The Google+ Common Name policy will never be the same. Google promised it would take a close look at the requirement that only real names and identities reside on its seven-month-old social network, and now the search giant has reversed course, allowing both nicknames and full-fledged pseudonyms on Google+.
Google VP of Product Bradley Horowitz acknowledged that “the stakes around this have always been very high” and called these changed an “important step in a long journey … We’re talking with our users around the expression of identity.” The change, which begins rolling out to users Monday, is “a big step for the system,” said Horowitz, and one that will likely be welcomed by fierce common name critics like the Electronics Frontiers Foundation and popular blogger and Google+ early adopter and champion Robert Scoble. The ever voluble Scoble, who often goes by the handle “Scobleizer” online, pressed Google’s Senior Vice President, Engineering Vic Gundotra on the topic last summer after Google began deleting Google+ accounts that violated the Common Names rules.
More than 99% of those who sign up for Google+ “sail through” the account naming process, but these changes address the, according to Google, less than 0.1% that now end up in appeal. Among that small number are companies (roughly 20%) that Google+ now steers to Google+ Pages, which allows brands to set up destinations on the social network. Another 20%, Google told Mashable “would either prefer to use a pseudonym or another seemingly unconventional name.” The majority of the 0.1% just want to add a nickname.
Adding a nickname to your account is quite simple. There’s a new field under your Profile/About page. Enter the nickname and it appears either in the middle of your actual name (Lance “Lancealot” Ulanoff) or at the end in parenthesis. Though there is no option to show only your nickname, Horowitz did not rule out the possibility in a future iteration of the service. “We don’t consider ourselves finished here,” he said.
The use of actual pseudonyms is a little more complex. All pseudonym requests will require some kind of evidence, which could range from a URL to your scanned driver’s license. Google+ is not, however, accepting new pseudonyms. This is designed for “established ones.” Horowitz explained that the new account naming option is intended for “people who have earned credit in other social systems and want to redeem that credit in Google+ … We will swing the doors open and welcome them to our system.” Google will destroy all documentation you send them once the account verification process is complete.
Google+ profile updates also support “alternate names,” “maiden names,” and “names in other scripts.”
While Google+’s late embrace of nicknames and pseudonyms is an indication that Google heard its critics, that doesn’t mean it necessarily agreed with those criticisms. “It’s not an awakening,” said Horowitz. “This has always been part of the plan.”
Google execs also know that this is not a perfect or final profile naming solution.
“We care about identify and people being authentic on our service. We realize that what we have now is not the final destination either. This is a journey,” added Horowitz who is also outlining the Google+ changes in a Google+ post.
Ultimately this change means that those who know you by nicknames can find that appellation as part of your Google Profile and, more importantly, if you’ve branded yourself as “Master of Social Media” and are recognized as such on other services, you can proudly wear that label on Google+, too.