Getting people's names right in software design: a LOT harder than it looks

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55 Responses to “Getting people's names right in software design: a LOT harder than it looks”

  1. Also a fun concept is the definition of “family”

  2. Fang Xianfu says:

    I work with customer data every day, and names are my number one hate. The absolute worst thing is that we have quite a lot of high-profile customers, and when you address someone with a knighthood on the “Dear Mr Smith” line of a letter, you’re supposed to use their FIRST name, like in “Dear Sir Alan” for Sir Alan Sugar. Screws up my mailmerges no end.

    And don’t even get me started on titles for the clergy.

  3. redstarr says:

    Could there not be some sort of compromise, that people could opt to use a pseudonym or opt to use their real name?  It could even offer a bit of more “verified” authenticity if you wanted to opt for it, that you were using what was in all likelihood your authentic name and identity.  And then it could offer settings to allow you to filter in or out or allow for or forbid comments from verified or non-verified users. 

    That would give the best of both worlds, on things where anonymity or a less-tied-to-your-real-world identity would be a benefit, people could still use pseudonyms and be free to speak their minds.  On things where anonymity and cutting the ties to your real world self makes the discussion less civil and less trustworthy and adds no benefit, you could protect the discussion’s level of decency and honesty. 

    • GreenJello says:

      Could there not be some sort of compromise, that people could opt to use a pseudonym or opt to use their real name?

      That sounds like a good idea, but the final result is likely to be few in any “real” names being used.  Instead everybody will be “LordSatan656″, “ButzSniffer7″, “CrankAddict”, and “UrMom” just like any of the other places that allow people to enter anything for their name.

      That’s fine in places where you don’t have to deal with these people in RL, but on social networks I expect to hang out in meatspace as well, or I’ve met them there some time in the past.

    • geekandwife says:

      There is… Its called using a different service if you dont want to use a real name on Google+, I ma kinda curious who on boingboing’s staff hates their name so much that we need 2-3 posts a day about it.

    • Brian Cain says:

      You mean the exact same system that Boing Boing uses?

      Ya I think we could do that.

      P.S.  Charlie Stross is so fucking kickass.  After reading this on top of his earlier keynote speech about security of the future, I’m pretty sure I want to have his baby.

  4. Nylund says:

    A world government should just assign everyone a unique identifier at birth.  I call dibs on THX-1138.

  5. Jellodyne says:

    Obligatory xkcd link:
    http://xkcd.com/327/

    Little Bobby Tables, we call him

  6. tyger11 says:

    Name matching should be case insensitive, but names should be case preserving. Just sayin’.

  7. codesuidae says:

    Why should I be limited to a single name at any given time, or expect to maintain a name for any specific period of time? 

    I have multiple circles that I can use for different purposes. I have a circle for my close family, who know me as “Robert Tables”, and I have a circle for my fans who know me as “Archmage Bobismo” and I have a circle for another interest where myself and several other people together represent an entity known as “D0rkus”, and I have one where I only have a public key, and no name at all.

    Why should any of these necessarily be linked to the others?

    The interface that I present online is not an identity (that is, it is not identical to ‘me’) it is a facade which may be operated by one or more actors, each of which may or may not be human. Application of rules of human identity (various naming rules and ideas about continuity an uniqueness of agency) to these facades betrays a complete misunderstanding of their nature and purpose.

  8. giaguara says:

    Just assume that everyone’s American or legally in America. Nobody exists anywhere else.
    Instead of using names which can be confusing (Mary Smith or Maria Gonzales? There are a few more than one of both..) just make everyone use their SSN when doing anything in the internet. Problem solved. /jk

  9. phisrow says:

    People whose names break the system will be assigned a UUID at the discretion of the IT department.

    Thank you in advance for your cooperation,

    Sincerely, The IT Department.

  10. gandalf23 says:

    A good friend of mine has five names then his last name.  His last name is a common first name, too.  His name is something like James Edward Howard Richard Michael Tyler.  (It’s not that both for privacy and because I can’t recall all of them right this second) He’s American, both his parents are American.  His mom is weird.  :)  She wanted to give him more names, but his dad finally said “five is enough” so she calls him by another name, Wesley.  As does his father, the rest of his family, his wife and kids (well, ok, they probably call him “Dad”), all his friends, and co-workers.  But it’s not his “real” name in that it is not on his birth certificate.  And all his names are not on his driver’s license as there was not enough room and the state made him leave some off.  What name should he use on google+ ?  

    My dad works with a man named Howard Howard.  He has no middle name.  His parents thought it was hilarious.  Will google+ allow his name, or will they throw it out as not a “real” name?    

    • geekandwife says:

      Google+ has ways you can verify your “strange” name like Howard Howard.  And as far as your friend with the long given name, His surname or last name is only one of those, the rest are classified as middle or given names.  

      • Nonentity says:

        gandalf23′s example specifically noted that the name that everyone actually knows the friend by is not actually a part of the given name.  So, your suggestion is that this person use an extremely truncated portion of a name that no one else calls him by as his identity on G+?  What precisely is the benefit of this supposed to be?

        • geekandwife says:

          It does not have to have a benefit.  Google is going to do what makes logical sense for Google.  They are a company that is made billions by acquiring data and using that to make advertisements tied more closely to the person viewing them.  Google+ is not a goodwill gesture to the world.  Its there to make Google money.

          And as far other names you known by, Google gives you the option to put those nicknames and other names your known by right there on your profile page.  

          • Nonentity says:

            Truly, your grasp of the obvious is astounding.  However, you seem to have missed that, despite what you’ve posted:

            1. what people are complaining about is that what Google is doing is NOT logical
            2. Google (and the people arguing for the use of “real names”) are the ones who are asserting that it *does* have a benefit
            3. As mentioned in TFA and other stories about this, Google hasn’t actually been abiding by the “common name” bit, even for people who have ample evidence

            So, statements like “Google+ is not a goodwill gesture to the world” are really rather off point.

          • geekandwife says:

            1. How is it not logical for Google to be able to personally identify someone they are trying to advertise to?  If they can find out your Bill Smith at 100 Main St, and your a member of X, Y, an Z public organizations, how does that not help them to tailor better ads to you?

            2. And I am saying even if it doesn’t have a benefit to the user of the product, it has a clear benefit to the owner of the system.  Nothing in the world is ever free.  Google gives you a social networking site to use the data to better their primary business.  In reality this is no different than a site requiring you to register with a comment system in order to post.  By the act of registering i am giving up a great deal of privacy, and allow myself to be be tracked by said comment system and advertisers.  

            3.  Read exactly what they say “common” name is to them.  

            “Your common name is the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you.”

            If its not the name your mother calls you, then its not your common name according to google rules.  Google doesnt want you living out an different life than the one you present to said family friends and coworkers.  If your one of these people that has to keep secrets from those people, then the service is not for you.  Its just that simple.    

          • Telegram Sam says:

            Google gives you a social networking site to use the data to better their primary business… the service is not for you.  Its just that simple.

            Google should use this for advertising copy.

          • NelC says:

            And if I choose not to use G+ because of their silly, inconsistent, and inconvenient policy, they won’t be able to use even that information to sell my attention to advertisers. Honestly, how am I supposed to prove that my friends call me ‘Nel’? Collect signed testimonials from… how many? Two, three, half-a-dozen? Should they be witnessed? Stamped by a notary? If I do all that just to get a social site to recognise my handle and not just give up and use Phasebuk, is there any guarantee that I’ll actually get the ID of my choice?

            Google can be as silly, inconsistent or stubborn as they wish, you’re right. But that doesn’t protect them from criticism, or from wasting money ignoring good (as opposed to ‘common’) sense. They can ignore the criticism, but it’s not going to go away.

          • jacklecou says:

             how does that not help them to tailor better ads to you?

            That’s rather short sighted.

            It might help them target the people who still choose to use the service, but:

            1. Address and “real name” information seem pretty valueless. They can already get geographic information quite well, if necessary (which is plenty good enough – the only reason you’d need actual mailing addresses would be to sell them to direct marketers or something — which isn’t happening, but in which case we would have a whole different problem here). And much, much more interesting than anything they could possibly use a “real” name for are the various inferences they can make based on the interests of you and your various circles of friends. (But the latter is provisional on you actively using the service, which brings us to:)

            2. They’re not going to be able to advertise at all to all of the millions of people who decide not to use the service because they can’t actually be themselveses (compound plural) on it.

          • jacklecou says:

            If its not the name your mother calls you, then its not your common name according to google rules. 

            UmWut?

            You just quoted the google rule in question. I repeat: friends, family or co-workers. You see that word OR? If your mother always calls you Aloysius Popewhit Dumbledore, but your friends call you “Sharkster”, then Google’s written policy is supposedly to accept either one. That doesn’t appear to be what they’re doing.

          • geekandwife says:

            Then be upset that they are not following their policy, not that you think the policy is unfair.  I do believe there are some people with common names that have a valid complaint, but the complaint should not be this policy is unfair and hurts the underage, suicidal gay abused mother runaway who is a political activist in a third world country that is being stalked and cant say anything because of religion….   

          • jacklecou says:

            Then be upset that they are not following their policy, not that you think the policy is unfair…but the complaint should not be…

            BOTH complaints are being made. Loudly. And they BOTH have merit.

            Also please note that strict adherence to the stated policy allows pseudonyms. A great many people are known to large circles of friends (and even co-workers) only online and pseudonymously. The policy does not specify “real [meatspace] life”.   

          • geekandwife says:

            And they have a place where you can put and be found though those pseudonyms.  They have provided you the ability to still be found though those other names, they just ask for your real name as well.   They allow you to use a pseudonyms, but they also are requiring you to have a real identity as well.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      My mother had a cousin-in-law named Evelyn. Except that her name was actually Harriet. And her family called her Susan. It makes you wonder why they even bothered naming her in the first place.

  11. Andi S says:

    Peter Brülls There is a difference between “anonymity” (logging in under any name you please, at any time, or no name at all) and “persistent pseudonymity” (where you have a name that you go by, and you want that name to be used as your indentifier.  It’s consistent, and you are accountable for what you say under that name.)Xeni Jardin is an example of a persistent pseudonym.  If she signs on to G+ and is an abusive troll, people know it’s her, and she is accountable for her words.  People stop taking her seriously, block her, etc.  If you force her to sign up for G+ under “Jane Doe,” her friends and fans won’t know it’s her, they won’t be able to find her if they’re looking, and her words are actually LESS accountable to her public, well-known persona.  Not to mention that you’re then asking her to risk her safety (assuming Jane Doe is her real name), because it’s ridiculously easy to find someone’s address and even a photo of their house and a map to it, if you’re using your legal name online.It harms no one to let her use G+ under the *common name* (XJ) that she’s known by, and it actually causes HER harm to be forced to either sign up under the name on her driver’s license, or a “real-sounding” (i.e., Western “normal”) pseudonym that is tied to neither her given name or her common name.

    • geekandwife says:

      Have you even checked the google policy?

      “Google+ makes connecting with people on the web more like connecting with people in the real world. Because of this, it’s important to use your common name so that the people you want to connect with can find you. Your common name is the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, any of these would be acceptable”

      It allows for the use of common names, but if you have no proof of that name being your common used name, then you should expect problems.

      • That’s what their policy say, but Skud’s experiences show otherwise. Her “government ID” name is Kirrily Roberts (which is public information), but everybody in the industry knows her as Skud, yet Google won’t accept that.

        Reality meets Google policy with predictable confusion. Hence threads like this, because Google aren’t even allowing their own policy to be followed (let alone the bootstrapping problem of how your common name becomes commonly known).

  12. Michael Roberts says:

    geekandwife, that is, in fact, Google’s stated policy.  It is not what Google is actually doing – and that’s one of the problems.  Whoever wrote that policy didn’t actually know Google’s actual policy.

    Second: Lady Gaga gets to post as Lady Gaga.  Google specifically makes that decision if they feel a user is “important enough”.

    Third: you’re right, Google is free to do whatever they damn well please, because they’re not the government.  However, there is still harm done to society if an entity as ubiquitous as Google makes the wrong decision – and there’s the harm done to Google as well.

    Google’s actual policy is a poor match for reality on many levels.  First, they think the government should be the authority in what you call yourself.  If you happen to be a dissident, well, too bad – you won’t be using Google.  Second, they make a lot of the assumptions on Patrick’s list.  The “Howard Howard” cited above would probably have a great deal problems getting an account reenabled.  (And unfortunately, he could lose his email as well, if he were foolish enough to depend on Google for it.)

    You seem to have some really deeply felt opinion on this topic, so it’s a little discordant to me that you don’t seem to have followed this topic as it’s evolved over the past couple of weeks.

  13. It’s also worth pointing out that, for many people, it’s important for their private and professional and/or family identities to be separate, and I think that’s a valid concern.

    For example, Joe’s mother is a devout ——, and would likely have a heart attack if she discovered that he had given up —– and, worse, become a *****. Therefore, he uses Joe Realname for his traditional fasebuk account, and Joey Truname for his other fasebuk account. (Yes, of course he has more than one. Doesn’t everybody?)

    For professional connections, though, he uses Joseph.S.Realname at geemail.com, so he can keep that correspondence and associated professional activity separate from his real life. And he’s got a work email as well, which will be void (but probably still receiving mail) when he changes jobs.

    I’m sure this and similar arguments have been raised in the many, many discussions on this topic. I’m also sure that there are many people who would dismiss this argument as being useless, because they’re not “weirdos” (or whatever) like Joe. Or the other Joe Realnames that are out there, who can’t use Joe Realname because it’s already taken by Joey.  :-)

  14. Mantissa128 says:

    Wouldn’t Google’s current policy make it more difficult for the government and spooks to make up fake personas online? Just a thought.

  15. ornith says:

    I also know some people with ludicrously unlikely real names. Such as an unfortunate Asian-American woman named “Bamboo Dong” – she was a friend of my roommate in college.

    Particularly offensive about the real names policy is that 1) some people use false names because of issues with stalkers, and 2) apparently it only goes for people who aren’t currently REALLY famous, because guess what names Lady Gaga and Fifty Cent are allowed on there with? Even though OTHER people with pen/stage names aren’t being allowed to use them or have two profiles.

    • geekandwife says:

      Here is an idea… if your being stalked, maybe you should stay off social networking sites.  The best way to avoid attention is to avoid attention….

      • jacklecou says:

        Here is an idea… if your being stalked, maybe you should stay off social networking sites.  The best way to avoid attention is to avoid attention….

        Ooooh. I missed this one. 

        So, [slightly longer but more explicit] geekandwife: “Bad stalking victim! Bad! Don’t you know that the internet is only for decent people who have never had to deal with being threatened by a creepy stalker who wants to control your life? If anyone’s ever stalked you, make sure you shut up forever and stay off the internet!”

        • geekandwife says:

          If your being stalked, its a bad thing, i am not saying they should stay off the internet… i am saying they should stay off services that by their very purpose is to allow strangers to be part of a social network.  Its the same as if you have a seafood allergenic its probably a bad idea to decide to eat at a red lobster, or if your an alcoholic you probably shouldnt work as a bartender.  

          • jacklecou says:

            Using a pseudonym is usually going to be perfectly safe. And it’s not really your business to tell them what’s good for them in any case, is it?

            And what part of people interacting with each other in an online social network is incompatible with that exactly? What’s in it for the rest of us to effectively ban such people from the space? How does it make the experience anything but poorer?

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            geekandwife,

            We have a policy about victim-blaming. You’re in violation.

  16. donovan acree says:

    I am known by many names, but you may call me…Tim.

  17. jacklecou says:

    That’s fine in places where you don’t have to deal with these people in RL, but on social networks I expect to hang out in meatspace as well, or I’ve met them there some time in the past.

    This may come as a shock to you, but not everyone uses social networks the same way you do. I.e.: to interact exclusively with people you already know in meatspace.

    I’m reading you as expressing quite a vociferous desire to make G+ (and maybe other social networks) exclusively useful to people who use them exactly the same way you do. Doing your best to neuter and poison them for all of the other variations of use cases the rest of us out here might have for them. 

    And all, basically, to make it slightly more convenient for you to locate your meatspace friends whose online nicknames you don’t know.

    Yeesh. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but I think you could stand to be more explicit about your aims.

    • geekandwife says:

      “This may come as a shock to you, but not everyone uses social networks the same way you do. I.e.: to interact exclusively with people you already know in meatspace.”

      What your not understanding is Google is wanting to only really support that concept.  They are not wanting to be facebook, they want it, at least as their design has gone so far to be mainly be a way to communicate with those people that you do in meatspace.  

  18. jacklecou says:

    And they have a place where you can put and be found though those pseudonyms.  They have provided you the ability to still be found though those other names, they just ask for your real name as well.   They allow you to use a pseudonyms, but they also are requiring you to have a real identity as well.

    The policy, the controversy and the bannings concern the “display name” at the top, not any optional nicknames further down. If we accept that a “display name” can in fact be what your [online] friends call you, then there is NOTHING in the policy which requires the use of (let alone public sharing) of anything like a “real” name.

  19. jacklecou says:

    What your not understanding is Google is wanting to only really support that concept.  They are not wanting to be facebook, they want it, at least as their design has gone so far to be mainly be a way to communicate with those people that you do in meatspace.

    To the extent that’s true, this is what Corey called cargo-cult copying of Facebook. It’s stupid – the whole point is supposedly to be better than Facebook.

    But also, I don’t actually know that that is true. Is there a Google exec on record as saying G+ is only for your meatspace friends? I doubt it. It would be a stupid thing to say. (But we do have the stupid policy that implies it…)

  20. Thoria Millgrove says:

    Mark Twain did not use his original name, and look at the useless drivel
    he wrote. Plainly, we should have demanded he write as Samuel Clemens
    (and certainly not Sam Clemens!) to improve the quality of his work.

    And I think it’s wonderful that you posted with your original name, GJ.

  21. Nicholas Tuzzio says:

    I saw your first post in this thread and thought it would just be more of yesterday’s nonsense, but this post is truly impressive.  Your perception of the quality of Xeni’s posts and her use of a pseudonym have absolutely nothing to do with each other.  Additionally, Xeni is probably the best example of why pseudonyms should be allowed on G+, because Xeni is a well-known person using this pseudonym.  Do any of those news networks that she gets invited to talk on seem to think less of her for using a pseudonym?  I think not, and I don’t see why a person who sees her talk on CNN (or whatever) should have to look for a completely separate name on G+.

  22. geekandwife says:

    Mark Twain did not try to hide who he was either.   And he was not writing on a social networking site.  Google requires you to use your real name for ONE site.  A private company has the right to set what ever rules they want for the services they offer.  You do not have a right to be on google+.  

  23. retepslluerb says:

    Straw man argument, though.  People like Xeni Jardin, Loriot (RIP) and Mark Twain were not born with these names, but those are pseudonyms only in the most general way – they were certainly identifiable as persons under these names, unlike “Jabberwock Headbanger”.

  24. Nicholas Tuzzio says:

    No, but G+ is in beta, Google is trying to make the best social network, and they are asking their users for feedback.  This is a reasonable debate to be having at this point, which is why (by and large, I hope) people aren’t really invoking Facebook in this nymwars debate.  

  25. Vin Reilly says:

    Tell Google+ to take their “real names” policy and stuff it. 
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/diasporaWalkthru
    If this makes sense  to you, let me know.

  26. Nonentity says:

    So, someone needs to be identifiable under a pseudonym before they can use that pseudonym?  How, then, do they originally start to use it?

  27. Jellodyne says:

    Were they generally identifiable under these names when they started using them? How famous does one have to be to be allowed to break the rules? Maybe Jabberwock Headbanger isn’t a household name, but 6 Grammys from now, are you going to change your mind? Maybe he never would have developed a fanbase under his real name, Francis Mortenson, and thus would not have gone on to win those Grammys. But the point is, why not the same rules for everyone?

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