Real Names

representation of choices: color (The Commons) vs black and white (Business)Danah Boyd is an insightful researcher. She just wrote a post called “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power in which she takes Google to task for their changing policies and rather abrupt practice of kicking people off of Google Plus. I agree that being arbitrary is an abuse of power when it affects people so strongly (disabling an account removes the use of all services, not just Google Plus). However, there are two kinds of power: shared, and proprietary.

Google, along with Facebook, Twitter, and in fact nearly all Internet-based services (Amazon, eBay, your Internet service provider, etc.), are proprietary. These services are run by companies that:

  1. are private or beholden to shareholders (their “business model”),
  2. have one-sided Terms of Service and Policy documents that users are required to agree to, and
  3. are based on the selective delivery of their user base to their customers (usually advertisers).

A striking characteristic of these businesses is that they have a practice of reducing things to black and white. Our chosen (registered) name “is” or “is not” really us. See Doc’s post A Sense of Bewronging for more thought on this. In a simplified (business) sense, it is an abuse of social power to declare that many of us are not who we say we are, even if we’re known to many others by our chosen registered name.

Contrast this with a shared power model, like a commons, or services that are implemented according to open standards. The underlying Internet protocols (the apache web server, sendmail, TCP/IP, etc.) are not owned by anyone, everybody can use them, and anybody can improve them. These resources are shared—no terms of service is required to use the Internet or email with any device you choose, with any compatible software, from any location that has access. “Commons” is where you can be who you are, no matter what name you go by.

Coaching moment: This may be a non-issue for some. I have friends that use their name to create a “brand” for themselves—so people will recognize them everywhere, and know what they’re about. However, that’s not an option for people in sensitive situations. Think of it this way: Everyone has a moment when they choose not to disclose some bit of information to the world. Sometimes it’s a name. That’s not a bad thing, and it should be a choice.