Friday, July 22, 2011

Interview with Google+ Execs Sheds a Little Light on Pseudonymity Policy

For the last couple of weeks, the Second Life social networking community has been on a roller coaster of suspensions, reinstatements, more suspensions and continued ambiguity related to the Google+ policy on pseudonymity. I hoped that yesterday's TechCrunch interview with two top Google+ project executives would clarify their current thinking on the issue. Unfortunately, the subject never came up directly in thirty minutes of conversation. Host Andrew Keen didn't ask and neither VP Product Bradley Horowitz nor VP Social Vic Gundotra told.

They did, however, offer some fascinating insights into the underlying vision for the project which seemed to shed light on their anti-pseudonymity stance. In short, they seem to be trying to replicate the "natural human experience" through the social network:
"We think there's tremendous room for innovation to get the online world to more closely resemble the richness of how we really connect with people."
"Compared to the real world and the nuance of how we behave with others in various contexts, they (current social networks) fall way short."
"The online world hasn't captured that natural human experience. We think our software begins to do that." 
If their intention is to simulate the natural experience of ordinary people in the real world, then it's not surprising that real names are a requirement. But it is surprising to me that Google is pursuing innovation by merely trying to do a better job of replicating the physical world, rather than seeking out new and better processes and capabilities that are not possible in real life.

We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
Marshall McLuhan

Here's the interview. What do you think?

Video streaming by Ustream


Imnotgoing Sideways said...

Has the "We will tell our customers what they want" approach ever worked? (O.o)

Cisop Sixpence said...

If they expect me to be social online, then it will have to be with my pseudonym, as under my real name I don't socialize online. And if I tried, no one knows me by that name online so it would be like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Anonymous said...

I can see where automation by Google+ would enhance my natural human experience.

I quite often spend time going through Chinese telephone directories looking for the number of my friend Mei Chen.
This process is very tedious as Mei is a most common female name and there are over 90 Million people named Chen in China.

Her email address is just too inconvenient to remember
I really don't why the hell she stuck on that number. It makes her look like a spam bot.

Anyway, now that we'll all be on Google+, all I have to do is search for her real name and I'm straight there. This is absolutely brilliant!

Joe said...

Just two comments: Those were some of the most inane questions that could have been posed to the G+ team, and has anyone at Techcrunch heard of a mic check before starting the interview?

sororNishi said...


Botgirl Questi said...

I think this back to the future point of view is what happens when you don't balance geeks and suits with artists, design thinkers and iconoclastic visionaries.

Darrius Gothly said...

I always believed that the purpose of the online world was to offer experiences and opportunities that were not possible in the physical world. Instant conversation with people from across the globe, walking around in towns and natural sights that are just too far away to visit easily .. and just plain walking for some of us (or flying or teleporting, etc.).

The "Natural Human Experience" is not where our future lies. Every advance in our society and our species has been brought about as a means of escaping the physical limitations of "today's reality". Look at the Cotton Gin for example. It eliminated the need for hours and hours of tedious manual labor and revolutionized the economy of cotton growers.

I am astounded that Google would put money into trapping humans into a backward facing plan .. positively gobsmacked tbh. Are we sure the bigwigs and Google haven't been kidnapped and replaced with Luddite Lookalikes?

Anonymous said...

"Compared to the real world and the nuance of how we behave with others in various contexts, they (current social networks) fall way short."

Exactly why mulitple profiles and multiple identities should be not only tolerated but encouraged, right up to and including totally anonymous ones.

Lalo Telling said...

I think I see the basis of the common mistrust of pseudonymity. It lies in the lack of imagination of those who can only think in opposites: that any alternative to the "Natural Human Experience" is unnatural and inhuman.

They miss so much, poor things...

Unti Kamala said...

If their intention is to simulate the natural experience of ordinary people in the real world, it would make sense for them to allow people to have multiple names and identities, just like ordinary people have in the real world. It's not enough to have a field for nicknames either, although that of course is a good start.

For instance, I have four different names I use on a regular basis (the one on my legal paperwork, another for use within a major hobby I have, yet another in SL, and a pen name for certain restricted uses not related to my day job). As names, these are completely unrelated to each other; in terms of identity, there is some overlap but not enough for me to be comfortable having all of them lumped into a single Google+ profile. Under each of them I have friends (and not just casual acquaintances) who don't know any of the other three names. Oh, and two exist primarily in the physical world and two mainly on the net, although here too there is some overlap.

As someone whose day job includes onomastic research I find Google's concept of 'real name' rather problematical. My case isn't exceptional: people, places, commercial products and so on tend to have different names for different contexts. These different names can have subtly – or sometimes not so subtly – different meanings, and typically all of them are real in a very real meaning of 'real'. If Google truly wants to 'capture that natural human experience' and eventually go beyond it, they should facilitate this sort of thing and not pretend it does not exist.

Miso Susanowa said...

"The way things are in real life." This makes me laugh every time it's stated by these companies trying to market me like a cow. Then I get mad.

I have conversations and interactions every day with people using only my first name, IF THAT. Certainly it doesn't come up when I go to the grocery store, or the video store, or the movies or record store or... you get the idea.

There are tons of people in my life who converse and interact with me and have done so for years only knowing my first name.

To pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best and questionable at worst. Having an open dossier able to be pawed through by who knows who simply is NOT at all like "real life."

And excuse me if I don't believe assurances of privacy and granular control of my information dispersal; the papers are full of reasons to not believe.

Scarp Godenot said...

Fact: People are looking for a better alternative to Facebook. Fact: Google plus wants to BE Facebook.

I'm guessing that alienating the most tech savvy people in the world right out of the box is a bad strategy for Google+

What they don't seem to get is that this type of negative information spreads like wildfire.

They have a short window to fix this. I'm doubting they will get it until it is too late for them.

This makes me question all things Google.

Crazy bad PR for these rubes.

N said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Botgirl Questi said...

It was mind-blowing for me to notice what I think of as a "cultural Luddite attitude" from Google.