Friday, January 27, 2012

silver bullets in the jukebox, spin another round

This week's awesome bio award goes to Wrath and Ruin, a level 50 science brute seen in the Rikti War Zone:
Wrath: They KILLED us!
Ruin: No, not us. Her. They killed her...
Wrath: I'll feast on their eyes! The pain! They'll feel my pain!
Ruin: It is not all of them. They are not all bad. We can help them maybe!... Is it not what she wanted?
Wrath: They killed her! But yes, that IS what she wanted. And THAT's why she's 'dead'.
Ruin: But...
Wrath: She's dead, because WE were too weak to help her back then.
Ruin: We are stronger now... We could do...
Wrath: Something, yes. We can fix their perceptions!
Ruin: Umm, that is nice of us... I guess...
Wrath: 'Very'. We'll help them see. And then, ease their pain. They're in so much pain.
Ruin: Or will be...
Wrath and Ruin: Hah, hahaha, AhhhAHHAHAAHAha...
Ruin: Seriously though. I think there may be something...
Wrath: wrong with us, yes. But I don't care. I like it.
Ruin: Yeah... me too...

In other news, artist Matt Rhodes has knocked out a concept for Galactus that I really want to see become the official concept. I'm definitely more highly in favor of his version than the traditional short, stubby, yet somehow still gargantuan pink guy that Lee and Kirby invented. (AND it even explains why that invention exists, without diminishing the power of the new one.)

Friend of mine (who has an established online pseudonym that is not her real name, in her case of over a decade's standing) has been following the main Google+ commentary thread on the "new and improved" pseudonymity policy. After the initial announcement, I hadn't bothered to read any of the comments, for two reasons:

1. I left Google+ because they don't allow me to be Emilly Orr, a name I've established for almost seven years now--which is also the name that nearly everyone in my life, online and off, uses either exclusively to talk with me, or uses interchangeably with my "real name" (and yes, this includes spouses and some family members); and

2. I didn't want to reach that point whereby I either couldn't provide Google with enough substantive "proof" for why I wanted to use that name, and they killed all access to my Google accounts across the board, or somehow tracked down my "real name" and replaced it without my consent, thus giving anyone with (or without) a Google+ account access to my RL information.

So I'm now reading the comments, and...wau. So damn many comments. Here's a cursory few that caught my eye:

First, part of Bradley Horowitz's original announcement:
Since launch we've listened closely to community feedback on our names policy, as well as reviewed our own data regarding signup completion. The vast majority of users sail through our signup process--in fact, only about 0.1% submit name appeals.

When we analyze the set of all name appeals on Google+, we find that they generally fall into three major categories:
- The majority (60%) of these users want to simply add nicknames.
- About 20% of appeals are actually businesses (who are inadvertently trying to set up their business as a Profile, rather than using Google+ Pages which were intended for this purpose.)
- And the remaining 20% would either prefer to use a pseudonym or another unconventional name.

Today we're pleased to be launching features that will address and remedy the majority of these issues. To be clear--our work here isn't done, but I'm really pleased to be shipping a milestone on our journey.

Nicknames and Names in Another Script

Over the next week, we'll be adding support for alternate names--be they nicknames, maiden names, or names in another script--alongside your common name. This name will show up on your Google+ profile and in the hovercards which appear over your name. In the next few weeks, we'll be displaying it more broadly as part of your name in other areas of Google+ as well. So if you're Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jane Doe (Smith), or Saurabh Sharma (सौरभ शर्मा), you can now communicate your identity the way you want to.

To add an alternate name, go to your Google+ profile, click Edit Profile, select your name and click on "More options." (See attached photos)

It's important to remember that when you change your name in Google+, you’re changing it across all services that require a Google Profile.

Other Established Identities

On Google+, we try to flag names which don't represent individuals, such as businesses or abstract ideas which should be +Pages. Sometimes we get this wrong, so starting today we're updating our policies and processes to broaden support for established pseudonyms, from +trench coat to +Madonna.

If we flag the name you intend to use, you can provide us with information to help confirm your established identity. This might include:

- References to an established identity offline in print media, news articles, etc
- Scanned official documentation, such as a driver's license
- Proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following
One wonders how exactly they're interpreting "meaningful following", but that's the least of my complaints with this announcement.

Sai summed up many of my objections in a comment very succinctly stated, near the top:
1. "Another script"? That would be Latin charset, for people whose primary language is in another charset. Why should English get privileged as the universal default for their "primary" form of name?

2. "with a meaningful following" is extremely objectionable to me.
a) it's complete weasel wording
b) it cements having pseudonyms as a privilege of celebrity

Both are unacceptable. Normal people need to have pseudonyms too, as I think has been extremely well established. (cf.

3. If it's on your driver's license, it's not a pseudonym. And if it's not on your driver's license, that doesn't mean it's not your legal name either, in common law countries.

4. It discriminates against people (like me) with unusual names. Why do we have to show identification or fame, but the real pseudonyms ("John Smith" et al) don't?

5. Google+ still can't be your first identity online if you have a nonWASP name...but Facebook can. "Google+: your second social network." Seriously?

I'm sorry, but the only difference I see here is that you're now listing the nickname field on the hovercard and profile. I see no substantive policy change. Fame was already an obvious and hypocritical exception to the policy; now you're just open about it.

And this took half a year?
Exactly. I highly recommend reading through the Geekfeminism link; I only wish the folks at Google pushing this insane policy so aggressively would do the same, and, better still, actually comprehend the logic in it.

Yonatan in response to Sai:
You're asking all of the right questions, so let me give you systematic answers. I'll start with the easy one, and write a separate comment for the big one:"Another script:" No, the Latin charset isn't privileged. Your name has to be in any single script (as per UTR-39); your nickname has to be in a single script; but they do not have to be the same script.
Sai's response back:
I understood they don't have to be in the same script. But the example given ("Saurabh Sharma (सौरभ शर्मा)") pretty explicitly says that the native script is the "other one". That's rather rude IMO.
While I've never had a name in a non-Latin character set, I do understand the point--it presumes that English, and by default Latin characters, are the obvious global default, and that anyone who doesn't use English (and Latin characters) are by this definition...well, you could take that several ways, depending on how you're reading it. At the least Google is trying to tell the rest of the world that their languages are by default "alternate" ones; at worst, the communication says they're less, they're not as important, they don't mean as much. These aren't good things to say.

Gary to Yonatan:
firstly, this is a step in mostly the right direction and I'm glad to see it. I would be interested in a response to Sai's other comment, though. Surely celebrity should not be a prerequisite for choice. In that regard, this policy change seems to continue to willfully miss the point: it is not our responsibility to explain our choice of name to you, but rather your responsibility to explain to us why that choice is something we should not have. So far Google has abjectly failed to do this.
Good comment. Is celebrity the only reason a pseudonym would be allowed? What qualifies as a "meaningful following"? And he's absolutely right, why is Google putting themselves into judging what names are "allowed" (hence, "good") and what names are banned, blocked, or denied (hence, "bad")? They're our names, not theirs. Why do we have to justify our own names?

Yonatan back to Sai:
Saurabh is actually one of the PM's on the team, and he uses Latin script as his default script. :)
Sai's comment in return:
Then that's not a good representative case to use for internationalization, eh?
No. It's really not. In that case, Horowitz is taking a name he's seen around the office and pretending that it shows some amazing international sensitivity, when in fact Saurabh likely only uses non-Latin script when communicating specifically with people who use that script by default. And possibly not even then. So that's really a specious example start to finish; thanks, Google, for continuing to denigrate our intelligence.

And what I'm going to end with (at least for now) is Yonatan's comment back to Sai:
OK, +Sai .: Here's the big answer.

First of all, you might ask why we have a names policy at all. (i.e., why we don't simply go with the JWZ proposal) One thing which we have discovered, while putting some miles on the system, is that it is indeed important to have a name-based service rather than a handle-based service. This isn't a matter of functionality so much as of community: You get a different kind of community when people are known as Mary Smith than when they are known as captaincrunch42, and for a social product in particular we decided that the first kind of community is the one we want to build. In order to do that, we want to establish a general norm that the names you put in to the system should be names, not handles.

So one thing that our name checking flow tries to catch is handles, which should normally be nicknames, shown in addition to a name. The other important thing it's trying to catch is people who are creating individual accounts, rather than +Pages, for non-human entities such as businesses or organizations. The behavior of +Pages is deliberately restricted in the system, and we don't want people to be creating fake human accounts to circumvent that. The name check turns out to be a very powerful tool to catch these.

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.

There are two main cases where the name check screws up. One is false positives: people (such as you) who have unusual names which get flagged because they looked like handles. Being able to appeal via things such as drivers' licenses is useful for this case, since it's a simple "oh, we got this wrong." The other case is people such as +trench coat, who are so well-known under this handle that it would be bizarre not to let them onto the system under this name. For this case, we allow appeals based on being well-known under the name: thus the ability to prove the "established pseudonym." We've deliberately set the threshold for that latter case fairly high for now, but we intend to continue to tune it; the objective is that the frequency of such names should basically be the same as their frequency in meatspace.

So to answer your questions one-by-one:

(2) "Meaningful following" only applies to cases of established pseudonyms which do not look like names. The definition of "meaningful" is deliberately vague so that we can tune it, so that it behaves in a natural fashion.

(3) That's correct; drivers' licenses are for false positives, not pseudonyms.

(4) Unusual names will indeed hit friction, because of false positives. We're trying to minimize that, but it's going to take some trial and error.

(5) Google+ can absolutely be your first identity online. No matter what your language, no matter where you come from. The "established pseudonym" logic should apply to a very small subset of people. If some groups are seeing a higher false positive rate than others, that's a bug, not a feature, and we have the data available to spot this situation and remedy it.

Does this answer your questions better?
Not really. Let's take this point by point:

1. So Google's only interested in surface community--they don't want people with goofy-sounding names to apply, because that would not make a strong social network of honest people, but a bunch of kids who would do bad things simply because they don't have "real names" like adults do. The hell.

2. Even if we somehow manage to convince them that our psuedonyms are real enough for their data checks to pass over, we'll still have to use "real names", it sounds like, because nick-names are only pairing with "real names", because that's the way adults in the real world operate.

3. 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...Except that's not what Google said earlier. Google said earlier that if we were operating under a pseudonym, then Google would kill all Google functionality across the platform. If we lost Google+, we lost Gmail, we lost Picasa for pictures, and people were wondering if this would also block use of Chrome.

In fact, I'm still not entirely sure that's not going to happen in March; that even though I'm not on Google+, they'll "discover" I've been running under a pseudonym all these years and tell me that (even though, to their new and revised definition, "Emilly Orr" looks like a real name) it's not good enough, and kill my Gmail access.

4. If I have a strange-sounding pseudonym (which I don't), and I have sufficient celebrity and name recognition (which I don't), then I get the name by default because it would be "bizarre" not to operate like that. Which is, I suppose, fine for people like "trench coat", Cher and Madonna, but where's the dividing line for those of us not deemed strange enough? Is this the Google version of "go big or go home"?

5. Google doesn't want to tell us how they define "meaningful" because they don't want people to "game the system". Gosh, that sounds familiar...Anyone else flashing to the Lindens' policy on Adult terms in the Marketplace? You know, obviously bad words like "pe", "5" and "*"? (Though rumors are "5" got fixed.)

6. Finally, this bit: [T]he objective is that the frequency of such names should basically be the same as their frequency in meatspace. Right. So in my case, the fact that most of the people I know call me "Em", including the ones that know me by the name on my ID, means I can establish "Emilly Orr" as my official name. Right? Save that Google did everything they could, several months back, to terrify me out of my tiny mind that if I held onto that designation on Google+, I would lose all ability to use my email address--which at this point is tied to several major institutions and would be a pain and a half to replace. I'm not talking Second Life and City of Heroes registry; I'm talking banks, hospitals, and politicians.

You can't have it both ways, Google. Either it's okay for us to have pseudonyms, or it's not. And restricting us to pseudonyms that sound like real names just makes you look like consummate dicks, frankly. To be blunt.


Alexandra Rucker said...

This is my takeaway after reading the zomg thread of doom:

That they're trying to build a community with as low a noise/troll ratio as possible. (We'd ALL love to see that, I think.)

They originally thought that requiring real names would reduce the troll potential, but have learned now that asshats will be asshats, regardless of what name or nick they're using.

(Yes, this IS something that #nymwars has been telling them for they have their hard system data to back it up at this point, whereas they really didn't when they started, because they figured their method would be different than the rest.)

So it comes down to, now they're reassessing that position, and trying to find ways to allow more "nice people" come in, without increasing the amount of trolls/noise, AND while simultaneously reducing the troll/noise level they have NOW.

Due to the size of the network, I *don't* believe this is a trivial thing to do, and I understand that it will take time to implement and PROPERLY tweak to make the bulk happy in the end.

Yonatan Zunger, the G+ chief architect, had these things to say (among others) in that thread alone:

"So, interesting thing: when we first launched G+, we thought that people would be total bastards if they weren't tied to their own, very durable, identity. (Which was one of the drivers behind the original names policy) As we got more miles on the system, this was replaced with the concern that people are total bastards, period. We are therefore putting some nontrivial work into hunting down general antisocial behavior and dealing with that directly, quite independently of names."


"...We thought this was going to be a huge deal: that people would behave very differently when they were and weren't going by their real names. After watching the system for a while, we realized that this was not, in fact, the case. (And in particular, bastards are still bastards under their own names.) We're focusing right now on identifying bad behaviors themselves, rather than on using names as a proxy for behavior...."

((Breaking this up into several comments because of some arbitrary comment size limit *grumps*))

Alexandra Rucker said...

One observation that does tell me Yonatan "gets it", over some of the other googler posts I've seen a few months ago:

"...Generally, if you know at least one person who has an unusual name, you're likely to know a lot of such people; i.e., people with unusual names travel in tightly-connected clusters. That's largely because these names tend to be tied to particular subcultures. The problem we're really encountering here is of culture clashes: people from one culture absolutely freak out when they encounter people from a very alien culture. That's actually a very deep problem which affects a lot more than names, and it's one that I'm spending a lot of skull sweat on lately...."


"One of the underlying principles which was driving this policy was that handles are dangerous to the service. (Which is, I think, a flaw of the service not yet being able to moderate cultural interactions effectively enough) That led to a policy built around "name-shapedness." A second principle, which hasn't really affected the policy yet at all because it only came up here, is that core identities are something which should be protected, and peripheral identities less so. A practical limitation (not a principle) is that it can be hard to tell unusually-shaped names from handles, and as a result we end up with manual reviews, proof of identity or following, and so on. A second practical limitation is that we can't yet moderate interactions well enough, and the cost of the bad interactions to the service as a whole was high, which led to the Draconian solution of simply cutting the smaller of the two groups out of the system – i.e., rejecting names which don't fit a certain mold.

None of this is what I would consider optimal, not by a longshot. I think that if we can solve the cultural interaction problem, we should be able to open the doors wide and not have a names policy at all. But that's conjecture, and based on solving that problem."

Alexandra Rucker said...

After a meeting on Friday the 27th, he also had this to say:

"Name-shaped pseudonyms should Just Work. Pseudonyms which don't look like a name in any culture are going to be the hard case. These do seem to be genuinely rare -- most people who use handles use them in addition to names, and most people who use pseudonyms use ones which look like names. That doesn't mean that they aren't important, just that from a prioritization perspective we wanted to help the most people first. What we need to develop is some way for people to emerge non-name-shaped pseudonyms on the service, but that's a harder problem."

And acknowledged at least some of the work still to be done:

* Still no support for titles (Doctor, Reverend, etc) in names. This is really important in some communities. Fix known, we just have to do it.

* Show the nickname in a wider variety of places. The priority of this depends a lot on how people start actually using nicks.

* Mononyms. :) Right now these all trigger the "handle" check, and that isn't going to scale well in, oh, say, Indonesia. Real fix needed.

But before we do any of this, we want to get this launch right, adjust the thresholds and so on so that legitimate users aren't being kicked, and so that the overall PITA factor for those people who are affected by this goes down. Expect some trial and error, and a lot more of me going around and asking people questions in the near future."

Icterus Dagger said...

Regardless of any "tweaking" that might be done, I'm effectively shut out of G+ because when I set up my GMail accounts (one for RL one for SL), things ended up confused in some fashion or other, and I cannot be certain that if I join G+ through my "RL" address, my "SL" one won't get napalmed by Google. I am certain "Icterus Dagger" will trigger their blunderbuss of a solution to pseudonyms and be wiped, which is not acceptable. This really sucks, as more and more groups of people doing interesting and informative things are using G+, and I can't fully participate now. Way to go GOogle. There' more than one way to be evil, you know.


Emilly Orr said...

I'm still thinking I want to pull these comments into their own entry, but I will say that's maybe the best quote out of the entire thread:

So, interesting thing: when we first launched G+, we thought that people would be total bastards if they weren't tied to their own, very durable, identity. (Which was one of the drivers behind the original names policy) As we got more miles on the system, this was replaced with the concern that people are total bastards, period.

I kind of want that as wall art. :D

Emilly Orr said...


You're not wrong. Even in criticizing them, I'm shaken, because I've made no bones about Em being a character in SL--while there has been (maybe unavoidable) RL overlap, for the most part, this is still a blog whose history goes back to the grid. Even though my name is more conventionally "name-shaped" (and I've actually met a person for whom Emilly Orr is their RL legal name), that doesn't make it any less a pseudonym. (In fact, that's likely a detriment--if each person gets a unique identifier that must at least resemble a real name, what happens if that Emilly gets a Google+ account? And if each person isn't being held to a unique identifier, then how are they telling John Smith from New Jersey from John Smith from Antwerp from John Smith from Poughkeepsie?)

Icterus Dagger said...

It is as I thought. I managed to get both G-Mail addresses linked via my Android tablet (major "D'OH" on my part there). Not sure if there is a way to unlink them. If not, I may have to face migrating to totally NEW e-mail address for both. Something I am otherwise loath to do.


Emilly Orr said...


And see, that's the problem with my email, too: prior to Gmail's arrival, I had, oh, about eight different emails, depending on which 'persona' I was in that setting. I dropped all but one for Em's account, and, for the most part, have codified most of my online life under Em's banner. In a sense, Gmail enforced cohesion--rather than eight (or more) scattered handles, each with their own set of behaviors, I lowered it basically to two, and even with those two, I end up checking Gmail and interacting as Em 98% of the time.

Even more? Em's grown from a simple email handle into an alternate name, with behaviors that model my own, because--shock!--she is me. Unlike many other handles chosen (especially in the early days of the net), what I say as Emilly I'd pretty much say as me, in virtually any circumstance.

So the thought of losing Gmail access? Turns out to be far more frightening to me than anticipated.