different sites, one of them using a fictitious name, it is very clear, I am much more comfortable disclosing pieces of myself on my anonymous account. I am appreciative of my anonymous forum to express myself with very little reserve. It has been most helpful, especially late at night when I find myself grappling with something. At these times,I could write about what I’m feeling in a journal, but sometimes, I like to put it out there. I really don’t post to get feedback, but I would like to be “heard”. I don’t know if anyone hears me, for sure, unless someone says they liked my post. If they verbally respond, it is usually with encouraging words or to say they can relate. When this does happens it is comforting and appreciated. What could be wrong with that? I feel this way regardless of the respondee using his or her actual name on his/her account. If someone has a fictitious account and they are adding value to people’s live and/or providing a service, what is wrong with that? I’m sure there are many other”healthy” uses for fictitious accounts, just as there can be unhealthy ones.
    For me, the low side of being anonymous has been the bots who are infiltrating Twitter, which is a pain in the rear, and those who use anonymous accounts to hide behind while they bully and harass others. Why?!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps I should have been more specific: I meant the bots who are trying to hack your account, spam bots, or the bots that have it out for someone so they use their fictitious accounts to hide behind and bully. Indeed, there are those who bully, on-line, even with their identity disclosed. This is why i say social networking, like anything else, can be used or abused. Truth is one thing, but being a “hater”, via public posts, isn’t my cup of tea.

    • A Fake Name says:

      Anything is possible with real or fake names. However, abuse is far more PROBABLE to happen with fake names. History of hundreds of online networks bear this out.

      Think about the difference between “is” and “could be”.

    • (it was a JOKE re the bot thing… ;-) )

  11. […] Anonymous on Open Letter to Larry Page: Goo…Aura on Open Letter to Larry Page: Goo…sarah delamere on Open Letter to Larry Page: […]

  12. Anonymous says:

    A False Name

    Totally agree. That’s what makes this a controversial subject. Do the disadvantages of allowing users to have fictitious names outweigh the advantages? As Unmaskd and others have said, people can, and WILL, STILL use fictitious names. My guess is Google+ is trying to send a strong message they are on the lookout for fictitious names…as an attempt to discourage those who are thinking of doing it. How can these sites monitor for this? Until they can, this is a rather weak system.

    I’ve decided I will use my various social networks, just as i use (pardon the term) my friends. I have certain friends, that i know are great for a good time, but whom aren’t to good with deep conversations (not that the two are always exclusive). I have some friends who love to go to the theater; others who don’t, etc.. For different kinds of activities I tend to invite different friends. I will continue to use Facebook and Twitter to keep up with old and new friends, BUT i will use my Tumbler account when I am feeling vulnerable and want to share, anonymously. Personally, I get more value out of the latter…but that’s just me. That’s part of what makes me tick. : )

    I’m not real cyber socializing savey, but could Google+ be doing this to protect themselves from potential lawsuits, down the line? Some have died because of the connections they have made on the internet.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of fictitious names, who is Sarah Delamere? She bears a striking resemblance to this woman, with gorgeous dogs, named Psychic Sarah.

  14. Anonymous says:

    ^^^Oh, you’re real. i see. It’s your dogs who are bots, correct? JK, Sarah. (wink) <3 <3 Hugs to you from across the pond.

    • Nooooo @unmaskd is the (possible) bot… also gorgeous no doubt ;-)

      TY for *anonymous* hugs! #alwaysnicetogethugs

      …as for little dogs…they are just taking over the world surreptitiously … though don’t think they as yet have authority over anonymous social networking accounts

      #bigbrotheriswatchingyou #soarethelittledogs :-)

    • <3 <3 …right back @ j'a ;-)

  15. Luigi Arnold says:

    What no one seems to get here is that you will never know you needed a pseudonym until you really need it, and by then, it may be too late to go back and close all the “real name” accounts you have been using.

    Suddenly, your posting exposing wrongdoing by your employer is connected to you and you’re fired before you can gather enough evidence to present to the authorities. Or your fetish for wearing ballet shoes during “the act” is discovered right when you are a candidate for a promotion. Or your criticism of a government official’s actions is easily connected to you and you are subjected to retribution.

    Most people should never give their real names on public sites for just this reason. As for incivility, there is plenty of it on Facebook, which has long had a real names policy. If using legal names would stop it, there would never have been school bullies. (And, yes, Facebook has spam, even if you don’t count all the Farmville junk.)

  16. Anna says:

    Now, I’m getting paranoid, even though I have not done anything “wrong”. Since unmaskd brought this issue up, I have been have done some reading on the impact of “Big Brother’s” increasing infiltration into our lives….WITHOUT US EVER SUSPECTING. It’s pretty eye-opening for me. As someone currently looking for a job, it surprised (naive) me to find there are now companies who specialize in providing services to employers in which they will investigate a potential employees activities on social networking sites. I guess it’s to give the employers insights and info. on a potential candidate. For example, if I was interviewing, with Disney, Disney could call 123WeSnoop (a social services investigating company) who could look into all of my social networking accounts, and give Disney info on me, gleaned from my activity on these accounts. They could look at who I follow, who follows me, what i post, what others write to me, etc.. Let’s say I’m gay and a employer is biased against gays….I could be out a job. In this tight job market, that’s not good.

  17. "Jack" says:

    Really great letter. I’m glad you said what you did about it being a business decision. But to me it feels less like “Keeping up with the Facebooks,” as it might be about pressure from their data customers.
    Social networking is about data mining. If I’m the 3rd party buying the preferences, shopping habits, and priorities of vast numbers of people, it might be more valuable to me to have data I can categorize quickly and easily, even if the individual might be an imposter. I don’t want to have to take the time to sort out some “entity,” especially if it requires humans rather than algorithms to do it.
    “Unmaskd Mind” might be an individual, but “it” could also be a group of enlightened Sufis, who knows?
    You’d have to take the time to read your stuff to figure it out. It’s easier to fit in a box if it’s standardized. Less expensive to make sense of. And all that appeals to the data miners, the ones paying the social networking services for our data.
    So it’s disappointing, but understandable, as you say. Great letter.

  18. I created a protest website where you can go and mark your vote on whether the situation has made you happy or sad, I’m supposing everybody will vote sad, but who knows!!

    http://antimatter-studios.com/googleminus/

  19. Mexie Mex says:

    Another point is G+ is well known to be perusing the famous. I would be very surprised if the likes of Prince, Madonna, Cher and the like will be subjected to the same rule. Will Cliff Richard have to use the name Harry Webb? Will 50 Cent be forced to use the name Curtis Jackson? Will Alice Cooper be made to use Vincent Damon Furnier? I think almost certainly not.

  20. My Blawg says:

    […] Open Letter to Larry Page: Google+ Is Great. Now Can We Please Drop The “Real Name” Nonsense? «… insidewantsout83 on Open Letter to Larry Page: Goo… Dawn (@jab0217) on Open Letter to Larry Page: Goo… Anonymous on Magic. JOnKEnna on Magic. zentertainmentweekly on Magic. Diane on A 1-Minute Dream T… […]

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