Friday, August 12, 2011

Does anyone really feel like dancing?

I thought Google was confused. Then I thought, ok, maybe they are slow in turning the big ship around. Now, I think they are determined in a path that I just can't see as anything but doomed.

Does anyone see any reason to get together to dance at Google? I'm happy to get together to plan next steps or just munch and have a cuppa, but I don't feel like dancing with friends who will never be back, or have four days before they will be gone.

I'd rather find a new home for all of us. Shall we conspire?  Contact me at shava23 =at= gmail

Friday, July 29, 2011

What is this "Internet culture" you speak of?

In the midst of these discussions someone said they were trying to protect "Internet culture" by keeping people with nyms from behaving badly.  Putting aside, for the moment, all the other things wrong with that assertion, let me address something very basic here:

There is no such thing as "Internet culture" anymore.  That's like talking about "telephone culture" or "movie culture."  There are some fine points of etiquette, and a few specific laws.  But culture is about people interacting with people, regardless of the medium.

William Gibson said, "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed" in The Economist, in 2003.  Parts of it have obviously caught up in this particular small case, in some larger parts of the world.

On the Internet, you can find dozens of subcultures.  There are the midwest moms who play Farmville in the afternoons and chat while their babies nap.  There are kids who play in Club Penguin, who might be kind of different from the older kids who play Puzzle Pirates, who are experiencing a different environment than the kids who are playing Wizard101 with their parents.  There are kids and parents and grandparents who love to spend hours chasing knowledge down through search engines and news sites.  There are whole networks who spend every available free moment creating their own real life soap operas on LiveJournal.  My own son leads a very highly rated team of amateur players in League of Legends.  There are bloggers and journalists, daytraders and hackers, people who monitor remote systems for huge tech companies or deliver customer service across oceans via chat systems.

None of these people represent "Internet culture" because there is no such thing.  There's no ghetto walls around the geeks anymore.  There's no elites, no 1337s, just lots of people doing what they do.  In fifty years, we've gone from locked air conditioned rooms full of big iron tended by men in lab coats, to billions of cells in the hands of men and women and children in nearly every nation.  It's part of human culture.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

G+ policy for real names doesn't understand digital natives

G+ unfortunately lists the formal description of a "common name" as being "what you" which is not what Google's hounds are using for people involved in the SCA or in Second Life or for folks who have been using handles for their technical professional work (like skud) for (in some cases) decades. 

Look, most of you think I don't have much skin in this game -- I have thirty years of skin in this game.  Maybe a little more foresight and effort...:)

Just to give you folks an example, most of you probably don't know that my passport and birth certificate list me as Elaine Marie Nerad.  On the last page of my passport, it lists, much to my umbrage "aka Shava Nerad."  They told me, "Hey, don't sweat it, Madonna's has an AKA too."  Most of you have only ever known me as Shava, and for most of the people reading this, I've been Shava your entire lives. 

I changed my name to my use name, my "handle," the diminuitive of my Hebrew name (Elisheva) in 1981, legally in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.  My first technical paper was published under the name Shava Nerad when I was twenty-two, that year.  There were Chavas and Sharas and Shiras and even a Skia in my circles but I was the only Shava I knew, and I rather liked being (for some long time) a unique identifier.  I suppose these days, they'd call it a personal brand.

Much later, as more Shavas came onto the net, I became shava23 most places.  This is the way the web works.  This is the way we find one another.  This is the way naming works for those of us who are digital natives -- and I'm an elder among digital natives.

If I hadn't done that, and I were skud's age, I could be in skud's position today.

I consider my name, after thirty years, to be my real name, and so would just about anyone else.  I pay my taxes under it.  My social security card reflects it.  My credit rating is under it.  Only my birth certificate and my passport remember my birth name.  It is more real than a couple of married names that have come and gone in thirty years.

Now, if Google wants to create a social network for non-natives, maybe that's a bigger market share.  But telling digital natives that we are the people who walk into restaurants with our shirts off?   Why thank you, -- I just got the warmest fuzziest feeling about your sympathetic view of an entire cohort of people under 35 or so years of age.  And including myself at fifty-two.

May I suggest that it may be an easier job to educate the boomers to understand their kids' culture than to build a social network for boomers?  Even in Snow Crash, which was written on a typewriter in 1984, the understanding of how naming conventions would evolve in a digital world was more evolved than this.

It will be easier to make older and less bi-coastal people comfortable with nicknames and foreign naming practices, I think, than to stuff  the entire world's naming practices into this tiny narrow draconian rule set, and have to enforce it. 

You can certainly look at the naming policy of, say, online communities like Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online ( to avoid the mess of, say  You can create filters that prevent "bad words" and certain forms of punctuation.  You can create reporting mechanisms.  There are many many options.

You can even tell the people who believe that "real names" are the only authentic people, and all the other self-named people are dangerous and liars, and make it so they only see the "real" people.  That's a bit in their preferences.  These days, that makes them shut into their own ghetto, because you know what?  Online, they are the minority.  If it makes them more comfortable, help them throw up walls around their own protective ghetto.

If there is anything that this world of globalization and games and cultural diversity has done, it has shown more and more people every second that "real" is just bigger and broader and stretchier than what they thought it was yesterday.  And of all the multi-national companies in the world, Google would be the one who I'd expect to embrace that.
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Sunday, July 24, 2011 wants Google to include and protect the vulnerable

Check it out!  And sign on.  Signing this petition is yet another way to show Google they are on the wrong side of the cultural consensus.

Civil servants, rape survivors, whistle-blowers, and transgendered individuals are immediate examples of people who want privacy to protect themselves from attacks and abuse from others who do not agree with what they are saying or doing or have experienced.
The closed gay teenager who would like to interact with the online gay community but needs anonymity so his family doesn't find out and reject him or even abuse him for it.
All of us, whether we are dealing with these or other highly politically charged events in our lives or not, deserve privacy. We deserve to be able to interact on-line and to share or nor share as much as we choose, as much as we are comfortable with. For some of us that means using a pseudonym to protect our identities from those who are intolerant of who we are or what we do.
I want that anonymity available for my friends that need it, and I want it available to me if I ever need it.
Let's all tell Google that we want that anonymity and that requiring real names to use Google services lacks understanding and that deleting accounts on services like Google+ just because they have a pseudonym is down-right intolerant.
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More important than SL or the SCA

Most of my friends who have experienced the G+ banhammer have been in Second Life, the Society for Creative Anachronism, or have been artists of one sort or another.

These are people who understand pseudonyms, "avatar names," "society names," "stage names," however you wrap them.  It seems to me that the people in the executive offices at Google are not thinking of how many of us there are.  They are thinking of the baaaaaaad people.  They are thinking of the Internet Geezer's Nightmare -- The End of Civility.  My guess (as something of an Internet Geezer myself) is that Google is afraid that if they let anyone call themselves anything, anytime, or any amount of time, G+ will be the social network that will look like the ass end of the underbelly of Myspace.

You know, like that part of Twitter most people never see because, who ever links to those people?

Yes, that's right.  These people do. Not. Get. It.

I suspect if I were a young engineer at Google, I'd be nervous this year.  There's a generation gap, and culturally they are on the rigth side of it, with us.  But if we don't help them out, they're on the wrong side of it by power, for a lot of reasons, only one of which might have to do with their retirement accounts.

This is a culture war, and it's more important than people think it is.

This is setting a precedent for the small town lawyer who wants to be able to keep their ability to blog about local politics, even though it might alienate their clients in their law practice.

It's about teachers who want to be able to go shred on the weekend, even if they teach middle school a couple towns over.

It's about a middle aged guy who wants to blog about surviving sexual family abuse as a kid, even though his abusers are still very much alive, living in the same town.

It's about the DA in Texas who wants to use his pseudonym to discuss his anime collection and research gay resorts in the Bahamas.

It's about the woman who wants to blog about how her husband and several of her cousins are activists in the Arab Spring movements in Syria, and how she and her mother and sister are getting by at home while they are away.

It's about the guy who is trying to attend NA meetings online because he's too well known in his community on sight to be seen walking into a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and wants an identity to be able to meet with his sponsor and friends in recovery online.

It's about the woman in the company town in upstate NY who is trying to organize a union without her kids getting hurt on the playground.

These are people who do not want to socialize under their government ID verified names for very good reasons. Aside from the SL artist, or the SCA poppinjay or the hacker handle. Or Lady Gaga.

OK, we're more vocal and visible. But ultimately IMO we aren't as important. We're just the ones who feel safest to speak out. So, I think we have to, and we have to get loud.

And, not only that, but in many cases, Google should be happy to see these separate identities. Because that gay DA is never going to spend a penny on gay travel unless it's under his pseudonym. His pseudonym is a laser focused marketing target -- just in the same way that a person might have one identity as an office supply buyer for their department when they are at work and as an individual buyer shopping from an LLBean catalog at home. This is NOTHING NEW to marketing. So why should Google have a problem with one person having separate identities to market to?

Multiple identities are everyday things

Back a few years ago, I worked as the executive director of the Tor Project, where I still do a little bit of volunteer work.  I love Tor because it gives people a little bit of the kind of privacy and control over their identity that people enjoy in their everyday life.  People seem to think that all of these questions of privacy and identity are new to the Internet, but it's hardly the case.

I grew up as the daughter of a minister in a town of eight thousand in the state of Vermont.  I knew everything about privacy, and the lack thereof.  Everyone knew my business.

I was a teenager in that same small town.  So I know all about maintaining multiple identities in multiple contexts.  Everyone "knows" that a minister's daughter is supposed to be a little angel or a little devil as a teen, and I decided at about age twelve, that my mission was to keep everyone guessing.  At fifty-two, this mission is still in progress.

The truth is, everyone has multiple identities.  You have a different identity to your parents than you do to your boss.  You have a different identity to your kids, or your teachers, or your lover(s), or your friends or cousins or people in your religious community.  You may have friends who you get wild with, and friends who you go watch scary movies with.  Each one has different ideas of who you are, maybe different nicknames, and if you run into two of them at once, it can be awkward.

Any teenage boy who has to deal with his mom and his buddies at the same time knows all about multiple identities.  If his name is Horace and his buddies have never heard him called anything but Zach, then have mercy.

Do we sound different when we talk to different people?  Of course we do.  If I'm talking to my great-niece, I sound a lot different than if I'm talking to a sixty year old mechanical engineer CEO. And of course that's ok.  It doesn't make you "inauthentic," or "fake."  In fact, if you talked to the CEO like you talk to your niece, you would have a serious problem.

In anthropology, we call this the "register" of the voice.  People do this mostly unconsciously as they address different individuals and groups of people.  It isn't dishonest or fraudulent.  It is appropriate.  In fact, it's an indicator of their social skills.

Online life gives us the ability to split off experiments in "registers."  We can play with identity.  We can go into a crowded gaming environment and ask, "what is it like to be in game full of guys as a female character?" if we are male.  We can work on an open source project where no one is worried if you are twelve or sixty, male or female, so long as your code is good, and you're reliable.  These experiments with identity don't have to be about sex, when they are about gender, or about "fooling" anyone.

Just don't be creepy.

And certainly, if all you are varying is your name, and you aren't varying anything basic about the person behind the keyboard, then why in the world would anyone ever object?

Ultimately, behavior is it's own test, and good social skills and good will can carry your actions forward online, just as they do in any other social space.

The variance of your online identity should always feel honorable and authentic.  Shakespeare said it:  "To thine own self be true."  Be as solid online as you would offline.  As Google would say, "Don't be evil."  Do no harm.

Within those guidelines, you should be safe online, and in the company of peers, you will be safe.  And when people exhibit bad behavior, deal with them within the community.  I think most of us learn this by the time we've spent our first year online.  We don't whine.  We deal.
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Dances on two continents!

We'll be having dances in the US and UK to start with! More details soon! Figured I'd at least pop up a placeholder...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Has your account been suspended? Contribute to the data!

Skud (a former Googler whose G+ was suspended under the "real names" policy) is assembling a database of suspended accounts here.  Please add your account so we can track what kinds of suspensions are going on.

Also, if you want to send me email, and tell me why you wanted to split off a pseudonym, I'll try to set up a blog entry that lists reasons people want pseudonymity, so that people can create labels for deleted friends to dance with, for "teachable moments."  It's nice to be able to dance with your teachable moments.  I've had a few tread on my toes, admittedly.

Where I can't guarantee perfect anonymity of your answer, I won't link it to your name in any public forum or anything.  I'm a minister's kid, I can keep secrets.  If you don't feel comfy, don't send it to me, and I'll understand.

Want to help plan and post?

I've set up, for folks who want to join in planning Friday dance "positive protests" at Google offices to try to convince Google to allow pseudonymity.  Let's bring our deleted friends and pretend Google is the small country their budget indicates, and say something about shaping online/offline culture! :)  If you'd like to post, contact me and I'll add you.  If you want to post under a pseudonym, that's fine, or if you know someone who'd like to who's not on plus, have them email me (or contact me in SL shava suntzu or...)

If Google plans to be a dominant player in shaping online culture and profiting from our information, then they need to be responsive to our ideas about articulating how we'd like our culture shaped.  I can't imagine any reason why, for example, a simple toggle to see only "real name" IDs or see all IDs wouldn't suffice.  Doesn't it work for gmail?

If we can't dance, don't want to be part of your revolution!

I'm working on organizing a protest (through g+ of course! ;) of g+'s pseudonymity policy, where we'll create cardboard cutouts of "deleted friends" and label them things like: "abuse survivor" "off duty cop" "Second Life professional artist" or "Arab spring activist" and form human chains of "real" and deleted people around local Google offices. Every protest should be a memetic art project, doncha think? ;).   It's a positive protest -- a celebration of sorts -- we'll just dance, physically, at Google's offices, every Friday, with our symbolically deleted friends, until Google tells us we can dance with them online, again.

Google -- you're supposed to be the people who GET IT!

I'm playing with the idea of us showing up on 7/29. Press invited. International flash mob. 

Online identity shouldn't deny people the ability to have professional and social and political lives online - but sometimes those have to be articulated for privacy.

How many people today think that school teachers should be single women only? That was the norm, a century ago, for similar reasons - a teacher in public schools today could not have a private social or political expression (however benign) without separation from his/her professional identity.

Likewise, law enforcement, a judge, a crisis or drug counselor. How about a political blogger in Syria, or Vietnam, or Iran or any of dozens of countries?

Google should welcome pseudonymity. A pseudonym is a laser focused market identity. That judge might not have very exciting commercial interests. But his pseudonym may be shopping for high end gay resort vacations. Ultimately, so long as his method of payment is good, does it really hurt Google's bottom line if PII suffers from MPD? In terms of volume of dollars spent and ads clicked, I'd speculate it helps it.

But if the goal is to do no evil, privacy must be preserved. The abuse survivor must be able to communicate and have an online community of support under a pseudonym while the abuser, often family, is still close at hand. The Arab Spring and other movements should have hope for a safer seedbed than Facebook. Online communications can be awful when abused, but let's not forget that they are vital to our liberties and culture offline in a tightly coupled way.

We can no longer meaningfully talk about "online culture" and "offline culture." Do we talk about telephone "culture?" No. We only differentiate fine points of etiquette and a few oddments of law. We live with people, we communicate with people.

My Cisco sales guy, Joe Alexander, may actually be Jose Alejandro. I'd never know. My Dell tech support contact, Adam, in live chat? Probably Krishna. Half the actors in IMDB have a "born as" record. Some, because of SAG rules. Some, because studios thought they had "funny names." And not a few to hide they were Jewish, in a time that was not great for your career.

Suddenly, there is some virtue to this Eurocentric idea of "real names." (Yes, Eurocentric - look at much of Korea or China for name diversity, or count Mohammed Alis in the world).

There are so many reasons this policy is half baked. Ultimately, it's been said above: banning should be on behavior.

Bring you deleted friends to a nearby Google office on 7/29. Tell Google, don't be stupid. It's too close to being evil.