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google+, four weeks in

The basic structure of Google+ continues to be enticing and marginally useful. I say “marginally” because, despite an impressive growth in the number of G+ users during this “field trial,” most people I know are either not participating yet in Google+, or are still posting the vast majority of their online output on Facebook or Twitter. I haven’t changed my mind about the pleasures of using Google+, nor have I changed my opinion that what a service like this needs is more users.

Meanwhile, though, Google has its own ideas about which users they want. Specially, Google is not happy with the use of pseudonyms, and have closed the accounts of people they find who aren’t using their real names. Two examples:

Dr. Kiki is an established online presence, a neurophysiologist who has moved from academia to science journalism. She makes no effort to hide her real name (Kirsten Sanford), but it is as Dr. Kiki that most of us know her and her work. She has a weekly netcast on TWiT, “Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour” (TWiT is not only one of the most popular producers of tech-related netcasts, but has spent a lot of time the last month talking about Google+, largely on “This Week in Google,” with that talk being objective but very positive). Yesterday, Dr. Kiki made a guest appearance on TWiG, explaining that Google had cut off her G+ account. The story was a bit complicated … I wasn’t sure if she was canned for simply using a pseudonym, or for having “Dr.” in her name (apparently that isn’t allowed, either). The point is that someone clearly not trying to scam anyone, someone with a following, someone who appears on a popular online network, was booted from Google+ because her real name isn’t Dr. Kiki.

A friend of mine has had a pseudonymous presence online for as long as I have known her, and that’s a long time. She does a good enough job of keeping her “real” life and her pseudonymous life separate … I don’t think I realized they were the same person for quite awhile. She has good reasons for using a pseudonym … as I recall, these reasons have changed over time, and at this point, many of her online companions know her by her pseudonym. She climbed on the Google+ bandwagon, and I looked forward to seeing her there. But she didn’t last long, deciding to preemptively remove herself from G+ before her pseudonym led Google to eject her. I have more than 300 people in my G+ circles, but only a couple of dozen of them are actual friends (most are semi-famous techies of interest). Now I have one less G+ friend.

There are reasons for requiring real names in online environments. Pseudonymous comments sections often devolve into useless bastions of vicious screeds (I’ve given up reading comments on SF Gate, for example). But there are important reasons for maintaining a pseudonym, as well, and thus far Google does not seem willing to treat users on their individual behaviors rather than on the name they choose to use.

On a different note, here’s a good, short article on being a newcomer to Google+. It’s written by someone with extensive online experience; she’s not a newbie to the tech world. And she likes what she’s seen so far on G+. But she also finds it is still a bit intimidating: “Stumbling through Google+ with two left feet.” (It is perhaps noteworthy in the above context to note that the author is Amber MacArthur, a respected, veteran Canadian reporter and online personality who goes by the pseudonym “Amber Mac.” That is the name she uses in the above-mentioned article, which appears in The Globe and Mail, and is the name she uses on Google+.)