Almost three years to the day after it launched its attempt at a social network, Google has removed the last remaining restrictions it had on what name users could go by on Google+ — meaning the search giant has abandoned its so-called “real name” policy, and members are now free to use a pseudonym. But the change seems unlikely to cause any kind of dramatic growth, since those to whom pseudonyms made a difference have presumably already established themselves elsewhere. If anything, it makes Google seem a little desperate.
In a blog post on Google+ about the decision — one that appeared without any identifying information about the author — the service apologized for the “unnecessarily difficult experiences” that its previous policy caused for some users, and for excluding those who wanted to use pseudonyms.
“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… we hope that today’s change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be.”
When Google+ first launched, the executives in charge of the service — including Vic Gundotra, who recently left the company — said that the idea behind using real names was to maintain a certain quality of discussion, since potential trolls and other negative elements wouldn’t be able to hide behind a pseudonym. Gundotra compared it to a matter of social etiquette, like restaurants requiring that diners wear shirts or shoes before being served. It was probably no coincidence that Facebook also had a firm “real name” policy, although it too seems to have moderated its views on the topic more recently.
For many users, however, the requirement that they use their real names meant they couldn’t discuss certain subjects or comment on specific posts because they didn’t want those activities to be attached to their real-world identities for a variety of reasons: because of potential harassment, because it might affect their jobs, or because their families might find out things about their sexual preferences or other behavior that they didn’t want them to know. All of these users were effectively excluded, as Google acknowledged in its blog post about the change.
What’s interesting about the company’s decision to make the change now — not to mention apologizing so publicly — is that it seems to indicate that Google still cares about expanding the reach of Google+, despite bragging regularly about the hundreds of millions of users who are active on the service, and despite the fact that the network has always seemed like more of an “identity layer” for the rest of its data-oriented activities, rather than a standalone platform.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Andrea Michele Piacquadio