My personal journey : A little more on identity profiles and plusgate

This is a watershed moment in online and offline identity and expression that Google has brought to the fore for a lot of people. It’s apparent heavy handed policy on who you express yourself else on their profile pages for Google+ highlights many of the things I have been looking at, talkgin about and experiencing for atleast the past 10 years online.
This was and is the discussion and discovery process that people in “business” and “corporate” life have been bumping into. It cuts across virtual worlds, web 2.0, forums, IRC chat and almost any form of online communication. It also though, when you look at it, amplifies what happens in the physical face to face world.
When you engage in communication with another human being you use lots of cues to judge who it is you are talking to. Generally the main feature is the face. This is the pattern that you brain has remembered as the container for the thoughts and feelings of the person you are communicating with. It is a very strong, very rich and ever changing canvas of emotions and expressions. We think we can usually tell someones mood and intent by their face, and those expressions. In general we can, but it does not stop someone playing us, putting on an act or even entertaining us by pretending to be someone else in a play or movie. When someone is not present and we don’t have that face or that meeting we have word of mouth reputation, or the result of their actions expressed as products, buildings, statues etc.
When we go online we do not have that rich canvas of expressions and motion of a face. Even with a video conference we are translating and losing many of the cues we rely upon. Luckily though we can use more direct self expression, we can leave a trail of actions and intent as digital dna across the very systems we interact upon. We are evolving to understand what actions and what parts of the trail are of use for each of us in determining the viability of another digital representation in being worth interacting with. This applies to business as much as individuals. “They don’t even have a website/twitter account/facebook page/telephone number I am not going to bother shopping with them”
Profile pages, such as the google+ ones that are being policed in a rash way by google are merely a little bit of text and a picture (they do attach to many other things like a dna marker, but for now lets stick with the entry point). They are not your face, they are not you, they are a small veneer and advert to express to people what you do. In the old world that might be called a business card.
The name or names and text description of who are are representing yourself as are not the same as your physical collection of carbon atoms, that are recognisable by your face and may have a parental assigned label on them. You need to get across (should you choose too) why someone might be in the slightest bit interested in connecting with you. Now for people who already know you you given name may be the way they spot you, for others it may be that they have heard of you in some way and need to check you out and for other sets it may just be a serendipitous connection of interest. Each of those is not served by the same pieces of data.
Take the name. I am Ian Hughes I have no middle name, thats on my birth certificate etc. Government issued documents (i.e. validated by some people on the word of some other people). Yet my nickname/handle online of epredator is also how I am known. So we meet at a conference I say my name is Ian, you read my face see I am honest and upstanding but thats it. You meet me online I am Ian/epredator and you see that I have a nickname one that may intrigue, one that you may have even heard of. It may lead you to the conclusion that I have invested some time and effort in certain areas in order that I even have a nickname to share. It provides instant insight.
The same goes for photos.
biobw
predbio
The First picture is of me, its my face, you can tell I am wearing glasses, white male, getting on a bit. Smiling. Without the movement and expression of the face though does that really help you with who I am? Sure if we are going to meet then that may help, but so will the fact I will be wearing my striped leather jacket.
The second picture is of an avatar. A digital expression of me, labelled as epredator, wearing my striped leather jacket. However you can tell from a glance I am a science fiction fan. You may also guess if you are a fan of the culture that the predator character is very strong but full of honour. At no point is there anything where I do not represent who I am. “I wear a mask but don’t hide behind it”.
This just scratches the surface of identity, of me letting you know who I am using the restricted online means we have at our disposal.
This is me as an integrated identity, it is one of thousands of use cases that do not fit the if its you use your name/picture etc.
We are all learning this stuff, I am with me and who I am exploring, the problems and the benefits, I have been for years. “taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to”. Hence like many I look at google+ and wonder what on earth they are playing at. They are missing some huge opportunities and hitting early adopters and explorers which will backfire on them. Nothing is too big to fail.

***UPDATE email from the google name police 25/1/2011
Hi,

Thank you for contacting us with regard to our review of the name you are
trying to use in your Google Profile. After review of your appeal, we have
determined that the name you want to use violates our Community Standards.
You can review our name guidelines at

http://www.google.com/support/+/bin/answer.py?answer=1228271

If you edit your name to comply with our policies in the future, please
respond to this email so that we can re-review your profile.

Sincerely,

Geoff
The Google Profiles Support Team

So I replied (and complied to get back in and see what the process is)
Hi,
I have edited my name back to Ian Hughes removing the Ian/epredator Hughes.
epredator is in other names I assume that will not give you a problem in the future.

Or am I allowed to be epredator Hughes? I am known mostly as epredator. I was assuming the / was the problem but hearing what is happening to others I assume you would fail that?

Thanks
Ian/epredator

Director of Feeding Edge Ltd
Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to.

Metaverse Evangelist

http://www.feedingedge.co.uk

http://www.twitter.com/epredator

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Hughes_(epredator)

http://www.epredator.com

UPDATE 27/7/2011
I have been allowed back in
Hi Ian,

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name you want to use with
your Google Profile. After further review, we have determined that your
name is within our Community Standards policy. Thank you for your patience
while we reviewed your profile name. Nicknames should be put in the
“Nicknames” or “Other names” section.

Sincerely,

Geoff

So I am now Ian Hughes on google+ though epredator is more than a nickname. It is part of my actual name. It feels that Google has cut off who I am to other people. I have complied, but will see what they manage to do to address this. It is NOT fixed. I will now get mixed up with a footballer from wales, the high commisioner of Sierra Leone and a journalist and an MD in the car industry. Nice one Google.

14 comments to My personal journey : A little more on identity profiles and plusgate

  • The way I put it when people ask me is “I only have one identity. I just have two names.”

    As for G+, what mostly concerns me about their policy is the number of legit user accounts that they take down in their quest to eject pseudonyms, imposters, scammers and spammers. The collateral damage is very high – and that hurts the reputation of G+ as well as its value to the remaining users. If your friends get whacked (even those using their wallet-names) and don’t want to come back, you’ve lost the value that they brought to the service. Network effects and all of that.

  • Qie Niangao

    In contrast, I’m very glad Google’s absurd attempt to “identity cleanse” the Interwebz is failing so spectacularly, leaving a roiling wake of dead accounts and deleted contents.

    If by some miracle it were working, I’d be a lot more worried.

  • Cisop Sixpence

    I have an online name and another name for off line. The two names don’t reference each other, but they are both me. Almost no one knows me by my off line name which is the way I like it. It allows me the assurance that if you take up stalking me or harassing me for things that I post, you will only do so online. While it may be a pseudonym, it is not an imposter. If I were going to scam or spam, I’d use a name that sounds more believable so I can easily deceive you. Also, I have a reputation with my pseudonym that I don’t want tarnished, so I’m not going to risk doing that. Any one with the admin rights could easily see what IP I’m coming from and I would be caught. If some of my friends can’t socialize in a social network under a name that I know them by, then how will I know who they are? For that matter, why would I even be in a social network that refuses to serve my kind?

  • @Tateru Yes huge damage and the 1 identity 2 names certainly resonates, and as we know though some people also value more than one identity as well. It highlights the complexity of being human. I am a techie but I really don’t like my fellow techs and biz nerds assume they should simplify the human.
    @Qie well said, it raises awareness of the abuse of power, or just the accidental side effect of well meaning decisions
    @Ciscop Absolutely. The scammers and crooks try to blend in, not stand out. Having a reputation in one area but separate from another attached to an expression of an identity is a totally valid way of interacting. The specific google policy seems to say that it is names you are known by. So clearly they messed that up. I am sure if this discrimination for expression was in any other field there would be very harsh penalties. For now its going to be a web and online media storm. The stalking element and nasty activity of others is a very real concern for many people. I am sure google would try and say that if you were stalked and we knew who the stalker was then everything would be fine. Of course that is not the case, as not everything is run by google (like the street outside for instance).

  • Kai Dracon

    A very good article. After reading the latest comments from official VP remarks though, I now am under the impression that Google isn’t just worried about spammers and imposters. Sadly, were it so the job of sorting out the system might be a lot easier.

    But the latest remarks placed emphasis on Google’s desire for Plus to be a “nice place”. The definition of “nice” is vague and relative; but it seems to involve some notion of users calmly sitting in a restaurant, surrounded by a whitebread crowd who isn’t making them feel uncomfortable.

    And that’s looking backwards to go forwards. It shores up theories that Google wishes to attract what it perceives as the median Facebook user. They’re biting their early adopters because the early internet adopter is the geek, technologist, the freak, the online innovator of social networking and identity management.

    Much talk about technorati has cited that Facebook was so successful because it demanded real names and photographs. But I would argue that’s not wholly true. Facebook was successful because it transplanted an existing culture – that of college campuses and faculty – onto the Internet wholesale. That it was based around a legal ID name and a photograph of human mugs was a consequence of the culture it wanted to transplant.

    Google’s problem now may be that they’re trying to serve two masters. They want the Facebook market share, and the ability to directly compete with it. And they want the power of a better internet framework, to appeal to those who want “more” out of their internet experience.

    But the median Facebook resident and the internet power user can be two very different beings.

  • @Kai Thanks :) what you say is very true. I have seen the “it’s like a nice restaurant” comments too. They have implemented a dress code. Then they have not understood the dress code, nor the multiple adjustments that can be made to it. if it is about selling the nice food to the nice customers then I guess they need to watch out when the Blue Brothers turn up :) I think too that not offering any room for growth of the median facebook user by simply being the same will limit who and what they can market too. If they were smart they would see that if people use multiple facets of who they are online, then they have multiple demographics to sell data on. Just appealing to the smart restaurant set may have high profit margins but is not scalable nor affordable. (this analogy is going off on one now!)

  • Kai Dracon

    One question I’ve asked is: how popular is the Facebook model really?

    A great many of Facebook’s 700 million+ accounts aren’t used. Many people sign up to “reserve” a name. Others sign up then stop using it because they don’t like Facebook, but don’t know how to terminate their account. (I’d say leftover accounts by users who don’t know how to remove them accounts for userbase bloat all over the Internet!)

    I’ve met plenty of ordinary people who don’t like Facebook. It’s said that you cannot ever replicate any phenomenon. They’re each unique and people can ruin fortunes trying to force lighting to strike twice. Google should be looking for the “blue ocean” of online social networking rather than trying to directly compete with Facebook.

  • Nathan Adored

    I just wonder how much damage Google is going to do to themselves before they realize what they want and what they can have are two completely different things. They aren’t seeing what they have, and where they can take it and where it can lead them, they’re picturing what they think they ought to have, and trying to take what they’re getting and bend it towards that vision, the trouble is, what they’re picturing may be something that can never be, and they’re unwittingly throwing away they wondrous thing they have and that’s forming in the place they’ve made. It is like that old story of the dog with a bone, looking into the water and seeing another dog with another bone looking up at it (actually, the dog’s own reflection), and it says to itself, “I want that other bone, too.” So, it sticks its nose into the water, trying to take that other bone and keep its existing bone, and loses both.

  • Kai Dracon

    @Nathan: You may a superb observation. It’s absolutely a case of Google appearing to not understand what they already have.

    Here. I can tell you this. The reaction to Plus among a score of people I know, who can’t stand Facebook, who’ve hated most other attempts at social networking and web 2.0 gimmicks. They went wild over Plus. The aggregate sentiment was “THIS! This is it, finally. This is the one!”

    Then they all rushed to sign up, began hyping it, using the crap out of it, and how they’re randomly getting suspended and (in most cases) receiving unhelpful robot form letter replies. That merely tell them to “INSERT LEGAL ID PLEASE TO CONTINUE.” They brought their established social life with them including all *their* friends. They were ready to boost this thing to heaven.

    It is why the “restaurant” comment (already a bit infamous) was so disheartening and face-palming. It was, indeed, a degree of blindness to what Google had sparked off versus what they are doggedly assuming they’re supposed to be getting out of this.

  • Janni Singer

    @ Kai Dracon

    You said it.

    Google seemed to have so much potential. People were excited.

    And then… the letdown has been so profound.

    Well, they have given us, at least, a taste, and the discussion has given us a pretty clear understanding of what so many of us want.

    What I don’t understand is that there are clearly services out there that offer these things, and yet we’re not using them. Why not?

  • @Nathan as @Kai and @Janni says I think you hit the nail on the head “unwittingly throwing away they wondrous thing they have “. It is interesting that in a decentralised fully connected world where corporate and government traditional powers are diluted that we still have a need to flock to an apparent leader. In the case of Google they were seen as the bright innovative “do no evil” people. Ones to trust. It may have been a naive mass misconception after all it is a large corporate money making machine.
    To stick with the restaurants though, food fads come and go, people move to the next great chef or trend. People still need to eat, and will :)

  • Hang in there The big wheels are turning but ever so slow, I think Google has understood that what they are doing is wrong
    and will change. After reading a lot of comments today I think they finally got the message.

  • @Per indeed :) I think we had to make a fuss to remind all the providers this is a symbiotic relationship.

  • Surely the ‘point’ of a social media site is that ALL my friends and contacts are allowed in the door… if not, I will have to service two sites. Have some friends on one and some on another is a losing proposition in the long run. That’s why I claim G+ to be DOA. It cannot work.
    Some of Googles past ventures have been less than successful and one wonders if this is another one which they themselves have ruined at the outset.

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