Understanding the Nym Wars

Here's a pair of great (JWZ) posts (Kevin Marks) on the Nym Wars, in which Googlers, net users, and sensible people try to convince the G+ team that it's insane to tell people that they must socialize using their "real names," and to then try to adjudicate what a "real name" is. Both link out to the canonical essays produced to date on the subject, such as EFF and boyd, and add a lot of good context.


  1. Remember, the whole point of Google’s offerings is to get users to give them personal information which they can use for (they promise) targeted advertising. Having a real name makes cross-correlating with other information sources much easier. So their reason for wanting this is obvious.

    So is the reason you might not want to cooperate. Google’s on the edge of violating “Don’t Be Evil”, if not already over that line. There are much worse, admittedly.

    Personally: I try not to put anything on a public server that I would really care about people seeing, and I reserve the right to lie to websites which ask questions they don’t legitimately need an answer to. (If it’s moderately legitimate but not a “need”, they may get an answer which is close but still wrong.) And if they can’t deal with that… well, the ones who might object are also the ones I could jettison without much regret, even if I’ve been spending a significant amount of time on them. Their job is to make themselves useful to me, not vice versa.

  2. “- “Women, LGBT, abuse victims, etc, will be disadvantaged”
    “There are other places they can go to, we don’t have to fight every
    ethical and social injustice every time in everything we do, G+ is one
    of the occasions when we don’t seek to right the wrongs of the world, we
    just want to get the work done.””

    What work would that be?  Data mining faster than Facebook?

    – “White privileged men will be denied the diversity of opinions because of the bias of Google+ toward white privileged men”
    “Most of them seem to be just fine with that. Sure, most people pay lip
    service to diversity of opinions, but what really gets their panties in
    a knot is when their search results show what they consider garbage.”

    So your product is designed to be inferior from the get go.  Your purposely trying to exclude people.

    What part of Don’t be Evil does that satisfy?
    Someone want to go kick the founders in the ass and get them to comment on this clusterfook in a public meaningful way? 
    Or shall we just continue with the crap customer service we’ve come to expect from Google. 
    Then Google+ can never come out of beta, and then it can be cancelled like every other half baked idea.
    Maybe the engineers will stop quitting by then.

  3. How about just not using google+ and stick with facebook? I just got an invite and signed up, and felt at best pretty meh about it. the whole thing is confusing, clunky, visually unattractive, and boring.

  4. Lordy.  If you don’t know what your real name is, I can’t help you.  If you don’t want to give it to Google, then don’t and choose not to use their product.  I fail to see how this is a big issue.

  5. A good wrap-up/continuation!

    It seems like the hardest thing on the internet is keeping any fight alive if results aren’t seen within a week or so, so the continuing efforts of all of these people in keeping the flag flying is pretty amazing and powerful to watch. Especially with all the hateration coming from other people looking down their noses and using the classic, “if you don’t like it just don’t use it, oh #firstworldproblems, aren’t there more important things we could be talking about, abloo abloo abloo” silencing techniques. 

    1. Well Tony Golan-Viella, if that is your real name ;-), those all seem like compelling arguments to me. I mean this is a social network we’re talking about, not something we’re forced by law to use.

    1. This is what weirds me out. I’m not really up in arms about the policy, but it’s troubling that they seem to have no idea how to enforce it. 

  6. I can only assume that GOOG has a longer-term identity play in mind, most likely tied to an eCommerce/virtual currency angle built around Android point-of-sale (NFC?). If they’re serious about competing against Facebook, they pretty much have to move into these areas.

    1. If this is the direction you want to head, you do not create the illusion that you can be who you “are” online.  They have “rules” that are changing based on what intern looks at it.  You can go through all of the hoops, get reactivated only to be shut back down 20 min later.  The obvious stupidity of locking ENTIRE Google access because of your G+ being shut down for some unnamed reason.  Accepting a picture of a well known killer on a scan of the ID from SuperBad, as proof to reactivate an account…. priceless.

      If this was going to be the real world, and we plan to tie it to these things in the future, this would have been solved by having a real names policy that spelled it out, had no wiggle room, and was clear in the message.  But offering people the ability to use the name they are most commonly called, shows a total lack of insight into tech based people.  Or did Google forget they were paying someone commonly called SKUD, for many years?

      Do not play these games to make it look less evil than Facebook, when your intent is to make it just as vile as Facebook is but with the “Google” touch.  If they had advertised it as just like Facebook but with circles… do you think anyone would have bothered?  They have mislead people about what its supposed to be, and then are shocked when people used it like they were told they could.  Then they exile those people and then give rappers accounts based on their stage names.

      Every website is doing it nowdays, trying to locate some more money…
      I could have has just a BB account, but they broke that as they went to Disqus.
      Disqus is not nice people, but I am not that worried.  I get to use a name that does not link to my own, and its tied to a series of  emails addresses that are nested so deeply you need to be very good to get near who I actually am, and at the first sign of someone working through that maze the tunnels collapse.  But then I am only slightly paranoid about portions of my life overlapping for good reasons.

  7. There used to be a comment on here that I agreed with, but it looks like it was been removed by a moderator.

    I have read the comment policy and can’t imagine why it was removed. If it was because it was critical of boingboing, I have to say I thought the criticism was valid. I hope saying that doesn’t get me banned.

    I’d like to discuss it though and I hope I can do it in a way that won’t be removed as well.

    This person was responding to this update, which is drawing attention to someone’s criticism of Google’s “real name policy”. Cory Doctorow has voiced support of pseudonymity, anonymity, and freedom of speech, in the past. Here are a few examples:


    The original comment pointed out that boingboing requires a valid account at one of the big online-identity sites, including Google+ (with it’s “real name” policy), in order to post a comment. I think this is a recent change. I’ve certainly posted anonymously in the past.

    I think it is a valid to say that this requirement is inconsistent with Cory Doctorow’s recorded statements about anonymity, psuedonymity, and free speech. (If the comment was removed becasue it was a criticism, I also think it is ironic.) The original comment, however, used the word “hypocrisy”, which might have gone too far to be considered respectful or reasonable expression for display on the Internet.

    In the hopes of starting a discussion, I submit, with humble respect, to the moderators, to Cory Doctorow, and to the boingboing community, the following questions:

    What is the relationship between ‘might’ and the application and/or making of ‘right’?
    Why was the original comment removed?

    I would like to reproduce the comment for this discussion but I am worried that I will be banned for as well, so I must hope that the moderator(s) will reverse the decision for the benefit of this discussion. I must also hope that my comment will not be censored for being critical of the moderation itself.



    1. The original comment pointed out that boingboing requires a valid account at one of the big online-identity sites, including Google+ (with it’s “real name” policy), in order to post a comment. I think this is a recent change.

      You can make a pseudonymous BB account with a throwaway e-mail address. There’s absolutely no similarity to Google’s real name policy. The original comment was removed because it was a bullshit troll comment. I’m sure that the fact that it comes from the same IP range as yours is just a coincidence.

  8. I think the problem around pseudonyms is cultural. I wrote this blog post about it:


    “The big deal is that we are having an identity related clash of values, I think, between two very different kinds of heavily engaged online people:

    – Integrated Identity: These are people who live online and offline with the same personality (including the Technorati because in fact their unified identity is their bread and butter), and
    – Separate Identities: people who keep their online and offline worlds quite separate, not for duplicitous reasons but because they are in many ways two people; the online person and the offline person.

    The integrated identities tend to work in the web 2.0 universe. Silicon valley seems to be the cultural center of this. They meet the same people online and offline; people who have startups, tech bloggers, money guys, opinion leaders of all kind. Their identity is their primary asset, it’s got their reputation attached to it. To them, it’d be mad to have a separate online and offline identity, and seems kind of sinister; what reason could you have to split your reputation, really, other than that you are trying to hide something?

    But the separate identity people are actually part of an older tradition (and yes this environment is old enough to have an older tradition). It’s the tradition of the Handle, and it comes from back when computer networks were esoteric, back when using them was a marker of class. Back before Eternal September”

    (more at my blog)

  9. The nym thing doesn’t bother me half as much as them killing your gmail and other stuff if they decide you’ve done something wrong on g+. t.

    “Facebook, only cooler” isn’t worth the risk of having my primary email addy terminated. 

  10. Hmm, I dunno.  I mean, much as social media is great for uprisings, and flash mobs, and various ‘freedom’ related items that look a lot like ‘terrorism’ depending upon which monitor you’re viewing it all from, well…  google isn’t in the business of making the world a better place.  It’s in the business of making google money.  Its well known ‘don’t be evil’ may resonate with the kind of people who even know it HAS a motto, but it arguably hasn’t been true to that motto from the start, and certainly not for a long time.

    Point being – google has offered a product which it thinks will make it money.  Quite a few people have problems with that product and, in their opinions, google is doing everything possible to fail right off the bat.  Well, more power to google, then, and let people use a different product.  If there is insufficient diversity in the field, then there’s clearly room for a new product, and the field is just waiting to pay somebody to make it.

    Personally, I find that facebook keeps finding new ways to disappoint me, and really have no intention of going through the same thing with google+.  But I can’t fault google for trying to make more money – it’s what companies do.  And they’ve chosen a certain approach.  If you don’t like the taste of coke, you buy pepsi, or RC, or Polar, or simply go without cola.  If you don’t like something about the taste of google+, use facebook, or twitter, or set up your own free message board, or simply use a phone.  We communicated before the internet got big, and we had book clubs, and clandestine meetings, and dial up BBS boards, and we can still do these same things now.  If google chooses not to appeal to a certain niche, let it lose money.  But it’s hard to feel any moral outrage over a company choosing a certain set of policies.  You can’t make everybody happy, after all.

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