Azure Jane Lunatic (azurelunatic) wrote,
Azure Jane Lunatic

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.

I still haven't gotten around to ordering realio trulio business cards (in both work name and real name flavors), so I found an online business card generator and printed up a single sheet of printer-paper cards, complete with the date and event on them since it was a single sheet of printer paper. I cut them apart once there, since I often do need something to occupy my hands while my mind's busy.

Livestream video from the session; presentation starts at 40 minutes in. (I may update the video link when a better, and especially more subtitled, version is available.) Slides from the presentation.

There were perhaps more Googlers than usual at the meetup. There was a whole team who came in as the networking hour was wrapping up, in addition to the GTUG liason and the presenter. At one point the presenter asked all the Googlers in the room to identify themselves, and an impressive selection of people stood up, waved their hands, and in one case jumped up in the air and then did cartwheels. Nearly everyone in the room had a Google+ account. I felt a little out of place, and the presentation about the features reminded me how very much I'd enjoyed the platform when I had an account. The "Putting you first" part of the presentation (48 minutes in) stung, because the only thing barring me from full and enthusiastic participation in the platform is the way my identity is a square peg that doesn't fit in their circles.

The talk was an overview of the service, and did not touch on the #nymwars at all. It did mention how authors (content creators) could link from their stuff on the internet to their Google profile, to usefully claim their stuff, so who made this would start showing up more reliably in Google's searches. (Examples included Britney Spears.)

I assume that everybody reading me is likely to have heard, at least in passing, of the "filter bubble" concept? Personalizing searches based on +1 behavior does mean that if you +1 certain things, then you're going to get more of the same out of your searches, and when websites are +1 aware, they will be able to show you things that they think you're interested in. Which is very cool if you're just looking for things that interest you, but reasonably alarming if you're looking for a less-filtered view of the world. (Related: the thing where we can surround ourselves with like-minded people, and create for ourselves a universe where there's a lot of consensus on what sorts of things are important and right.)

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.

I always come away from SV_GTUG meetings with little snippets of information that I get to attempt to put to use in real life (in my case, generally with Dreamwidth). I need to poke and make sure that we're using rel=canonical as needed, ask questions about the author thing, and look into and see what parts of the tools there are relevant and how they could be integrated into the site.

There was a question and answer session; the presenter made it very clear that he couldn't talk about anything that was coming out in future releases, and a lot of the questions did touch on that sort of thing. A lot of the questions were more feedback for the alpha service, and less actual questions about how it worked, though there were a surprising number of third-party services and workarounds. [ profile] humpuphigh asked me if I could ask about authors who didn't use their legal names; that would have fallen into the basket of things that I was planning to ask about. Unfortunately, the speaker didn't really spot me in the shadowy far corner in all black with my hand raised, even though the marketing guy with all the +1 stickers pointed me out, there was someone else in a green shirt on my side of the room who got called on.

As the questions wrapped up, one of the people near the center back of the room had a multipart question/feature request that involved integrating circles with Google Talk: because one's real availability can depend on the person you're attempting to be available for: you may want to be red (unavailable) to your boss, but green (available) to your mother, your husband, your boyfriend.

The room broke out in punchy giggles, the presenter didn't repeat that bit to the microphone for the record, and that was it for the Q&A. The marketing guy gave me one of the good *big* stickers for being a good sport even though the presenter never got to my question.

On my way over to chat with some of the other Googlers, I ran into a guy from Stanford who was handing his business card to someone, and I had to stop and talk to him because I saw that it had been imprinted with Braille, and I was suddenly struck by how amazingly inaccessible a technology business cards actually were. That was basically the point, he said, and we chatted accessibility for a bit. I need to read up on some of the previous work that's been done on accessibility design personas, so I don't re-invent the weasel.

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.

The first Googler noticed that I'd written "I know Skud" on my badge; he also knows Skud. They're not BFFs or anything, but he knows Skud sufficiently to say that he knows Skud. He mentioned how the name issue is intensely debated within Google as well as without, and how he is frustrated and saddened that people on the outside are assuming that there is no one within the black box of Google who really gets why autonyms are important (there are), and that there is no one who would be autonymous themselves on the internet (there totally are). And short of quitting and saying "This is why I quit," what can you do?

I did my best to sympathize, because it sounded very familiar to me, especially relating to some of the various LiveJournal controversies over the years. There are always people on the inside who get it and are affected by it, and it hurts them deeply when outsiders (and worse, people on the periphery who aren't on the inside, because there's more of a possible pre-existing relationship, and it hurts worse when people you know dislike you) assume that just because that perspective doesn't show up in the Corporate-Level Policy, that no one actually gets it. Worse, when they assume that because it's not visibly reflected in high-level policy, that the individual staffer who's on the ground at customer-facing level is not aware or affected.

He appreciated Skud's straightforwardness and graciousness throughout the whole process, as Skud has been telling it straight and not stooping to the easy low blows. He struck me as the sort of person who I might like to join for a cider and some yelling at some point.

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.

The presenter and I briefly bonded over stainless-steel Sharpie use (mine was dangling from my necklace as usual) but in his role as an explainer-of-how-things-are, all he could really tell me was that the name policies are what they currently are, and that I should make the right decision for me to use or not use the service given the name policies as they are right now. In an attempt to be helpful, he told me that if the name sweeps picked me up, I would have the chance to change my name, not immediately be suspended! I told him, politely but firmly, that the chance that things published under my real name would be then seen published under my work name was not acceptable to me. I'm very glad I'd had the talks with the other Googlers, because if that had been the only discussion I'd had, I would have raged out in a roaring tizzy.

So I'm biding my time, and seeing what falls out once it's out of alpha.

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