So is Google evil after all?

Or, more specifically, are they evil because they are (or may be) deleting (or forbidding, or something) “google plus” accounts that are opened using SL avatar names, or usenet or forum pseudonyms, or basically anything else that fails some kind of naive “real name” sniff-test?

I dunno. Maybe. Or probably. Or maybe not. Probably not, really. But is this guy a jerk?

If you see a person with an obviously fake name, go to their profile and find the “Report Profile” link in the bottom of the left column. Report it as a “Fake Profile”. We want Google+ to be place for real people to connect with other real people.

There has certainly been something of a flurry of concern about it. I sent him a little note after reading some of the furor:

I think you really meant something like “if you see a ‘person’ that is obviously a company or a spammer, go to their…”. Real people use all sorts of names, “Fake” and otherwise. It’s the fake people you want to keep out, not the real people with “fake” names…

No reply yet, but he has now come back with one of those “wait, wait, what I meant was…” posts (which I can’t figure out how to link directly to; scroll down on the one above):

Holy cow. I was offline most of yesterday and it looks like I started a firestorm by accident.

Kevin McCurley’s comment sums up the spirit of my post better than I did: “In the meantime please interpret this post in the loosest possible sense – only flag things that are clearly not representations of a real person. We’re not out to ostracize people or enforce unreasonable conditions. Businesses and organizations will have their own profiles in the future”

The policy page (http://www.google.com/support/profiles/bin/answer.py?answer=1228271) leaves some room for interpretation and says: “For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life”

It doesn’t say anything about your legal name.

I’d better not say anything more about this since: a) I’m an engineer and b) there are plenty of edge cases that I’m sure are legitimate and not explicitly covered in the ToS.

… and (c) he’d like to remain employed if that is still possible at this point.

Which does more or less correspond to what I said. But still, “commonly go by in daily life” certainly does leave some (“some”) room for interpretation.

And really this whole thing gives me a creepy feeling. Why is Google policing the appropriateness of names and the “realness” of accounts, anyway? (As opposed to, say, the spamminess or otherwise of behavior.) The full quote from that policy page is:

Google services support three different types of use when it comes to your identity: unidentified, pseudonymous, identified. Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you’re connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.

This is actually pretty stupid. (Botgirl’s autotuned version is at least amusing!) How do they, in the 21st century Internet, know how their just-launched product “works best”? And why do they feel it necessary to forbid other ways of using it? The fact that someone is using the name “Fred Muggs” rather than “Teh Fredster!!” doesn’t mean anyone “can be certain you’re connecting with the right person”, or that anyone “will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out”; names are not magic.

And really, “checking out”? That phrase plus the fact that initially google plus required not only a “real” first and last name, but also a (publicly viewable) gender, makes me wonder…

Is Google Plus really intended as a dating service?

It would explain alot, anyway. Maybe they will notice that they didn’t really plan to take over the world with a dating service, allow pseudonyms as long as they aren’t being used to spam or defraud, and this will all blow over. I continue to think, at least in my crotchety moments, that maybe all of the boring people will vanish into Facebook and Google Plus, and the rest of us can go back to using the rest of the Internet. The end of the Endless September? If Google could give us that, I think I’d forgive them for a certain amount of arguable low-grade evil… :)

(Thanks to the NY Daily News for the nice little evil-Google graphic, heh heh.)

The real me is having a nap, tyvm

So there’s a slightly disturbing post on the official SL weblog, by the newly-minted Wallace Linden, titled “Will the Real You Please Stand Up“.

The title is imho very unfortunate, because although the theme is officially “let’s start a conversation about the tools that we want and need to manage all of our various identities in whatever ways we want to”, it’s easy (especially with that title) to read it as having a subtext something like “get used to the fact that we’re going to be bringing RL identities more and more into SL, whether y’all like it or not”.

I hope that’s not actually the subtext.

But anyway!

I wrote a reply to it, and here it is:

Just to add my voice to what seems to be the main trend of the comments :) I think that the current “1st Life” tab (made searchable, ideally) is a fine place for people who want their RL information disclosed to disclose it, you can’t use RL names as SL names because RL names aren’t nearly unique enough, and any effort the Lab spends on “integrating” with Facebook or Twitter or similar “social media” puffery is effort that I’d rather than Lab spent on something more useful.

By now we’re quite familiar with the positive network effect of being connected to other people in a social network or Web service like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or the like. The more people you’re connected to, and the more people they’re connected to, the more useful the network becomes.

Hahahahaha. No. The more people you’re “connected” to, and the more people they’re “connected” to, the more useless the network becomes, because it is full of notices about how someone needs your help in fighting a dragon, or has found a cache of machine guns, or has posted a picture of their niece’s new dog.

Certainly expose the APIs and things (as long as you can do it SECURELY) that people can use to create Facebook integration frobs and whatnot if they want to, but don’t waste precious Lab time writing the frobs yourselves. Make the 1st Life tab searchable so if someone wants to look for someone who claims to be the RL drummer Trivett Wingo, they can do that. But please don’t make it so that if Trivett Wingo wants to have an SL AV that lets him get AWAY from his crowds of adoring fans, that AV will end up being stigmatized as a result.

The thing not to miss here — and it bears stating despite how obvious it sounds — is what all these online “identities” have in common. At the center of them all, the hub that ties all these personae together, is the very real, non-virtual, analog and offline “you.” Whether the connections are public or not, your Second Life avatar, your World of Warcraft toon, your Facebook profile, your LinkedIn employment history — all of these and more are just different aspects of a single entity: the person reading these words. They are all already connected to each other, via you.

Is this Linden Lab officially disowning the hardcore Immersionist Digial People among the Resi’s? Or just you needing to be educated about them? This may sound incredibly obvious to you, but there are a significant number of Residents who would disagree. Surely you’ve been around SL long enough to know that?

Please keep in mind, as you go about thinking about these issues, that there is no single “right answer” to these questions that you raise. Your job is not to “start a conversation” that will result in some Official Consensus position that the Lab is then free to go off and impose on everyone, whether we agree with it or not. Your job, as I see it, is to enable the conversations that will help the Lab be more aware of the huge variety of Residents, and the uses to which we put SL, and to therefore avoid doing anything that would mess that up.

Thank you. :)

Alts: a public service announcement

I am okay with her.  :)

Dear friends and potential friends and casual acquaintances and minions and potential minions: I am okay with your alts.

If you’re out on the grid as an alt that I don’t know, and we happen to run into each other at a club or something, casually, and even get to talking for whatever reason, it’s okay if you’d rather not tell me that you’re the alt of someone I know. You don’t need to worry, to feel guilty, to run off as soon as you see me to avoid having to tell me who you are, or anything like that.

Of course if you want to tell me, if the knowledge imbalance would feel too strange, or if you just feel that it’s polite, that’s fine too; it would make me happy that you cared enough to worry about it. And if you didn’t tell me, there would be a knowledge imbalance, you would know something relevant to me that I wouldn’t know. But that’s okay, I don’t mind knowledge imbalances now and then. I like to take things as they happen to come to me. And in fact you’ll find that I will tend to treat you and your alt as different people even if you do tell me, because, well, they seem to be different people to me. :)

I am not okay with anyone using an alt maliciously, toward me or anyone else, but I know you wouldn’t do that. You are nice. And I know some people are not really okay with friends having alts that interact with them and they don’t know that they are alts, and I can understand that, and I don’t mean to be criticizing them for that. I’m just saying, as a public service, for the next time the situation arises, that I personally am perfectly okay with it.

And the time this other friend IMd me from an alt, and told me that she was an alt, and challenged me to guess who of, that was good fun too. :)

Thinking about gender

Not me thinking about gender :) but some other smart persons doing it. Not that I’ve actually finished reading them all. (Do I ever finish reading anything?) Mostly on the whole Autogynephilia thing. (Which I still think I’d rather spell “Autogynophilia”.) The word (and the concept) has some baggage attached to it in various contexts, but baggage can be interesting.

Autogynephilia on a Napkin: Part 1, Part 2.

Men who want to have a woman’s body (Autogynephilia for Dummies)

Found, I think, from a John Carter tweet while browsing around about Blue Mars.

And sort of on the other side of the coin, a Plurk from Dusty Artaud led me to The CTO Wore Drag, in which the author expresses dismay that some people are different genders in RL and in virtual worlds, even in business contexts.

The tone of the article really annoyed me (as is probably obvious from my comments, heh heh). The author refers to cross-gender AVs as “gender-inappropriate avatars” (owch!), and opines that she doesn’t want various of her employees to be “creative at all”. So very very very XXth century thinking.

I had a dream a long long time ago, before SL, about a world in while people could switch genders at will (although it was a somewhat inconvenient process). I do look forward to us learning to make less of a Big Deal about this stuff; so much pain could be avoided…

AV : SL :: Body : RL

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for a long time, and (assuming I actually manage to finish it up and post this) I was finally pushed over the edge to doing it by an acrimonious debate over in a Second Thoughts comment thread, where one of the parties declared forcefully that (paraphrasing) anyone who identifies with their SL avatar is insane. (As I said in my one comment in the thread, I think the people involved are actually arguing over uninteresting matters of word usage, but it was this particular bit of it that drew my mind back to this draft weblog entry.)

All sorts of questions come up in the virtual worlds and their associated web-o-sphere, about and/or framed in terms of avatars. Just what is an avatar, what is an AV? (And why do we capitalize “AV” even though it isn’t an acronym? But I won’t talk about that here.) What is the relationship between a Resident and an AV, a human and an AV, and so on? Do avatars have rights?

One technique I’ve found useful in thinking about these things is to see what happens if I replace the SL terms in the issue with RL terms, and replace “avatar” or “AV” with “body”. Not that it’s always the same thing: the SL-AV and RL-body relationships aren’t exactly the same. But they’re surprisingly the same surprisingly often, and when they’re different the ways and reasons that they’re different can provide insights into things.

That’s really all I have to say :) but I will draw out the thought by applying it to a few examples. Feel free to add more in the comments, or in email, or in the privacy of your own home.

Why do we identify with our AVs?

Well, okay, so why do we identify with our bodies? That’s a question to make one blink, because it’s so obvious: of course we identify with our bodies, don’t be ridiculous!

There’s room for a good deal of variation in thinking about just why, though. I imagine there are people who would say that we are our bodies. (I’m not one of those.) At the very least, our bodies are the things that allow us to experience the world, to interact with the world, and with each other.

And in the virtual worlds, avatars are exactly the same: they are the things that allow us to experience and interact with the world and each other. And that’s why we identify with them.

(I don’t know how this would sound to someone for whom we are our bodies. Maybe insane.)

Of course the identification isn’t as tight (in general?), because we aren’t nearly as tightly bound to our AVs are we are to our bodies. We can’t feel physical pain or pleasure through AVs, we can change from one AV to another (and we even have to when we switch between non-interoperable worlds, boo), and so on. But it’s
the same in principle.

So when Chestnut Rau remarks quite accurately that our feelings about posting pictures of our bare pixel bottoms on the web “just goes to show how much we humans identify with our avatars“, she’s quite right. And our (often) even stronger feelings about pictures of our bare cellular bottoms shows how much we humans identify with our bodies!

“I met this avatar last night…”

Some people use “avatar” in ways that sound bizarre to me. One example I happened to read the other week describes how someone “was approached last year by an avatar from the Australia Council who was researching Australian artists…”. And that just sounds Wrong.

Applying the AV : SL :: Body : RL rule suggests why: that sentence comes out describing someone who “was approached last year by a body from the Australia Council…”.

Wahahaha!

Many times when I hear someone use “avatar” to mean “person” rather than “body”, I jump to the conclusion that they Don’t Get It. Although it’s jumping to a conclusion, it’s also often correct. :) On the other hand, I’ve also heard the word used this way by people who definitely do get it. Here is Eureka Dejavu:

And so it was that on my second night in Metaplace I ran into an avatar named Joe Castille.

The place was abuzz with avatars, many of whom, I learned, were interns and students participating in 3DSquared and involved with its parallel venture, GameCamp.

I know that Eureka Gets It, so my theory here is that she’s just in a slightly different linguistic community than I am. (I will speculate further that she may be more aware than most of us of the original meaning of “avatar”, as a deity embodied in physical form, and is using it as a word for a person as embodied in their AV, a concept that I admit I don’t really have a word for since I use “AV” to mean the form itself, not the person as embodied in it.)

I also wonder (since we’re getting into the subtleties) whether there’s a difference between “AV” and “avatar”, in either Eureka’s dialect or mine. Would she find it odder to refer to a person as an “AV” than as an “avatar”? I should ask her. :)

But anyway back to my own dialect, in which AV : SL :: Body : RL…

Do AVs have rights?

Well, do bodies have rights? I don’t think so. Part of what I wrote over on Second Thoughts was:

Bodies per se don’t have rights, avatars per se don’t have rights, vibrations in a phone line per se don’t have rights. People have all sorts of rights, and some of those rights involve their bodies, their avatars, and the vibrations that they cause in phone lines.

This seems to me to be nice and simple and correct; a place where the AV : SL :: Body : RL rule applies quite nicely. The rights that people have regarding their bodies are somewhat different from the rights regarding their AVs, but in both cases the rights belong to the people, they are just about the bodies or AVs.

“Nice AV!”

Here’s a place where the rule works less well, for a reason that’s at least moderately interesting to think about. Unless you’re a drunken immature male, you probably don’t say ‘Nice body!’ to people in RL as a general rule. But in SL, “Nice AV” or variations thereupon is a reasonably common and generally inoffensive thing to say.

Why is that?

It’s because, I think, we have so much more control over the look of our AVs than we do over the look of our bodies. Saying “Nice body!” to someone is complementing them on something they have only a limited amount of control over, and therefore (perhaps, or in some sense) reducing their agency, by reducing them to a piece of physical accident. But “Nice AV!” is complementing someone for something that they did in fact do (even if it was only to make good choices at their local BIAB store), and is therefore (perhaps, usually, among the people that I hang out with) less objectionable.

Which brings us quite naturally to…

If I said you had a beautiful AV, would you hold it against me?

:)

Trust and Shame in Pseudonymous Personal Relationships

I’m borrowing (oh alright, stealing) the title of Botgirl Questi’s post of the same name, because this post is mostly a long comment that I wrote for that posting. (Yes, more word-reuse! Conserve neurons!)

The original posting (which you should read) suggests that pseudonymity (by which I think she means withholding real life details, and speaking only and always from within a virtual identity) is not a healthy thing in close personal relationships. As we’ve come to expect from Botgirl :) the post is well thought out and thought-provoking.

My own first reaction to reading it was that it was obviously correct (I’ve seen all too many SL relationships founder on the rocks of RL/SL separation), but on the other hand it felt wrong. In particular it felt wrong for me, and for quite a few of my SL friends, who have been functioning quite comfortably for months or years in SL as virtual creatures, with no particular interest in RL facts about people except as they happen to come up in conversation.

What’s the difference between those two cases? Well, I realized, to first order the relationships that have foundered have been aspiring to something like marriage, whereas the ones where pseudonymity seems just fine have not. So I tried to write that down in the comments; here’s what I said (very lightly edited for clarity):

Very interesting subject! I wonder how much this applies to close personal relationships in general, and how much of it is specific to (to use a phrase that we’re all avoiding saying) romantic love relationships, especially the officially-monogamous virtual-marriage kind.

I have friends in Second Life who I consider to be close personal friends, and whose RL identities I know little or nothing about. And that doesn’t seem to me to be any problem. We are friends because we enjoy each other’s company, because we laugh at the same things, because we understand (or enjoy coming to understand) each other’s in-jokes, because the exchange of thoughts and ideas between us is deeply rewarding.

I don’t care if they’re male or female in RL, young or old, blue or green. Why should I? It’s useful to know what timezone they’re in :) and sometimes we talk about RL things, the weather, happenings in our respective nearby cities, and so on. But if it turned out that they’d been doing some protective masking there, and talking about the weather in Duluth when they’re really in Peoria, I wouldn’t feel angry or betrayed.

Friends are friends, darn it, and if they feel they need or want to keep some information private or obscured for their own reasons, being a friend imho includes being understanding about that, and letting them have that choice and that space, and assuming that there’s some good reason behind it.

I’ve never had a personal relationship in SL come to a bad end or otherwise turn unhealthy because someone (either me or the other person) insisted on pseudonymity, and I have a hard time imagining it happening, for the reasons I give above; friends are allowed to keep up whatever barriers we’re comfortable with.

Of course we’re also allowed to lower whatever barriers we want to lower :) and I’ve had close friends eventually tell me RL things about them that they generally keep hidden, and that’s a lovely feeling of trust and closeness. But I don’t think that means that all barriers must always be lowered for a close personal relationship to be a healthy one.

On the other hand I have seen people (all too many people) get into what they thought of as virtual marriages, nominally monogamous, exclusive, trust-me-with-everything sorts of things, where barriers have come to be a problem. In that case, where either implicitly or explicitly each party is promising complete openness to the other, then holding back on that promised or expected openness can be an unhealthy thing.

Maybe because I myself amn’t looking for a life-mate in SL :) I think it would be good to distinguish between things that are true of close personal friendships in general, and things that are true mostly of virtual marriages in particular. My current feeling is that “pseudonymity is unhealthy” may be true of the latter, but is not particularly true of the former.

It’s probably obvious that my thinking isn’t fully-baked here :) but there it is. Comments are most welcome, either here or perhaps better over in the original post. Or both!

Virtual Identity

Dale and DaleSo there’s been this discussion going around about the social construction of virtual identity, and I’ve commented in both of those places at some length, and I thought to myself “hey here’s a deep an’ substantive topic that I can comment on instead of just posting pictures of WoW mounts and flaming desks and stuff”, and I started to write a weblog entry in my head, but when I got down to it everything that I had to say seemed so obvious that I stopped again.

But then I remembered how easy it is to post a weblog entry, so I started again. :)

To my thinking there are two interesting questions in this discussion:

First, to what extent is identity socially constructed? It’s pretty noncontroversial that essentially all normal healthy ordinary happy identities are formed to a significant extent through social interactions, that alot of how we think about ourselves has to do with how we think other people think of us, and so on. Whether social interaction is necessary for identity formation is a more open question. Some people have said in various places that identity (or consciousness, or some other word in basically the same drawer) is impossible without interaction. I tend to think that this is too strong, and that someone who managed to be born and survive without any interaction would still have some sort of identity, but we don’t really have much evidence one way or the other on that, and I’m not entirely wedded to the notion.

The second interesting question is whether RL and SL (atomic and virtual) identities are different with respect to that first question. Gwyneth’s original posting, linked to above, made the case that while atomic identities are influenced by social interaction, virtual identities depend entirely upon such interaction (“the digital self is only defined by the amount of interactions it has with other digital selves”; italics in the original). I disagreed with that at some length in the comments (basically just because I see no reason to think it’s true, and Gwyneth didn’t really present any), and disagreed with dandellion Kimban’s posting (also linked above) that said that the virtual self is different because there’s always the real self there looking at it. (My rather abstract but I think correct counter was that even in the case of my atomic self, there’s always the inner mental self looking at it, and that’s the same self that’s there looking at the virtual self.)

So basically my claim is that, however much socially-constructed we decide to say that identity is, I don’t see any convincing reason to think that the answer is any different for virtual selves than it is for atomic selves. This fits in with my cognitive drift in general, of course; when people point out something or other about how people are in SL, I’m forever chiming in to say “just like in RL!” (except for, you know, things like being able to fly and create zeppelins with our minds and stuff). But I think it’s also true!

So that’s me weighing in on an Important Issue of the Day for a change. I might at some point weigh in on this “augmentation vs immersion is really a false dichotomy” thing sometime, too (I don’t think it’s a false dichotomy at all), but not tonight. The most you’ll get tonight beyond this is some of the recently-uploaded Spennix pictures, and probably not even that. :)