Tag Archives: names

Marginalisation remains in Google’s ‘more inclusive’ naming policy

In a post on Google+ today, Bradley Horowitz announced that Google+ have revised their handling of names in order to work “toward a more inclusive naming policy”. In itself, this sounds great, but I was right to be hesitant in my celebration.

Previous problems

There were many issues with Google+’s original ‘Real Names’ policy. Put simply, Google tells users they must use their real names on Google+ and, if it is suspected users are not complying with this, they may have their account suspended – unless they happen to be a high-profile celebrity, of course. Disregarding the obvious profitability that comes with accurate user data, we heard the typical arguments about how real names create accountability and make people play nice with one another. (I’m still far from convinced this is the case. Boing Boing has a nice, recent discussion on this debate if you’re interested.)

The Geek Feminism Wiki page, Who is harmed by a “Real Names” Policy?, which I keep linking everyone to, highlights the issues better than I can. Along with the simple technical issues – ‘Um, I don’t have exactly two names so I can’t fill in my real name in your system?’ – comes a long list of people who can not or do not want to use their real name for valid reasons such as safety, avoiding harassment, or not wanting their voice marginalised due to assumptions others make about them from their name.  This is a real issue for a lot of people directly, and for the rest indirectly – we lose their voices in the conversation.

So any improvements on the policy should be positive, right?

The changes

As well as facilitating more languages (this is great!) Google has allowed users to include a desired nickname along with their full, ‘real name’.  To be absolutely clear, there is no indication that users will ever be allowed to hide their real name from others. This is simply a feature that allows users to include additional information.

First and last names are still unable to be hidden on Google+.I admit, this is a step forward, but it certainly is, as Horowitz states, “a small step”. They’re helping people use more complicated real names and they’re helping people be recognised next to their more common pseudonyms. But the people for whom major changes are more urgent are not assisted at all here. Those victims of assault who don’t want do be located by their abusers? Those people who dare to prefer that their social presence is not easily searchable by banks and potential future employers? Citizens who want their words heard for what they say rather than for the gender or colour of the hands that type them? They still need to be comfortable listing their full, legal names or not use the service at all. In short, they’re still not welcome.

Statistics and justifications

And this is where it pains me to read the justifications for this system change. It is claimed that because users submit three times more appeals to state a nickname than to use a pseudonym primarily, this is a reasonable response. However, if people do not want to declare their real names in the first place, then they would not fall under the category of ‘users’. They are not included as part of this statistic that wants to be included. However, if it’s simply referring to users attempting to create a new account (the wording is a little unclear), this isn’t including those who are aware of the real names policy and do not bother signing up as a result, or join using a fake name that the system happens to let through. They go unrecorded.

Of course, there are other issues with the wording as it stands – just because someone doesn’t submit a name appeal (I haven’t!) it doesn’t mean they have no opinion on this issue or would not be negatively affected by Google doing nothing – but the suggestion that allowing pseudonyms is an unimportant feature request because of some careful number gathering appears to be an indication that they’re just going to keep on avoiding this legitimate concern. They’ve “listened closely to community feedback” but decided to only implement those changes that don’t question the original real names policy.

In short, I believe the stated 0.02% of users who submit a name appeal to use a pseudonym is a strong under-representation of the number of users who would actually prefer this option – not to mention those who would simply like it to be available, even if they don’t change their own name to a pseudonym.

Every time I see Google implementing a new feature, I see ever more clearly who they really are.

I read Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta this afternoon while thinking about social media service exclusions. The following verse from V’s sardonic, “This Vicious Cabaret”, struck me as relevant here:

There’s thrills and chills and girls galore, there’s sing-songs and surprises!

There’s something here for everyone, reserve your seat today!

There’s mischiefs and malarkies . . .

but no queers . . . or yids . . . or darkies . . .

within this bastard’s carnival, this vicious cabaret.

So, I admit it may be a stretch to suggest Google is comparable to the fascist, post-apocalyptic governing body in power throughout most of the story, but the point is, if these services do what they (as corporations) intend to and gain a strong user base, while also refusing service to significant demographics and important voices, they begin erode those democratic elements of communication we were promised at the dawn of the Internet.

And this isn’t the world I want to live in.

What’s in a blog name

I’m terrible at naming things.  There’s a lot about the arbitrary nature of names that makes me uncomfortable, and the part of me that does believe they can have positive value can never be satisfied that a name is ‘just right’ for its use.

In short: I’m a perfectionist, and a philosopher.  (A terrible pair of traits to have!)

So when it came to starting a new blog I loved the fact that I could just start writing in WordPress and change its name later on.  I could produce posts and easily move it to a different address once I think of the perfect handle!  I started with my real name because, while boring, it’s just a simple, obvious place to begin.  As long as I don’t care about anonymity it’s a good way to use an existing brand in a new setting.  But I also feel my real name is an inadequate representation for who I am.  Yes, its meaning grew with my actions, but it encompasses the sum total of these actions over my lifetime.  I wanted something else, something that represented who I am right now.  The easiest way to do that is to start from scratch, create a new pseudonym and just start participating.

One of my best qualities is that I am quite good with puns.  While this helps with picking out a cool name, I encountered issues of relevance and originality.  My first new blog from last year was called ‘eTheChange‘ (it’s still alive), a take on the oft-quoted Gandhi phrase, and this wasn’t too bad except that I felt limited in content.  I would happily write about activism and social change using digital media (my research focus in 2010) but anything else just felt out of place.  I then recently began a new blog with the working name ‘dailyontology’.  It sounds like paleontology (I wanted to dedicate my life to this when I was young, like every other kid) and I could use it to post about my own, daily existence (or something).  Still, I wasn’t happy with it – not everyone understands what ontology means, and I didn’t want to suggest that I’d post daily.

Then, reading some Asimov the next week, I thought I could use the pseudonym ‘andrewoid’!  Robotics is cool, and my first name is Andrew . . . but it made me worry that it created associations between me and a particular mobile operating system by Google that I have never actually seen let alone have a well informed opinion on.  And it appears a few others are using the name already on various social media sites.  I know it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have a simple and original name, but I didn’t want to encroach on somebody else’s established brand.

The next day I came up with the best name so far: ‘threadpoet’!  But this didn’t feel relevant to my planned content unless I got back into regular sewing projects.  I’ll happily settle altering it for a sewing group name, however: ‘The Thread Poet Society’!

The final, and current name comes from a conversation I was part of.  A friend was recounting an adventure that led them to a park bench where they were subjected to the not-so-modest actions of very public pigeons.  Being especially quick that day I said, ‘They were exhipigeonists!’

It didn’t immediately seem right for a blog name, but it began to grow on me.  I’m researching networked publics and I’m making an effort to be more open than I have been in the past, so it actually had some relevance.  And besides, doesn’t everybody like birds?  (And didn’t they used to be dinosaurs?!)  The final persuasion came when I did a quick google search for ‘exhipigeonist’ and it came up with zero results!

I think I’m set on it, at least for the time being.  The name’s not as important as what you do with it.  And even if it’s not ‘just right’, my actions will inform a new identity around it, forcing it to cohere.

So the next big question is where to begin.  Luckily, I already have a list of topics!