Identity and Social: the importance of me being me.


The second part in a look at the use of identity in social networks.
Part one is Identity and social; who are we?

Google+ is not alone in dealing with identity within the remit of a social network and is certainly not the first to have received criticism for the way identity has been handled.

Twitter and Facebook both utilise forms of identity in order to extend their presence; whether it is using Facebook connect or the option to sign in with Twitter both are seeking to be the presence of choice for their users.

Identity = intent

idThe Twitter ecosystem exploded at an incredible rate and the option to sign in using your account appeared virtually everywhere. The key issue with Twitter, however, is that despite its best protestations it still doesn't seem to know what it wants to be or how it is going to get there.

We may be able to connect to other sites, to log in and comment or personalise our experience but Twitter does not require us to use our real names so we are often dealing with a pseudo-identity which is less trustworthy and, therefore, of limited use outside of the Twitter ecosystem.

Twitter started life as an aside, an offshoot, and grew both organically and haphazardly with no plan and no direction. The user base and developer community largely ruled the roost with the service itself being very accommodating in order to grow. There appeared to be almost a "grow at all costs" mentality which caused criticism that the company was essentially giving away its data for free. This, quite obviously, left Twitter in an awkward position when it then came to trying to take control of what it had become.

Facebook was planned for a specific purpose from day one. It has grown beyond its original remit and features have been added not at the request of the user, or developers, or to play catch-up with the competition but when it suited Facebook to add them; when it made sense and when it fit with the overall direction the company was taking. Think about how Apple has added features to the iPhone and you will see a striking parallel.

Facebook fake name
It was always intended that your account on Facebook would be an identity - the very purpose it was designed for required real names as it would have been pointless without them. The reach of that identity, however, has shifted over time; it is a logical progression.

Fashionably late

Google has the advantage of knowing exactly what it wants Google+ to be, and how far it can reach, from the word go. Google accounts have been tied in to identity before but the search giant now has the advantage of seeing the Facebook model in operation and recognises that a true online identity can be made to work for you in myriad ways. Just as Facebook Connect extends Facebook's reach across the "normal-web" so Google profiles will do the same.

By establishing a real, reliable and trustworthy profile system which can be used across the normal-web (rather than a pseudo-identity a la Twitter) Google can, to a degree, sit back and wait for the data to come to them. Google is, after all, a data company using everything it gathers to find trends and patterns in order to better target us with relevant ads and information.

Google doesn't need our real name in order to make money - it has been doing perfectly well so far - just so long as we are consistently logged in with the same account, be it pseudonymous or otherwise. This only works, however, up to a point. Just as with Twitter, we can be who we like within Google's own ecosystem; we can be tracked and targeted based on our behaviour but once outside in the normal-web we face an issue of trust especially if money is involved.


The likes of Google may not be about to become banks but there is no doubt that your social profile, whether it be Facebook or Google or any other player, could be increasingly used as a primary source of identity verification for a wide range of third-party activities and, for this, the identity needs to be completely trustworthy.

Image by Daniel*1977

  1. Ryan Brymer says: #
    Crap, I can't login to comment using my twitter account! Colin, you're calling up the right stuff here, but I guess I'm missing your personal opinion on it. You seem to be saying that a pseudonym is perfectly acceptable for social engagement. I have to balk at that. For me, one of the defining factors of Web 2.0 is authenticity and relatability. I can see a real face and know a real name. This is what separates us from the dark ages of A.D. 1999. I'm no longer interacting with catlady1964 or warhamm3rm0nst3r. I can have a real relationship with a real person cities, states, even continents away. I continue to battle those in work and in life who refuse to do business over the internet. They won't buy this, they won't send that, they won't pay bills online. This is fear, propagated by a decade of pseudonymed internet usage and a dozen crappy movies like "The Net". Those who lead out in thought and design must demand at least the most basic levels of transparency from users. If you want to maintain your anonymity - don't log in. If you want to have a fun/gag account (I love "DrunkHulk" for instance) go for it. But beyond that, there must needs be identity integrity or else the whole system will eventually be mentioned in the same breath as AOL Chat Rooms (ah, the memories). sorry for the rant. Always enjoy your thoughts.
  2. Colin says: #
    Rant away Ryan, always good to read your comments. My personal opinion here is that your real name is necessary as it is the only way using a social profile as an identity provider is going to succeed - a pseudonymous identity will not get past the trust barrier. Just as you, I like to know who I'm talking to and have deliberately avoided circling people on G+ because of this. Regardless of how much we want this to be the way ahead we will not escape pseudonyms and avatars but I firmly believe there is a place for everything. If Facebook and G+ require real names then that's what we should abide by, if you want to use pseudonyms then go somewhere else such as Twitter which is, as I've said before, a more throw-away network; essentially a collection of unrelated snippets broadcast to the world - turn on, tune in, drop out!
  3. Ryan Brymer says: #
    It seems as though a lot of these topics have bubbled back up to the surface with the launch of G+. It has me asking the question: "is there a place for new social networking sites?" In a way, Facebook has really cornered the market on this - worldwide. There will always be a Burger King to every McDonald's, but what we see growing more in retail and food is the niche. Could the same be true of Social Media? If my goal were to corner the market on cheap, quick hamburgers, no bank in their right mind would give me money. It seems foolish to go in and try to compete in the worldwide social media market... even if your name is Google. What I want to explore is the relevance and adopt-ability of localized, specified, social networking tools. I know of a number of these in the music world. Bandcamp comes to mind. I wonder, though, about outlets for visual artists, authors, and the like. If someone can do this and do it right, I think that it could be a dynamic, game-changing force. (Look how many bands have foregone an actual website and just point their own url to MySpace.) A little off-topic, maybe, but I'd love to hear your thoughts?
  4. Ryan Brymer says: #
    with two kids now, I rarely find the time to write my own posts. I'll be satisfied with inspiring someone else to write something.

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