Pseudonyms: paving the way to better Google+ integration.
The integration of the Google+ "social layer" with other services has been slow but the recent policy changes could indicate we are in for some significant changes.
You might also like to read the follow-up post Building Google's beautiful new world.
When Google+ launched its real names policy caused a stir but, as Google is vying to become an identity service, this was not unexpected. The key to identity is trust and Google would not have wanted to be involved with users creating "throwaway accounts" and hiding behind the anonymity they afford.
Social on its own does not make money which is why the likes of Facebook and Twitter are focusing ever more closely on advertising but, for advertising to work effectively, a service needs to be able to correctly match ads to people based on our interests and connections. As I have said, relationships are the real social currency and our these can be best established and tracked using some form of consistent identity.
The social layer
Google+ is unique amongst social networks in that it is just a component of a larger organisation rather than being the company itself; Google is keen to establish social relevance then use this to bolster its other services hence the creation of the social layer that will sit across all applications within the Google ecosystem.
In October it was announced that the company planned to support pseudonyms once the complexities of managing the three levels of authentication supported throughout Google products (anonymous, pseudonymous & identified) could be overcome.
The varying levels of authentication across the stable of services offered by the company poses a challenge which has meant full integration could not occur immediately but Google appear to be on the road to overcoming these issues following the announcement by Bradley Horowitz in a Plus post that nicknames and pseudonyms (in certain circumstances) will be supported.
As is so often the case, the news has been welcomed by some but derided as too little, too late with comments such as "6 months for this" being thrown as various Googlers seeking to explain the decision. Horowitz admits this is a first step on the road to a more inclusive identity policy so we may see further movement in this area in future.
Who are you?
The distinction between a nickname and pseudonym is clear: a nickname is something you might be called but sits alongside your real name whereas a pseudonym replaces your public identity. Google will allow those with established pseudonyms (who have a following elsewhere under that name) to use them on Plus but will not allow the ad hoc creation of alternate identities - makes sense.
Still, for some, the new names policy doesn't go far enough as they argue other people need the protection that a pseudonym affords for personal or political reasons - perhaps their life may be endangered if using their real name. Interestingly, Google employee Yonatan Zunger replied in the comments on Bradley's announcement:
Our name check is therefore looking, not for things that don’t look like “your” name, but for things which don’t look like names, period. In fact, we do not give a damn whether the name posted is “your” name or not: we will not challenge you on this basis, nor is there any mechanism for other users to cause you to be challenged for this.
So, it would seem there is nothing to stop someone creating an account in a completely different name (thus remaining anonymous) as long as it looks like a genuine name. If that is then the identity used across Google services (even if false) then so be it - Google just wants it to be consistent.
Missing the point
Make no mistake, these policy changes are not isolated events but part of the larger plan to facilitate the social layer.
A prime candidate for deeper integration with Google+ is Blogger (see my earlier post). Until now the Plus effect has been minimal despite being able to link your Blogger account to your G+ profile. Authors have been automatically prompted to share posts to their Circles and now +1 data has been built in to the dashboard but this is a far cry from what could be achieved.
Many blog pseudonymously so, until now, could not link Blogger to Plus for fear of being exposed due to the real names requirements of the latter. I would expect this to be a perfect scenario where Google would permit the use of a pseudonym within their social network thus allowing the author to share their content and converse with a much wider audience whilst retaining the virtual anonymity they desire.
A matter of time
With the pieces now in place I feel it is just a matter of time before we start seeing much deeper integration between G+ and other Google applications with a better flow of content and comments in both directions. A single identity with the ability to interaction from anywhere is, in my opinion, the holy grail of a true social layer and will really differentiate Google+ from other social networks.
Images by myself and psd