Google Plus started out so well! It was pleasant, easy, and there was a lovely gratification in adding people to circles and being added in return. It felt like finally, perhaps somebody at Google had figured out how to be social! People were sharing, and communicating, and suddenly it seemed like maybe there might be an alternative to Facebook that had a chance.
And then…. Google started enforcing their real names policy. Obsessively. The fly in the ointment? While Google can state that they require real names, they have no definitive way to determine which names are real. The result is an offensively discriminatory process of identifying names that don’t appear to conform and requiring proof of identity only from those people.
My question to Google: what exactly are you trying to accomplish? Because I thought you were trying to create a welcoming place where insights and observations were shared with fellow end users who have formed a relationship with each other. A place where users invite each other to talk and manage relationships themselves.
Instead, the real names policy is a gating factor, at a time when the service is just struggling to gain critical mass. You have real people with odd names being banned from using plus and required to prove their identity. You have people with excellent internet reputations banned because they publish under a nickname. The result is a ridiculously easy-to-game entrance requirement that punishes those who genuinely want to express their individuality, while offering a loophole the size of a planet for anyone else to slide through.
And for what? In the identity industry we often talk about trading value for value. In theory, users are willing to take extra steps in order to get extra value. Is Google Plus about high assurance transactions for which the friction, pain and invasiveness associated with identity vetting is a worthwhile trade? No. Completely outside of any question of whether a real names policy is right or wrong, enforcement of this policy is bad for business, if the business is supposed to be that of creating a popular and well-used platform that keeps users inside their Google bubble all the time.
The people I want in my social circles prove themselves over time. They say smart things and engage in positive ways. Requiring government identification before engaging in casual conversation would be considered horribly antisocial in real life – why does Google think it’s ok in the social networking world? They are choking the life and personality out of their own service, before it has even had the chance to flourish.
Is it worth trying to communicate the facepalm that is Google Plus’s real names enforcement to Google in some quantifiable sense? Perhaps the numbers-oriented folks at Google might look at a huge number of accounts that have been banned from the plus service and say “hey, maybe that’s bad”? If so it might be worth adding that nickname in parentheses to your profile. If Google is going to force identity vetting, they should be prepared to do it for all 20 million accounts. And they should be prepared to monitor, and maintain, and police, and arbitrate. And what will be the result? An accountable digital space. Sounds like a blast, right? Party at Google Plus, bring your flights of fancy along for the ride…