Google revises Google+ names policy, but way too late

If you’ve got a single name, or want to use a psuedonym on Google+, you now can. It’s probably too late for Google’s social network experiment, however.
In a relatively brief and without doubt vetted-extensively-by-legal-types post, Google’s reversed its policy for Google+ that required a full (which is to say, two word and “real”) name to use Google+.
So what was the problem? Google insisted on ‘real names’ as part of its policy, and it provided the service, so in one sense it could do what it liked.
The unspoken part of the policy is that it’s very much to Google’s benefit to link a user to a real name and a pattern of activity, because Google is, above all, an advertising company. Not a search company, or a social company, or a smarphone company. Advertising is what pays the bills, and ads that can be targeted at a precise person can attract better rates. If user FatDuckTech (not my real name) likes Doctor Who, Retro Gaming and Weird Al, and it can be associated with “Alex Kidman“, then Google can offer me ads more tailored to my interests. Strange Time Travelling Videogames, presumably.

This, basically

The issues with this kind of identification are complex. Firstly, you’ve got those who for cultural or other reasons only have a single name. Local writer Stilgherrian notably came unstuck (and rightly so) in a rather strongly worded post relating to the real names policy that Google enforced for Google+ at the time. It doesn’t seem to have improved for him.
Then there’s those who for privacy reasons don’t want to be identified. Yes, I suppose that does include those nasty types who like putting explosives in public places to cover their political, religious or ideological reasons, but it also covers those who for cultural, sexual or personal history reasons need that kind of anonymity.
At an anecdotal level, I know a few people who have had acrimonious personal histories and for their own safety need to remain anonymous to ex-partners or stalkers. That’s not an issue to be laughed off simply for the purpose of delivering more punch-the-monkey style advertising.
Google’s statement specifically reads as follows:
When we launched Google+ over three years ago, we had a lot of restrictions on what name you could use on your profile. This helped create a community made up of real people, but it also excluded a number of people who wanted to be part of it without using their real names. 
Over the years, as Google+ grew and its community became established, we steadily opened up this policy, from allowing +Page owners to use any name of their choosing to letting YouTube users bring their usernames into Google+. Today, we are taking the last step: there are no more restrictions on what name you can use. 
We know you’ve been calling for this change for a while. We know that our names policy has been unclear, and this has led to some unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users. For this we apologize, and we hope that today’s change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be. Thank you for expressing your opinions so passionately, and thanks for continuing to make Google+ the thoughtful community that it is.

Google’s certainly given Google+ a red hot go in terms of integrating it with just about every other Google property, but it largely doesn’t matter. I nearly always forget when posting a video to YouTube that it’ll automatically be flung to my Google+ profile, simply because the traffic that Fat Duck gets from Google+ is negligible to the point of being invisible.
I’m not alone in that view; Google+ rarely rates a mention in any decent social media metrics, despite having the full weight of Google behind it. As with any social network, it needs momentum, and there’s very little evidence that Google+’s momentum is heading in the right direction.
The change to the names policy is indeed a welcome one, but in terms of taking on the heavyweights in this scene, particularly Facebook, it feels like it’s a case of too little, too late. Google’s not afraid to kill off products that under-perform, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Google+ is teetering on the chopping block right now.

1 thought on “Google revises Google+ names policy, but way too late”

  1. Google+ is waiting in the wings for Facebook to make a fatal mistake. Which is likely, since Facebook has issues…click farms, a lack of connection or responsiveness regarding communicating with their users, a dictatorship attitude and their penchant for changing the system especially in regards to privacy options. Not to mention the money pit that is their advertising system for businesses. Mind you, the money pit problem results from “Click Farms”, but Facebook seems unable or unwilling to deal with these. To survive, Facebook needs to keep it’s users happy, and bask in the glow of big data to stay viable. Google’s ability to evolve, based on subjective feedback, although slow, is something that could help them rise above Facebook.

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