The controversial decision by Google+ to create a known 'real-life' names network has become a global debating point, receiving a lot of negative publicity. Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, appears unmovable on the decision, saying: 'Google Plus is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it'.
With other reasons such as people behave better when they use real names, and that Google are offering an identity service, not a social network, reinforce Google's decision on the names policy.
I've been reading about this for a while now and completely understand the criticisms on the policy but is it really as bad as what we think? This post could create some controversy and negative comments but I'm going to play devil's advocate and hopefully highlight a new view on the situation.
Some of the criticisms are that Google want to be able to build a profile of their users, that online marketing or customer service personnel in companies may be targeted if customers are given poor service, and that minority and high risk groups are at increased risk.
Yes, Jillian York of Global Voices Online is right in thinking the minority and high risk groups are a problem. There is a security risk for such groups and indicate that Google+ may not be an inclusive network. The privacy and security debate pops up again. If we fear that we may be at risk by using Google+ because of our sexuality, religion or security then Google+ is not for us. The other reasons do not resonate that well with me. Let me explain.
Given that the other of Google's services that we are registered for become interlinked when we sign up for Google+, Google would be able to track anyway. We all know by now that social media can go bad for brands, poor customer service is a massive reason for this. If a brand is going to operate online they must develop security and safety protocols for their employees, thinking strategically they do not need to be active on all social media platforms either.
Now to tell you what I see. In my PhD research I examine the process in which we evaluate information online, what I term "social content," as I am specifically looking at information retrieved from social media. I explore the cues used to assess the perceived credibility and influence of social content. And guess what, in certain circumstances the anonymity and lack of detail on social content creators renders the content un-influential.
Anonymity can also be a problem, let's take the review site TripAdvisor as an example. TripAdvisor are now officially under investigation by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority because of the lack of safeguards in the review process. Because the use of pseudonyms or fake names is advocated the credibility and source of the review is hard to determine. If you think about this in an active purchase decision context, if we, as consumers, cannot determine the credibility of the source we are likely to discount the information.
Ok, in the TripAdvisor case there are other cues that are used to determine credibility of the source. There is homophily [similar interests, gender, family situation, geographic area of residence], a traceable history [previous reviews], and other user ratings on the content. But what would happen if we named the reviewer and they had a profile?
The social presence would increase, and we could more accurately evaluate their content. Yes, we may still be biased but are we not already? What is given is a clearer reference point. I also know the negatives in what I'm saying here, it's not a perfect science.
So going back to Google+ by knowing who is posting the content and viewing a profile we can more accurately predict on the potential influence of what that person is saying. Again taking it in a purchase decision context, if we look at what is being discussed about brands, we can explore the influence of the content creator.
This has a positive impact on brands understanding their brand equity and provides a reasonable starting point to build a profile on those brand advocates and non-advocates. Further taking the concepts of homophily, history, and user ratings, moreover their other active social media platforms we can build a better profile of the user and the potential influence on the brands operations.
For the end user, the individual who opens the Google+ account there are issues in being named and we must be aware of these. And, yes there are issues. For brands, Google+ can provide a wealth of information on their consumers, potential consumers, and influentials. As a customer we can more accurately evaluate the content provided because we have a clear reference point of the source of the information.