September 8th, 2011


Google+ meetup at SV_GTUG, and conversations with three Googlers

As many of you may know, I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I go to a number of local tech events. I'm also autonymous (possessing a self-chosen name) on the internet, so the #nymwars are of deep interest to me. I know Skud. Rowan Thunder, who I know better as [personal profile] rising through Dreamwidth, stayed with me for a week and a half. After watching the beginning of the #nymwars, I became nonplussed at the end of July.

I didn't feel quite right about joining the Google+ meetup that was announced, but when the Silicon Valley Google Technology Users Group meetup announced that it was having one of its regular meetings (which I often attend) devoted to the topic, I jumped on it. (Six minutes after the email went out, I'd snagged the 244th of 250 spots.) I did want a chance to get to hear what the product evangelist would say, and maybe get a chance to ask some questions.

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From the way the power of the +1 and the way the implementation of the +1 button could be done across the web, complete with the mockup of the "more like this" pictures for Flickr, I got the distinct impression that the valuable data that Google is wanting to collect is the +1s, and having those +1s attached to a single, persistent, and knowable entity.

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I had three very interesting, very different, conversations with three different Googlers, two of whom I am going to decline to name, in part because I didn't get the one guy's name, and in part because it was that sort of conversation with the other guy.

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The second Googler I conversed with was a dev, and was very fascinated by my use case, although he was limited in what he could say about the future plans of the service without a boatload of lawyers present. ("Nonplussed" was not new to him; there are a bunch more really punishingly bad plays on words that the devs use a lot.) He's been following the whole debate over identity, and views identity as a sort of continuum between, say, the IRS on the one end (ID name, seriously persistent, lawful) and 4chan on the other (no name, no persistence, epically unruly), and said that Google+ was not aiming for either of those extremes. Which was interesting, especially in light of the speculation that Google's true goal is to connect the wallet names with the click data.

I mentioned that part of the matter was something that she (the user who'd mentioned "my husband, my boyfriend" was nearby) had inadvertently brought up -- there are aspects of my public online identity where I do not want to have that conversation with my co-workers: it's not relevant to them, and it's none of their business. I'm queer, I do some activist work, and there are other things that are just not the sort of things that one talks about with co-workers. (I used "activist" as shorthand for the whole complex package for much of the conversation.) He started to say that I could use circles to manage that. I pointed out the problem: I have over 10 years of very public internet history under this, my real name (which is how I referred to it throughout the conversation). I told the story of how I'd walked in to [personal profile] rising's hangout, and waved at the participants, and Rowan had introduced me by my birth name diminutive, and the hangout people had said hi [illustrated by a small wave]; when I'd introduced myself as Azz, the reaction was OMG HI AZZ [big, full-arm wave]. That's my real name. Yet I have ID in my birth name, and work under my birth name; I was trained that a good principle for internet presence is to never say anything about your workplace under the name you use at work that you wouldn't want your boss talking to you about the following week. There are people I went to school with who know me under that before my real name existed. I might have been able to use circles if I'd started out that way, but I didn't, and I no longer have crossing the streams as a viable option.

We talked a bit about the common names policy, and he revealed that there was a bit of a grey area in there, and it was in there deliberately; I concluded from his tone that this was so the legit people who fell into the grey area could get a pass, and the people who were trying to pull shenanigans could get thumped. He did mention, explicitly, the example of Lady Gaga, who everyone knows by her stage name; they wouldn't try to force Lady Gaga to use ID name. (Left not brought up: Lady Gaga is an autonym that fits into the two-name format, vs. Skud, who is a mononym-autonym.) He agreed with me that due to my not being commonly known by a single name, that the common names policy did not really fit my case, and that since I am still known by my work name... There was much gesturing and "grey area" came up quite a bit. So I was very right to have come to the conclusion that I did when I deleted my G+ account.

He suggested that perhaps I should try signing up for Google+ under my internet name anyway, if it was possible that the name validation wouldn't catch me. I produced one of my printer-paper business cards and flourished it at him. He took one look at the name printed boldly across the top, Azure Lunatic, and that was the end of that suggestion. "That's really not a name I could get a job under," I pointed out. He saw my point (and asked if he could keep my card). And there's really no need for the whole internet to know where I work. I've been relatively lucky, as I'm obscure enough to have not attracted many griefers, but I've been in the circles of people with the sorts of griefers who are happy to fling poo at anyone remotely attached to that person, and those are not the sorts of people who need to be able to follow me home or to my workplace.

Again, he saw my point, but was really concerned about the way this would open up to people having multiple profiles: they really want to have all the +1s generated by a single person connected to a single profile. I pointed out that if it came down to it, my work name's internet presence's deepest thoughts are that gee, she makes coffee an awful lot, but maybe she makes it a little less than she thought she did. [Laughter from the peanut gallery, to whom I was not properly introduced, but who I did have a conversation about Sharpie-hacking with.] So I could totally do without having a G+ profile under my work name; the important stuff I do, the activist and my 10 years of public data stuff, is under my real name. I pointed out that I've linked the email addresses, so it would be pretty easy to tell from their side that there was a connection, and I would be A-OK with having to choose which email to allow to have a profile.

It was a really delightful conversation, and was in itself worth having gone. He was one of those people who puts more weight to use cases upon having met face-to-face people who are affected by various policies, so I was very glad that I was there to represent for us autonymous folk.

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