Google VP Explains the Google+ “Real Name” Policy

Vic Gundotra, Google’s VP of Social, discussed the company’s decision on enforcing real names for users. While Google accepts pseudonyms, it’s pushing for the use of actual names rather than complex or offensive “fake” names.

Google’s Policy on Real Names

fake-name-mclovinI previously discussed Google’s banning of various users with abnormal or celebrity names, and the mixed consequences; Google banned several actual celebrities and numerous users who had abnormal names (Avril Korman also looked at the controversy around pseudonyms on Google+). That’s why Robert Scoble, a tech blogger who discussed the matter with Gundotra, concluded that Google wasn’t “fair or smart in how they spun up these new rules.”

But a lot more than this conclusion came out of Scoble’s discussion with Gundotra. Gundotra took the time to explain why Google has chosen to create and subsequently enforce the policy on “real names.” When Gundotra (and presumably Google) uses the term “real names,” they aren’t referring to legal names. Gundotra himself states that he isn’t using his legal name on Google+. The desire is simply to have “common names” – recognizable names used in everyday life – for its users.

Why? It’s a lot about atmosphere. As posted by Scoble, Gundotra “says that he is trying to make sure a positive tone gets set here. Like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.” The risk is users who create a disruptive, offensive, or confusing experience by using things “like using upside-down characters” or “obviously fake names, like ‘god’ or worse.”

I can certainly understand this desire. In browsing through Google+, I’ve found several fake celebrities, including more than one pretend Barack Obama. Facebook is absolutely littered with fake public figures just like these. Google is trying to cut off this problem before it starts, and is apparently willing to risk some basic offense to users and even celebrities to make it happen.

Gundotra isn’t necessarily standing behind Google’s exact process in banning users over the last couple weeks. According to Scoble, Gundotra “says the team will change how they communicate with people,” including possibly adding an appeal process. Further, over the long term, Google will be allowing users to add pseudonyms to their profiles.

Improvements Coming in a “Matter of Weeks”

Bradley Horowitz, VP of Google+, posted a followup on the identity controversy last night, promising a “number of improvements” are coming within a “matter of weeks,” on how Google communicates with users who aren’t complying with Google’s policies.

These include:

  • A warning system: Google will warn users and give them a chance to correct their name before a suspension, including clear directions on how to edit their name and how long they have before a suspension.
  • An improved signup process.
  • Encouraging users to make better use of ‘Other names’: Horowitz suggested that nicknames, maiden names, etc., should be added to the “Other names” section of your Google+ profile and that users should make more use of the “Employment,” “Occupation,” and “Education” fields, combined with the proper privacy settings, so other users can find you.

Why this will take “weeks” to implement is anyone’s guess. Time will tell whether the decision to release Google+ in this unrefined state, and Google’s slow response to such a crucial social aspect as identity, will derail the fast growth of Google+.

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