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How Google+ and Twitter Whack Facebook in the Nym Wars (Or The Case for Established Pseudonyms)

Finally! In a stunning reversal, Google listens to the internet crowd and allows the use of established pseudonym in its Google plus real-name policy. By doing so, Google follows the footstep of Twitter – who is a long time supporter of pseudonym.

Of course, allowing the use of established pseudonym also means Google and Twitter are whacking Facebook in the nym wars. Unlike Google, Facebook stubbornly cling onto its draconian real name policy. Such tyrant attitude can make Facebook the loser in the nym wars.

The Nym Wars

Nym wars (#nymwars) involve not only the major web 2.0 players, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and Google, but also people who needs to manage online engagement platforms (i.e. discussion forums, blogs, webinars, Twitter townhall, etc).

At the heart of the nym wars, is the dilemma on whether people should be allowed to be anonymous or to use pseudonym/moniker (fake name), or should be forced to use their real name.

On one hand, you want to promote freedom of speech/expression or even to promote a free flow of ideas. On the other hand, you want to promote accountability so that people can give a more thoughtful and constructive feedback - instead of any feedback.

Of course, the million-dollar question here is: whose side you're on? I used to be a staunch supporter of real-name camp. But not anymore. I'm leaning on the dark side, i.e. anonymous/pseudonym. Though I support a variant of the dark side, which is called persistent (established) pseudonym - not the real dark side, i.e. a complete anonymity.

Here is why.

The Issues With Using Real Name

The champions of the use of real name are China (the usual suspect) and Facebook (shocking?). Enforcing its real name policy, Facebook disabled Salman Rushdie's account. Thankfully, Rushdie fought back and won. Others like Wael Ghonim (the face behind Egypt's Arab Spring), and a chinese dissident Zhao Jing (a.k.a. Michael Anti) are not so lucky - their Facebook account is disabled.

I like the idea of using real names. Partly because, by using real names, people are held accountable for whatever they say. So there are fewer disparaging, irrelevant comments.

However, people may be afraid to speak their mind or opt to sugar-coat every words that they say. In other words, ideas can get stiffled.

The problem with real names doesn't stop here. Another problem is the complicated nature of our identities. This best illustrated using Lady Gaga example. Lady Gaga is a stage name - not a real name. But the woman prefers to called as lady gaga. The whole world knows her as lady gaga. Could we then insist: "kindly use your real name"?

The Trouble With Being Anonymous / Using Pseudonym

The anonymous / pseudonym camp is championed by civil rights groups like EFF. They argued that anonymity is required to allow people to freely share their ideas without fear of being reprimanded.

I don't completely buy this argument. I don't agree with it because total anonymity also means anarchy. People can give disparaging comment, irrelevant comment, or personal attacks, without any implication. It's like getting away with murder.

In fact, I believe anonymity encourages spams and trolls more than constructive feedbacks. Look at what happened to REACH portal (Singapore government feedback portal). It is full of rubbish, angry comments! (here is an example).

How Persistent / Established Pseudonym Wins the Nym Wars

Liz Gannes in her All Things Digital article argued brilliantly that the gist of the nym wars is about having unified online identity - which would allow Facebook or Google to analyse our web footprints more accurately across multiple platforms. But Gannes' article doesn't fully explain how unified online identity is the key to win the nym wars.

Well, thank God Mathew Ingram plug the gaps in Gannes' article. In his GigaOm article, Ingram explained that unified online identity, or established pseudonym, allows people to protect their privacy and build reputation at the same time. And when reputation is attached to a pseudonym, people can establish an online identity (distinct from their real name), attract like-minded folks, and build communities around common interests.

This is the reason why Google+'s revised real name policy is a wonderful policy. It is now flexible enough to accommodate established pseudonym. Furthermore, to gain access to myriad of Google tools, you need to have a unified Google identity. So Google is subtlely promoting the use of established pseudonym (yes it is a sneaky but superb move).

Another policy that I like is that of Twitter. Twitter has no real name policy - but acknowledges people for using their real name. And like Mathew Ingram pointed out, Twitter doesn't need such policy. Pseudonym in Twitter is heavily attached to reputation. To gain reputation/credibility in Twitter, people need to stick with their chosen pseudonym.

I believe established pseudonym is going to be the new norm. And whoever allows the use of it will win the heart and soul of the digital natives.

Randi Zuckenberg, are you listening?

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