Google+ as ‘Identity Service’: Embracing Public Nature of Internet


ADOTAS – Nailed it! Over the weekend during the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Andy Carvin of NPR asked former Google CEO and current Chairman Eric Schmidt about the Google Profile (and thus Google+) requirement for real names. He responded that Google+ was built as an online identity management service, which is something I’ve suggested since Google began culling virtual identities from the Profile ranks.

Carvin continues: “Regarding people who are concerned about their safety, he said G+ is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it. It’s obvious for people at risk if they use their real names, they shouldn’t use G+.”

Again, what I’ve been saying for a while — it’s not a service for everyone. Need to make a point through an alias to protect your safety or some other privacy-related reason (e.g., corporate whistleblowing)? Well, there’s Twitter, Facebook (Sorta — you have to submit your real name to the company, but it’s up to them to figure out if it’s your actual name. A friend of mine kept a Rusty Shackleford account up for a long time.), Tumblr, even MySpace.

My issue is with the “outrage” over this policy — people acting like they’re excluded because of a personal choice. Instead, they should simply label Google+ as “limited in its functionality.” Don’t use it, just like you didn’t use Buzz or other Google social entries. It’s Google’s loss that you’re not on board.

The real-name requirement is a drawback for some people, while others have actually been seeking a tool to manage their real-world identities online. The Internet is not private — it’s really as public as you can get, so a service to manage your appearance, especially through the main portal to the web (arguably, still Google) is invaluable.

Not to say there are no problems with the Google real-name requirement — pseudonyms, in which a person’s created name is better associated with their whole (online and offline identity) have already necessitated exceptions. I’ve even questioned whether it’s worth Google’s time to facilitate an identity service due to all the nuance involved. I mean, Samuel Clemens would be better served by a Mark Twain Google Profile.

Awash in Publicness

What fascinated me most when I first watched the David Bowie concert film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” was the Thin White Duke’s offstage behavior. Candid clips of Bowie (née Jones) showed a quiet young man who seemed a bit nervous as a makeup artist finished his transformation into Ziggy. From what I’ve read (and what my father told me — he ran into Bowie in a Singapore hotel), real-world Bowie is quite the opposite of the stage-ripping performer.

From the earliest days of the Internet, the cloak of anonymity was the fashion du jour. Because of this, many users began molding dual identities — online and offline, actual and virtual, eponymous and anonymous. Ziggy vs. Bowie.

But especially with the evolution of social networks and media, these dual identities are dissolving. The Internet population is increasingly embracing the web’s public nature and the benefits therein. That’s the theme of media commentator and Buzz Machine operator Jeff Jarvis’ upcoming book, “Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live,” which will arrive in bookstores come Sept. 27.

As he explains, new technologies always amplify privacy concerns, but the publicness of the Internet has offered great opportunities to those willing to share. Targeted advertising works into this too — there is a growing segment that’s OK with advertisers using their browsing trails because in return they get more relevant advertising. (Though as I’ve argued before, it seems unfair that the current status quo doesn’t let users control and therefore monetize their data by deciding who gets it — i.e., an opt-in privacy system).

Google+’s real-name requirement is a bold symbol of this movement to embrace the public nature of the Internet. Not everyone will join — not everyone has joined Facebook either — but those who do are looking for a tool for managing their public identity online.

And those that need or want anonymity still have other social resources.



  1. The “Ah ha” moment of Google+ is clear. Like my yoga teacher always told me, if it hurts when you do that, don’t. If you want privacy, skip Google+.


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