Nymwars continue

Google has recently provided some clarifying statements on their wallet-names policy. As you might imagine, the people who were annoyed before are still annoyed.

Botgirl Questi (whose G+ account was recently restored) has an excellent post:

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The impact of pseudonymity on behavior is actually quite the opposite. Pseudonymity is one of the most empowering and democratizing aspects of virtual life. It levels the playing field and enables merit-centric reputation. It encourages the expression of innovative thinking by providing a safe environment for personal growth and creative experimentation. I write this from more than three years of daily experience in social networks that are largely composed of those with pseudonymous identities.

Google’s policy wouldn’t matter much if it were from a typical start-up social network. We could just opt on and go on our merry way. But because of Google’s dominant and ubiquitous role in the virtual environment, being excluded from their services will diminish our voices in mainstream virtual discourse. Our blogs, websites, video and other creative output will be at a competitive disadvantage as search results are tailored to social circles. Whatever final policy Google enacts is likely to be influential on other companies and on public policy. So it’s time for Netizens to speak out and turn the tide.

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Then there’s an excellent post by Gary Walker, in which he explores the ins-and-outs of the profile verification process.

And one more link:

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Offline people say things appropriate to the group they are in. That doesn’t mean they are two-faced, insincere or liars. It means people are context aware. People observe walls, clocks, furniture, fashion and music. These things guide us as to the appropriate way of acting. The guy writing his novel at the bar on Friday night is out-of-place. The guy who shows up to work drunk on Monday morning has a problem. Offline people don’t have to worry about their real name, because their behavior is tied to the context and the impressions the foster in that context. In fact, I’ll say that even more strongly – if your speech is not confined to the context you are in – but available to a potentially unknowable audience – you are online.

This is why real name sites are necessarily inadequate. They deny individuals the right to be context-specific. They turn the performance of impression management into the process of curation. Facebook curates through the top news feed, Twitter does it through lists and Google+ through some confusing (and as far as I can tell, failing) social circles model. Impression management means selectively presenting an idealized version of one’s self specific to that context. Curation means selecting objects for display. So if you don’t think that being context-specific is a right, consider what you think the ‘free’ means in the right to free speech. When my speech is necessarily encumbered by a tethering to a single all-encompassing key (the real name) that unlocks whatever I say, I am no longer free to address one specific context and not another one.

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