Why has there been an outcry against real names on Google+ but not on Quora?

Mikka Lustre

Mikka Lustre, I'm the whipping boy!

Répondu il y a 375w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 2.3k et de vues de réponses 32.3m

I've been thinking about this a lot in the past few days, and from where I stand (which may or may not be a complete or even accurate picture) it seems as if this is less a revolution or uprising and more a full-fledged power struggle between two strong players with different desires and ideas for the outcome of a new social graph and power infrastructure.

Whenever someone creates such a potential structure (those of us playing MMORPGs might remember equally heated debates in beta forums for new WoW expansions or new MMOs such as Warhammer, RIFT, AION, or similar), most any resident of said community will attempt to shape the final baseline infrastructure towards their own ultimate needs and powers. This is also a good time to establish oneself as a power player within the graph by amassing connections, creating cohesion, and hoarding relatively cheap social capital.

Which brings us to my two most hated phrases online. "Personal brand" and "monetization". On the personal brand, the debate shifts quickly based on the tools offered by the community and how they can be and are used to strengthen that brand. On Twitter an alter's "power" is measured in number of connections. Since connections are uni-directional, incoming vectors ("followers") are the ultimate in establishing 'stickiness' of the alter. Likewise on Facebook, "likes" and followers are those measurements, closely followed by engagement, that is comments on one's posts.

The forming power structure of G+ is surrounded by confusion and an attempt to establish the measure of cohesion, social capital, and influence levels like any other new social entity. One needs to only look at the first get-together in newly formed clubs, companies, or religious congregations. Most anyone is a little anxious as to how to establish oneself, seeks out company and power markers. Those markers might shift as new purpose is introduced but will rarely fully dissolve so it makes sense to seek and establish them early while capital is cheap.

One way to create and accumulate power is to assert it. In some cases, such as an alter network, that's through one's identity. Identity is an important factor as, for example, Pete Griffiths' answer shows: he capitalizes danah boyd's name. Her identity, however, and the power demand behind it, is to have it lowercase. Which is, as far as I remember, her legal name. But it doesn't matter. What does matter is to have the social clout to demand a certain address. danah's point is that by denying her (and others) the power to use the name in a way she intends (lowercase in her instance, a single name in Skud's case), introduces a dangerous downhill slide of the power sinks within the network's graph influencing and controlling the establishment and use of power.

Identity is power. We bring a certain amount of social capital into new structures (consider in the case of Quora the arrival of personal brands from TV to arts, sports, politics, or other tech/conversation related networks), which is tied to our identity. That's cheap capital. It's the equivalent of bringing cheap Ukrainian gold into the United States as one of the first immigrants into New York and building one's social and influence circles around it and the much higher value of gold in the "New World". America's power circles are, to this day, influenced and established by things that happened in the colonial and early post-colonial days of the country.

I disagree with one of danah's assertions: that this is a struggle of the marginalized and disadvantaged against a power broker. It takes quite the stretch of the imagination to consider someone with tens of thousands of connections that can be harnessed, the tools to harness them, and a voice that is heard loud enough to transcend social networks (from G+ into blogs into Facebook into mainstream media into G+ again and into Quora) marginalized or disadvantaged.

But is is a struggle of those who have power against those who want to redefine the "oomph" of certain assets and how they define power.

Quora, on the other hand, was much less ambiguous from the get-go. Here we had a system with a clearly defined goal: seed in the form of questions would create product in the form of answers and engagement as comments. Power within the graph would be established through upvotes and be fluctuant between even small areas of the network (in my case I'd say I have an OK amount of influence in the Nourriture topic and none whatsoever in this one).

While there are, randomly, discussions similar to those in other networks, the approach, methodology, and resolution of such struggles or questions is markedly different. I'll just point at Rebecca Cox' (and many others', I'll use her as a stand in for the extremely high value and impact writings of almost anyone who participated in these conversations) excellent answers to questions about women on Quora and women in tech compared to similar discussions in other media. That's partly because a knowledge based network emphasizes knowledge and constant defense (in the academic sense, not the military one) as a power marker and partly because such a network attracts the kind of alter who either has or is willing to develop power based on it.

To finish this, I have a high amount of respect for those trying to define structure (and with it the power conduits) in new social networks such as G+. To some it's a fight for dominance or capital, to others it's just confusion and the need to see clear structures. To many it's the "pioneer" spirit that gets a little damper when arriving at new lands, staking a claim, and being told that someone else already made up rules as to the size and layout of those claims. But they all, agree or disagree, work together to shape the greater landscape.

G+ entered the market with a lot of ambiguity as to its role, function, and future. That's the Google way. No one stepped forward until days ago to say "G+ is your profile on steroids, it's not Orkut 2.0, and it's the basis of us dropping more and more identity based services into the profile". That led to ambiguity and confusion and to demands. Quora came out swinging, saying, "we're a Q&A site with these basic features, we value X and we push Y to the margins". This created a populace that understood the conduits of power and worked within them to drink from the hose of social capital as it were.

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Yishan Wong

Yishan Wong, Quora's #1 fan!

Mise à jour il y a 375w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 1.6k et de vues de réponses 24m

Because the debate over real names and anonymity/pseudonymity on the internet completely misses the real point.

For example, see this essay (http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts...) by an internet researcher that conflates problems with Google+'s real name policy with objection to Google's position as a power broker on the internet. The sentiments in the essay revolve around a negative reaction to power and its alignment with privileged classes, rather than any ideas relating to the actual technical functions of identity.

In fact, what the prevailing online debate fails to notice is that names and identity on the internet serve at least two distinct functions, and confusing them is what has caused the "debate." These two functions are authentification et deniability.

  1. Authentification - Real names, and the ability to verify that they are real, make it so that when a person says something, recipients of that claim can authenticate that the person really said it. Everyone in the world has an objective identity (typically denoted by names), and it serves both that person et everyone else to be able to verify when they have made a claim or taken an action. Quora is a good example of this - some information presented on Quora is made more valuable when readers can be reasonably certain that the author is actually a certain person.
  2. Déniabilité - Sometimes people need to be able to say things and have plausible deniability that they didn't say them. Political dissidents, personally endangered individuals, and pretty much most minority groups need this ability. It is typically necessary when "speaking truth to power." Twitter accounts of political dissidents in any of the recently turbulent Middle Eastern countries are an obvious example here.

These two functions are completely separate and are not actually in conflict with each other. Strengthening one does not weaken the other.

What is especially interesting is that the distinctness of these two functions of identity is fairly well-understood in real life, but for some reason no one really thinks of them in the same way on the internet. For example, in the real world, you are required to have your real name on your driver's license. This is so that if you cause accidents, it's in everyone's best interest that you and only you are assigned responsibility, and that your record is maintained over time (it's even in the driver's interest: if you have a poor record, you're a risk to yourself too). On the other hand, voting is anonymous for a reason - so that those without power can vote for their preferred candidate without fear of coercion. Neither of these identity-verification and identity-preserving systems conflict: any voter can carry a driver's license without fear that having their real name on the license endangers the anonymity of their vote, because the two systems are distinct and serve different functions. In both cases, the real world system even happens to be more strict and effective than their virtual counterpart: the real-name reliability of driver's license names is stronger than what we have with Facebook, and the anonymity of your vote is harder to trace than, e.g. sending an email from an "anonymous" email account or posting "anonymously" on any number of web forums.

The problem today is not about companies overly enforcing real-name policies, nor is there a problem with too much anonymity on the internet.

In fact, the perceived problems stem from the fact that real-name verifiability on the internet today is still not strong enough - the current "gold standard" of real names on the internet, Facebook, still allows you to create an entire false identity fairly easily - and anonymity technology is also not strong enough: unless you are very, very good with computers and cryptography, your identity can be uncovered by a determined (i.e. powerful) adversary even when you imagine you are being "anonymous" on the internet.

Making one of the two functions stronger does not weaken the other one at all. Right now the "debate" (if it can be called that) perceives a strengthening of one to be at the expense of the other because we have both weak real-name identity as well as weak anonymity tools, so the effects of both are muddied when examples are cited. In fact, we need to strengthen both, because they are each used for their respective functions, typically by the same people. We need systems whereby anyone can reliably authenticate an action they take on the internet with their real identity, as well as a way for the same person to communicate or transact with perfect confidence in their anonymity. Both of these tools are used by almost everyone in totally legitimate and distinct scenarios. There is, in fact, no real reason for an "outcry" against either real names or anonymity; the problem is when they are inappropriately mixed in contexts where one or the other is desired.

For example, Quora is somewhat further along this understanding than Google is (maybe due to its Facebook DNA? Unclear). Answers with real names attached can be reasonable authenticated to a known individual, thus adding value for all parties. At the same time, selective anonymity makes people comfortable sharing information they wouldn't otherwise share. While this information can't be identified, it still ends up being a net-positive sharing of information.

Google, with its even wider suite of heterogenous services, needs to understand that its identity system needs to clearly and distinctly offer both of these functions where appropriate. It's the poor general understanding of the distinctness of these issues that muddies their ability to effectively deliver either of them.

Jon Pincus

Jon Pincus, pro-nym activist

Mise à jour il y a 374w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 105 et de vues de réponses 65.7k

For one thing, Google's actual policy is "the name people know you by", and some of their commuications made it clear that they thought long-term pseudonyms were just fine. So people were very surprised and upset when (as Phil Jones et Neil Kandalgaonkar both mentioned) they started suspending accounts that clearly met their guidelines.* If Google had actually changed their processes 10 days ago when their VP promised to stop suspending accounts without notice, they might well have dampened the outcry.

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Also the stakes are a lot higher with Google+. Most people don't know about Quora, and even for most of the ones who do, they see it as only one of a slew of Q&A sites. So at this point nobody cares all that much if Quora's policy is harmful to domestic violence, transgender people, people with disabilities and medical conditions, activists, and all the other groups mentioned in "Who is harmed by a "Real Names" policy"** But Google+ is from Google, so it's seen as having a good chance to grow to be Facebook-size -- and they're already using G+ information to refine their search results, so being excluded from G+ because they don't like the names you choose has other consequences as well.

Actualiser: on Google+, Rainyday Jordan says***

Facebook started off with a real name policy. If you didn't like that, you didn't join the service. Some people will say the same thing about G+, but, G+ is a little more integrated with an account you déjà had, on a set of services that have traditionally been pseudonymous. It's really hard to take features away from your users after they have them. Of course you get backlash in that situation.

You have a number of users who are used to using google services with pseudonyms, and when everything's so heavily integrated that your Gmail name shows on search results.... well... duh google. Trying to put nym back in the box is going to bite you.

* Skud, for example, had anticipated problems and put together a detailed list supporting her claim to the name, but still got whacked. In http://infotrope.net/2011/07/24/..., she wrote "If I do change my Google+ name to Kirrily Robert, I will (presumably) get my account back, but I won’t use it much any more. It will become like my Facebook or Quora accounts, two other services where I have an account but seldom use it because it feels weird to be using an identity at odds with how most of my friends know me." And Kaliya Hamlin is just fine on Quora, but got suspended on G+.

** http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wi...

*** https://plus.google.com/10183456...

Domhnall O

Domhnall O'Huigin, Daily Quoran, former reviewer and volunteer admin.

Répondu il y a 375w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 2.3k et de vues de réponses 7.8m

There are some excellent, cogent and well supported contentions here already.
I'd like to offer a personal one:

1. Google+ reportedly has 10mil users.
2. Frankly, I have no idea how many users Quora has but I am guessing less (for now! for now! =)
3. To function, Quora is to a large degree reliant on the good intentions and honesty of its members. That is to say while there are various visible and (one presumes) invisible checks and balances in place, it still needs me - if I describe myself as a 39 yo male, resident in Dublin - to actually be so.

In this manner, I find that interactions on Quora - very nearly uniquely for the internet in my view - approximate real life ones. People generally don't mask their identities in the real world (''Irish? Nooo...Sri Lankan. Raised by otters.That's why the freckles.*). As others have pointed out already this can result in outcomes ranging from the inconvenient to the illegal.

Similarly I contend that the reason there is no fuss here (as opposed to Google+) is that here, we are who we are. It is important not to masquerade because if we do, the veracity of our answers are automatically in doubt and - selfishly speaking - we would then doubt those who answer our questions in like fashion. It would be completely counterproductive.
So using one's own name, picture etc. seems like a très natural extension of this logic. I don't dissimulate in real life, why on earth would I do so here?

Finally, and this is a purely subjective opinion, with 10 million users, Google+ is bound to have some trolls, indeed as is Quora but since [in my opinion] Google+ is just a FB clone** I think the ratio would be higher.

* Sorry, got caught up in the scenario I imagined for the example and went a bit further with the backstory than I meant to. This is a frequent problem with me.
** I know, I
know; circles and whatever that video conferencing thing is called and whatnot are revolutionary. Look, I'm not vers le bas on Google or anything, I'm just not feeling the USP of Google+.


Antone Johnson

Antone Johnson, Ready to found a chapter of Quora Addicts Anonymous

Répondu il y a 338w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 846 et de vues de réponses 3.4m

Lots of great material here, but I think the strongest point still needs to be reinforced: Because Google is Google (entreprise), and Quora isn't.

My answer isn't as flip as it might first sound when we examine the two major factors that this entails: (1) the general public's sens du droit to use Google resources without limit, combined with (2) a sense of Google's uniquely monolithic status that makes it the Microsoft (entreprise) of the new decade. Quora (entreprise) evokes neither of these.

Consider that the largest social network in the world, Facebook (produit), is (or was) a Commencez. MySpace (product), the second-largest in the world (and the largest in its prime, with more than 200 million users), also began its life as a startup, as did Twitter (produit), YouTube, LinkedIn (produit), Flickr (product), Digg, Yelp (product), Foursquare, Reddit, Delicious (product), et plein d'autres. Chaque social network launched by the titans of the consumer Internet during the explosion of the social Web (roughly 2003-07) failed. Every one. AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo! (company), Google and the rest proved incapable of making significant headway in social except through acquisitions — and even then managed to ruin some good businesses. My point here is that there is no precedent for a large, wealthy, powerful, ubiquitous Internet company founding a social network from scratch that has scaled to truly significant proportions (tens to hundreds of millions of registered users). If Google+ becomes truly successful, people will rightly become suspicious of the extent to which Google can mine their entire online lives for private information that is used for who-knows-what. Quora doesn't have anywhere near that visibility into our identities and never will.

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Kat Tanaka Okopnik

Kat Tanaka Okopnik, Quora geek.

Mise à jour il y a 328w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 1.3k et de vues de réponses 3.7m

I'm happy to use my wallet name, or rather my "offline name of most frequent use and recognition" at Quora, because it's the admission price to a world I want access to, and there's value in connecting my Quora presence and affiliations with my offline life. Quora connects me to people I would otherwise not know, and my life, as I have mentioned elsewhere on Quora, is enriched thereby.

I abandoned my Google+ account after watching friends lose access to Google Reader and other interlinked Google services because of Google's punitive policy. Some of us are known by our pseudonyms online—my pseud has over a decade and countless hundreds of Mb, possibly GB, of data attached to it. Being told that not having a "nameshaped" pseud on G+ implied I was indigne de confiance...that my friends with similar history could not be considered "real" even when they, like Skud, were able to document their use of the same name...this did not sit well. Especially when many people were seeking to migrate from pseud-focused online communities like LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, and others.

Google was an icon of a hacker/net culture that had grown up with "handles" and other forms of pseudonymity from the start. And in hacker spaces, being mononymous is an emblem of power. The notable tone deafness toward the very culture it was seeking to appeal to is bogglesome even now.

Google+ is not predicated on my meeting strangers, it posits that it will help me connect with my existing friends—but it disregards the way that most of us deal with our lives.

Just found this while looking for other things on the net (mentions Quora):
http://jamiebeckland.com/2011/09... (edit 1 July 2012)

Neil Kandalgaonkar

Neil Kandalgaonkar, works at Fullstack Foundry

Répondu il y a 376w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 159 et de vues de réponses 398.2k

I believe that Quora primarily relies on Facebook connect. Other authentications are supported like Twitter but if I recall correctly, they started with FB Connect only.

And Facebook has habituated users to their policies, one way or another.

As danah boyd pointed out (http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts...), Facebook's "real name" culture is based on their now-familiar method of slowly turning information intended for a limited audience into public information. People would have had the same freakouts if Facebook had insisted on public identity from day one.

Also, Facebook has been given up as a lost cause for people who care about anonymity. The founder (and now even his sister) have stated that they not only don't care, but are actively against it.

Finally, Facebook's preference for real names (real as in, what would appear on your government ID) is in practice more a matter of culture than policy. Unless you're squatting on a celebrity's name you'll probably be okay. Many of the people kicked out of Google Plus have had similar pseudonyms on Facebook for years.

By contrast, Google has conducted automated sweeps of their userbase and kicked out people that the algorithm thought weren't real. Like for having characters from different Unicode pages in their first name. See http://infotrope.net/2011/08/04/... . Nice way to treat your beta testers.

Jim Gordon

Jim Gordon, iconoclaste, penseur hors des boîtes, chercheur de nouveauté, bibliophile, gastronome

Répondu il y a 375w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 8.1k et de vues de réponses 22.8m

I too believe that the issue of pseudonyms vs true names is beside the point, although I wonder, given the diffuseness of internet community, whether it is a matter of power. Yes, a requirement for true names exposes individuals to retaliation, but the scale of the internet community makes it increasingly difficult to repress a community. The example of the Arab Spring demonstrates some of this, and the evolving process in China may be the test of the idea.

I would disagree that pseudonyms call expertise into question, whether on Quora or any run-of the net mailing list. Quora acts against obvious fake names, but if an individual were to establish a name and carve out a reputation for expertise and integrity, that individual would amass considerable credibility, and thus influence, and thus power.

Granted, the percentage of leaders, innovators and creators in the population is small, and the number of silent followers is enormous. Even Quora recognizes this, allowing users to formally follow a topic/question/expert, or to allow Quora to feed them based on demonstrated past interest. Demonstrated expertise, established over time, is the currency with which one establishes power in these networks.

Requiring true names will work against Quora in the long run, because many truly expert individuals are in positions where their ability to communicate publicly is limited. The history of intellectual dissidence runs from pseudonymous Greeks to Bolsheviks to anonymous Deep Throats and Daniel Ellsbergs. Allowing an individual to use a pseudonym to communicate his expertise and establish his credibility is the new paradigm. The real issue should be how to make sure that information and conclusions are properly tested and challenged. Quora is presently weak in this regard, with non-experts joining in crowd-think and spreading of myths to create mistaken consensus and erroneous or incomplete wikis.

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