I was having lunch yesterday with a friend who works at Google, and he was saying that one of the things he likes about their Google+ product is its requirement that you use your real name.
This is in marked contrast to some other social network products in which you can adopt an alias that disguises your true identity.
These differing policies can lead to very different user behavior patterns. For example, the extreme trolling that goes on in comments at YouTube (ironically also now owned by Google) is quite likely tied to the anonymity of the commenters. I suspect that many of those comments would not be so aggressively nasty (or in some cases, just plain stupid) if the commenter’s identity were known.
In a sense, the sort of smaller scale but more collegial conversations on Google+ are reminiscent of the early days of the internet, when the number of people on-line was relatively small, and there was therefore a kind of mutual trust that is now lacking in the wild west that the internet has become.
When my friend pointed out this property of Google+, I told him that it reminded me of the theme song for “Cheers” written in 1982 by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo:
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
So there you have it, the wisdom of social networks reiterating the wisdom of television.
Also, a neat framing of the two sides of freedom: Anonymity provides ultimate freedom of action. Yet in any community where you are anonymous, you can never enjoy the freedom of feeling at home.