Serious question: If I added my last name to my first name to this post, would it somehow change how you view what I write?
My speculative answer: No, it would make no difference. In fact, it might confuse some of you, especially if I used one of my two commonly-used last names, maiden and married. In fact, you might even suspect that the writer of whatever I wrote under one of those two last names was someone different than me, because I might temper how I phrase things so as not to aggravate people who know me in a different context under one of those two names. I might also temper what I said under my married name because I have no desire to taint family members with my diametrically opposite beliefs. Should they own what I think? No. Will they? You betcha.
You read what I write because I write/tweet in a voice that you recognize and either trust, or enjoy trying to debunk. Right? You know me by this name because I have used it for every identity I maintain on the web but one. Right? And the only identity I do not have the privilege of using my known ID as YOU all know me is on Facebook, which tempers what I will and will not say and share there, since Facebook insists on mashing up my identities with every era of my life, from cradle to grave.
Here’s some advice to developers who make sites like Quora, the Newest Shiny Thing That Scoble Loves. When you are developing a reputation-based service it’s pretty ballsy of you to deny me the right to use an identity which enjoys a strong reputation, an identity which I use daily for as my standard web identity, a name which I have used to build my own reputation and credentials online. It’s especially ballsy of you to do it after asking me to sign up with Twitter.
Want to know why I chose Twitter to sign up for their service? Because Twitter is the ping server for my identity. If you doubt who I am or whether I have legitimate credentials, I invite you to review my Twitter stream. Asking me to sign up by linking my Twitter account and then blocking me from participation because I choose not to use my real last name or one of my two real last names is simply foolish. It is especially foolish when the backbone of your service is reputation.
Here is what Quora says about people in their FAQ:
Everything on Quora is tied back to a person. Each question and answer has a revision history associated with it, and each change in the log is associated with the person who made it. People use their real names and pictures on Quora and have a short bio describing who they are; this helps anyone reading things they write to understand why they should believe what is written and take into account the author’s perspective. For example, if Michael Jordan gives an answer to a question about basketball, that means something really different from someone who has never played the game giving an answer.
Which of course, limits Prince from posting about his music directly, since no one would know who the heck Prince Rogers Nelson is. If anything, posting answers to questions with his full name would make them less reputable, simply because he is not known by his full name. Forcing me to use one of two commonly-used last names limits me from enjoying my carefully-built online reputation, because it would simply confuse people who know me by my first name to sort out who that person is with my first and oddly new last name. It also forces me to limit what I will speak of in public because my family members –spouse, children, in-laws, parents, cousins — should not be forced into an association with my political views or my expression of them.
None of this is new. None of it. Steve Gillmor was writing about trust, reputation and affinity management years ago. In fact, I have participated in his efforts to quantify this by sharing information with my identity stripped out in an effort to account for the weight of affinity clusters.
Why on earth would someone start up a reputation-based service without studying these arguments carefully before setting a community standard which robs users of the right to use their identities online when they choose to use a pseudonym or something less than their first and last names?
I don’t mean to pick on Quora. I’m sure they will build a very nice community with a sterile set of curated answers to some good and other not-so-relevant questions. But they will not be able to claim those curated answers as the very best ones, mostly because they are excluding an entire set of people who will choose not to use first/last names on a public venue with no way to control their privacy or leverage their online reputation.
What I do want to pick on, however, is this notion that having a first and last name is somehow trustworthy. Liz Gannes argues today that maintaining multiple identities online is and will continue to be a large part of how users define themselves, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
As an early adopter of various social apps, I’ve recently been confronted with the choice of whether to post a picture taken with my Apple iPhone on-the-go to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Path or Picplz.
Each of them has different audiences, different associations with my personal or professional identities, and different expectations for how people will view and interact with my snapshot. (And I suppose there’s also the option of keeping the pictures to myself on my phone storage.)
Perhaps that’s why I see an increasing–but still quite small–portion of my Facebook friends using pseudonyms on the service. And when I asked them why, I heard a variety of reasons.
One is a teacher, another prefers to go by the moniker he uses artistically. Yet another is a college student who is applying for jobs and who wants to be more anonymous for a while. Like many of today’s young people, she has become highly conscious of balancing the freedom to be herself online with the way she is perceived by professional contacts.
Pseudonyms do not suggest a lack of integrity. If that were so, the Federalist Papers would be filed in the Library of Congress as fiction instead of the incredibly important debate over how power in a democracy is distributed. Deep Throat would have been dismissed as a troll and Watergate passed over like a blip on the horizon. Deep Throat is one of those truly compelling arguments for the strength of reputation over name, since the general reaction was “who is Mark Felt”? Indeed, it was the integrity of the information Felt imparted under the mask of anonymity that exposed Watergate, not his name or even his association with the FBI.
Identity and reputation are tied to the person behind the name. There are valid reasons for masking those ties in public. From safety to professional reasons, keeping one’s identity in a box which might be different from the name on a birth certificate is not a reason to exclude them from the conversation. Indeed, it may be a reason to include them.
So I’m back to trying to find a way to curate and organize information to share with you all. For now it’s still scattershot and mostly found on Twitter. I am planning some changes to the format of this blog which will also help, and also give me a way to archive and keep what I find and curate under my own control. That’s coming soon.
Update: My pseudonymous friend Shoq Value characterizes the fetish for first/last names and exclusion of those who refuse as social arrogance. Elitism might be another way to say it. Whatever you call it, names are empty without a reputation behind them.
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