Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Google's identity failure: recreating the joy of Buzz

Google + requires us to use our "true name". In may case John F, not "John Gordon" or any of my other aliases.

Charlie Stross has a good rant on why this is a bad idea. He finishes with a set of solid recommendations (emphases mine) ...

Google is wrong about the root cause of online trolling and other forms of sociopathic behaviour. It's nothing to do with anonymity. Rather, it's to do with the evanescence of online identity. People who have long term online identities (regardless of whether they're pseudonymous or not) tend to protect their reputations. Trolls, in contrast, use throw-away identities because it's not a real identity to them: it's a sock puppet they wave in the face of their victim to torment them. Forcing people to use their real name online won't magically induce civility: the trolls don't care. Identity, to them, is something that exists in the room with the big blue ceiling, away from the keyboard. Stuff in the glowing screen is imaginary and of no consequence.

If Google want to do it right, they're going to have to ditch their naming policy completely and redo from scratch.

To get it right, they need to acknowledge that not everyone has a name of the form John Smith or Jane Doe; that not everyone uses the same character set or same number of names. They might be able to get away with insisting on a name that appears on a piece of government-issued ID; but then they need to acknowledge that people have legitimate reasons for using one or more pseudonyms, allow users to register pseudonyms associated with that name, attach pseudonyms to different (or even overlapping) circles of friends, and give the user a "keep my real name secret" check-button. Then and only then they'll begin to develop a system that has some hope of working.

I can't improve on Charlie's rant. He's one of many, but he says it well.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time Google got it wrong. They made the exact same mistake with the Buzz Profile. I wrote about that over a year ago ...

Gordon's Notes: The Buzz profile problem: I am Legion (feb 2010)

I am father, brother, in-law, son, and spouse. I am coach. I am volunteer. I am citizen and activist. I am a physician. I am an (adjunct) professor. I am an oddity in a large, conservative, publicly traded corporation. In the corporation I am a team member, known to some customers, occasionally publicly facing, known in various ways and various places. I have other roles and have had many more over time.

I am Legion. So are most middle-aged persons.

Only one person knows all the roles and all of the stories that are not excruciatingly boring (hi Emily).

That’s the problem with Google Buzz, and why my Google Profile doesn’t include my pseudonymous (John Gordon) blog postings or my Google Shared items.

Buzz is tightly linked to my Google Profile, and my Profile is trivially discoverable. I don’t want corporate HR or a customer or business partner to instantly know that I’m a commie pinko Obamafanboy with a dysfunctional Steve Jobs relationship.

I have LinkedIn as my bland corporate face, and, despite Facebook’s innate evilness, a FB profile for friends and family. Inside the corporation I’ve a blog that serves as a limited persona.

We all have many roles, identities, avatars, personae, limited liability personae, characters, facets and so on. The problem with Buzz today is that it’s tied to the Google Profile, and that profile is the closest thing to my unified public face. It crosses boundaries. So it can only hold the limited information channels that are available to all.

Google hasn't learned enough from the disastrous failure of Buzz. They're repeating old mistakes, and seeing old results. Already G+ activity seems to be falling, and losing people like Stross isn't helping.

This can be fixed. Like Charlie says - give us a hard identity that the police can track if need be. Tie it to credit cards. Heck, for a fee "validate it" so we can better protect ourselves against identity theft. Then give us as many pseudonyms as we want, and give us tools to manage them while keeping our TrueName to ourselves.

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