Wednesday, July 07, 2010 to put real names into forums

Blizzard announced earlier today that their RealID system will be even more integrated and will enforce people to use their real names (first and last name) when posting in their forums. Initially RealID was posited as a way to have all Blizzard related games combined under one account, but recently expanded to allow a mutual swapping of RealIDs to see your real friends playing on any game or any toons. Now the net has spread to make your real name your default public handle on the only outward-facing part of the game (so far).

Reminds you of Facebook-like failure of privacy? That's funny, they just announced facebook integration a couple of weeks ago.

Amidst the outcry, a moderator showed it was Ok to post his real name and got eaten alive by 10,000 posts in 6 hours detailing just how easy it was to get to his facebook page, his phone number, his address, a streetview of his house, what he paid for his house and what it's worth now, his recent felonies, etc.

For all the hullaballoo about stalkers, prospective future employers digging up their posts, etc, for me I'm more concerned about a degeneration in our ability to communicate...

Establishing an Online Identity

Ever since I set up my handle on IRC back in 1990, I have made a deliberate distinction between an online identity and my real life name. I have been fortunate that no-one's ever used my handle online, so I can maintain the same 'name' throughout many games and online communities. My handle IS my online identity, my real name is nothing online.

This isn't to do with anonymity, quite the opposite. My handle remains more or less unique while my real name would not be. There are a select few times when these 2 identities are interchangeable, and that is only while playing with my immediate family online while skyping. Even attending LANs I'd rather know people by their handle than by their real name.

Facebook's insistence of using your real name has been the start of the rot, and with Google profiles following suit, there's definitely a move to quash online personas. While there are certainly asshats happy to hide behind an anonymous nick to troll away, the vast majority of people I know have used the ability to have different handles to promote different aspects of their life. This more directly mimics what our intent is within our minds, and as such is a BETTER form of communication than just simply plonking your real name onto something. Think of the conversation style, the attitude and social context used while at work compared to at home, and at the golf course with mates, and online inside forums. Many may wish to lump all these together (as I do for all my online presences), but there remains no need to mandate it. You're destroying something that's important to the conversation, an idea of identity within context of the conversation.

Next thing you know they'll require people to have their own pictures as avatars. Some people do already by choice (hi trog), but forcing everyone to do it limits people's ability to emphasize their identity in a new space. Allowing people to express themselves more easily means that I don't have to read as much to get an impression of whether someone's worth following, or is simply a troll.

Identity is relative?

This news comes in only a couple of weeks after another article I read that identity is relative on the internet and that too many people place too much trust in the personas people create. Right, you may not know if BobTheBuilder is a guy or a girl, a troll or someone genuinely looking for answers, a person being truthful or someone intentionally being deceitful for the lulz, but to say that we should not trust people on the internet is once again ignoring conversation's greatest assets; context. We assume many, MANY things while having a conversation because it allows for a more efficient flow of ideas from one person to another. We don't always get it right, but we have also adapted many verbal and non-verbal queues to aid in conveying whether there has been too much or not enough information provided to set the right context of the conversation for optimal transmission of information.

In an online space you miss out on a number of those tools, but a consistent name and avatar aids in the bonding of those cueues to your impression of who the person is. I'd more likely start out at a higher level of conversation with someone called ProfessorX because even though their handle could have been chosen by anyone watching X-Men, the people who would choose ProfessorX over, say, Wolverine are unconsciously (or possibly consciously) placing more emphasis on scientific reasoning and thought. I would be surprised if they turned out to be a teenager who could not spell, but not shocked.

Trust is more or less the same as building assumptions. We trust that the sun will rise tommorow as it has a lot of evidence to point to that being the case, but it is still an assumption about a future event. People may be intentionally deceitful online, but our experience with people offline and (more importantly) in other online areas should give us an appropriate starting point for how much we can trust what they say will be correct. To say we should not trust at all would mean that every conversation would start with pure, verifiable facts, and be built from there. No conversation is like that, not even scientific ones. There is ALWAYS context to aid in the quicker transmission of information. Even in programming (a conversation between programmer and machine) there is context. Do the assumptions come back and bite us? Sure, but the benifits of quicker coding vastly outweigh the failures.

So back to Their problem is that trolls are ruining their forums, and they believe that they will remove all the trolls by forcing everyone to use their real names. By doing so you also toss out all that expressive context associated with a handle and avatar and replace it with all the baggage that comes with people's real names (like gender & race).

Everyone right now has the ability to call their avatar after their real name and project their actual identity into the forums, but I see none. It would then seem that this option would place EVERYONE at a disadvantage by commnicating under a non-preferred handle.

I'm currently not a member as my WoW account has lapsed, but these issues really are questioning whether Cataclysm and SC2 are worth the pain of putting my name out there. It's not just the forums that I'm worried about, but the pace at which it's spreading to everywhere else.

From the Facebook integration official post:
This new functionality will START OFF by allowing you to quickly import Facebook friends into your friends list, and ADDITIONAL FEATURES will be added over time.

DO .. NOT .. WANT!