Why Pseudonymity Is Such an Important Concept

Posted on Sep 21, 2011 | 92 comments


Fred Wilson wrote a blog post yesterday called “Real Names” in which he talked about a commenter on his blog who preferred not to comment because he didn’t want to use his real name. It’s all told through a graphic & very short so worth your having a quick read. It’s a powerful concept.

The idea of not using one’s real name is something I’ve had to come to understand better through other people providing context. It first hit me over the head when I wrote a post that inflamed many people. I wrote about Job Hoppers. I was too harsh and aggressive and the world came out and let me know.

What really forked me off was that some people wrote such nasty things about me as a person without knowing me and they did it all veiled behind fake names. They did the same over at HackerNews.

My immediate reaction was “Chicken shits!  If you want to have a public debate then at least have the decency to do it using your real name! I’ve used mine.”

That was before I really understood.

I’m glad the whole incidence happened. Though the more honorable people who didn’t choose to use their real names they explained that they didn’t feel free to use their real names in public debates because they feared the reaction of their employers. I guess by 43 I’ve found myself in a situation where I worry about that a bit less and I trust myself to skate close to the line but not cross it (too often).

As I did a deeper dive reflection on the topic I started thinking I wanted: Anonymity + Authority. In other words, it’s fine to not use your real name but I wanted to know that you were an honorable person and not a troll. I was thinking it would be awesome to have systems that could help track this so more authoritative people who were anonymous could rise to the top.

All of this has become a lot more relevant lately given social networking.

Think about it. Friendster started and was the place you had to be yourself. MySpace flourished and left Friendster behind in part because they didn’t care about your identity. Some people jokingly referred to it in its early days as “Fakester” in contrast to Friendster. Turns out anonymity mattered.

Along came Facebook. They wanted to know who you were. You originally had to have a .edu email address to even join. They work hard to this day to try and filter out people they think are fake. Of course they can be duped.

And any even casual follower of the tech industry knows that Google Plus has been criticized for cracking down on anybody who wasn’t a “real person.”

Yet … Twitter doesn’t care. You can be whoever you want on Twitter. They’re fine with Fakesters.

So who’s right? Obviously neither are. It depends on the circumstances.

And my eyes really lit up today when I had a great chat over tea with Dmitry Shapiro, one of the better & more philosophical thinkers about technology that I know. He has founded a new social networking site called AnyBeat to take on this issue. I’ve played around with the beta version the past few days and am already impressed with their ability to ship technology. [no, I'm not an investor in the company]

What Dmitry told me is, “It’s not really about anonymity, it’s about pseudonymity.”

“Huh?”

“Well, it’s not that you want to interact with ‘anonymous’ users, you actually want them to have an identity. It just turns out that often it’s better if that identity is not your real one. That way you can be yourself.”

“But I’m happy being myself. And, harrumph, do I really want to go to another fucking social network. I’m already overwhelmed. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, Quora, Tumblr. My head’s going to explode!”

“Exactly. That’s because those are all efforts. They’re all work. You’re constant interacting professionally and building up your online profile. We want you to come to AnyBeat to have fun. We want it to be a place where you meet people you don’t know. Where you can talk about topics that it might not be appropriate for a VC to discuss in writing. Your views on politics, religion, the world. We want you to play games. Let your hair down.”

“Isn’t that what Wii is for? ;-)

“Well, think about it. You’re old enough to have established your reputation and you know right from wrong. Perhaps you’re not trying to find your true North anymore. But 22 year olds might like to be able to make their views on the world known without having it follow them around for the next 40 years. It’s scary. Social networks are like Iran. You can say anything you want, but in the morning there will be consequences.”

It hit me. He’s right. PSEUDONYMITY. You heard it here first. I think it’s a big concept. Pseudonymity is the combination of anonymity and authority. It is an alter ego name that follows you on the Internet. It allows you to interact with people in different ways.

And as we went on to debate use cases it became clearer to me that there are concrete times where you want to be yourself and where you don’t. But total anonymity is a waste. I don’t see any redeeming value relative to pseudonymity. And to make a good social network based on pseudonymity work you obviously have to have an authority / rating system built in.

Consider:

1. Job Search – You’d mostly want to be yourself, thus we have LinkedIn. A place were it makes no sense to be anonymous. But you might like to start interviewing for jobs or posting on job sites without using your actual name. That can create some awkward moments with your boss.

2. Social Capital / Earned Media – For many people keeping a blog is a way to build up “social capital” or as it’s sometimes referred to as “earned media.” Other than for people like Fake Steve Jobs where the intent is parody then you’d obviously want to use your real identity.

3. Marketing – There are times where you market as an individual and times where you want to market as a brand.

4. Games – Here is where it gets more interesting. In games you may not want people to know who you are. You might not want your work colleagues to know you play World of Warcraft or Call of Duty in the evenings. Even more so if you play in the day time ;-) In an identity world like Facebook it has been hard to play MMO (massive multiplayer online) games because there isn’t a forum for hanging out with people you don’t know. Facebook is for people you do know.

5. Dating – Dating is a place where anonymity can be really important to people. They might like a chance to get to know somebody a bit better before opening up their real identity. I could also see some sites wanting to argue the opposite – we’ll only let you chat if you agree to say who you are.

6. Political Discourse or Understanding the World Around You  – Want to debate gay marriage, polygamy, the death penalty, whether a country has an oppressive regime, religion – whatever. Pseudonymity.

We then went on to film an amazing 90 minute discussion afterward for This Week in Venture Capital. It hasn’t been processed yet but when it is I’ll be sure to post it here. We talked about this concept and also: online video, lawsuits with big media companies, the value or not of circles in Google Plus, the economic reasons behind the NetFlix decision, social TV startup Chill and much, much more.

Image courtesy of PhotoXpress.com. Thank you.

  • http://blog.ideatransplant.com Jan Schultink

    Excellent points. 

    One more consideration. When Napoleon forced people to assume family names in Europe in the early 1800s, people did not really think about whether their name is easy to pronounce, spell, and remembered by the global user base of the Internet. My ancestors for sure did not.

  • http://twitter.com/starttowonder S Jain

    Mark I think thisweekin commenting was broken.

    I like the Pseudonymity. I think it works for me and many people already on the Web. Everybody who wants it already has another account on Facebook, twitter…and everywhere. Not sure why I would go to Anybeat.  Having said that, I posted a question in thisweekin.

    Wondering what do you think will beat Facebook?

    Also, needed some guidance from you in social network and social data aggregation field since you had much more visibility in the field. If you are ok, would send an email regarding that.

    You can reply at your leisure.

  • http://kellybrough.com Kelly Brough

    This is a very interesting and important point.  Thank you for elucidating it so clearly.  Having worked in places where people go to great lengths to distinguish their own views from the views of their employer, but still sometimes fall afoul of the powers that be, I can totally appreciate the desire and need for pseudonymity.  It has been happening for centuries since we’ve had the written word.  That can’t be an accident.  

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. That’s funny.

  • Anonymous

    Pseudonymity it was and it is a good thing for the group. One can also have a different attitude on multiple identities, depending on the social network he’s in (like it was before facebook). On the flipside of the coin, this way you can’t really tell if a specific account is an A.I. robot or not. 

  • http://twitter.com/lawrencekslive Josh Davis

    “It hit me. He’s right. PSEUDONYMITY. You heard it here first. I think it’s a big concept.”

    I am surprised you think this is that new of a concept.  Those of us who came up through online forums understand the concept intuitively.  You might share your given name to those you grow close to over time, but you can certainly have real credibility and an audience without ever using your name. Essentially you are tied to an idenitity (in the case of forums, a user name), and you can develop real trust and credibility by being consistent in your approach.  Consistency is best achieved by being your real self or a real part of yourself.

    We never see every aspect of a person. So just as you can build a real friendship in the physical world without discussing every aspect of one’s life,  so too can you do it on the interwebs without using your given name.

    I am not sure the world needs or is willing to adopt another social network that embraces this concept (although I really like what I read about Anybeat).  This reality makes Twitter’s loose identity policy in combination with linking to blogs for long form discussion so powerful.  

    Thanks for the article.  Sometimes these concepts seem self evident to me, but if you can bring a  greater understanding of them to a large audience, I really appreciate it.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: email, sure. re: commenting broken – yes. But it was fun because it forced me to go check out Chill, which was alive and kicking.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I haven’t yet felt the need myself but I certainly appreciate it much more in others now

  • http://twitter.com/BloggingArrow BloggingArrow

    It’s interesting, you’re commenting on this on the same week it was brought up in a sitcom. The first episode of “How I met your mother” featured how “Beercules” could be a problem when a potential employer does a google search.

    I’m thinking the transition between using a pseudonym and you’re real identity may become important as well. I’m staying anonymous right now, but in a year or less I’ll want to go public with my identity. How can I transition what reputation I may have gained through my anonymous interactions to my real identity?
     This is something with so many different services and options, it becomes a real hassle to manage as you need to change all your profiles and figure out what the purpose of each is (although you should probably do that anyways).

  • http://twitter.com/msigal Michael Sigal

    ICC (International Chess Server) is a good example. People come for chess and get involved in political and other chat rooms there.  Some debates get really heated and I have “known” some characters there for over 17 years. It’s a great model.
     

  • http://twitter.com/awaisbokhari Awais Bokhari

    Hi Mark, I watched the interview on UStream earlier this evening, good stuff! “Anonymity + Authority” makes perfect sense. Anonymity, on its own, means no consequences for posting bullshit since you can just use a different name the next time around. The key is building an identity that sticks over time (pseudonymity). After speaking with Dmitry, you’ve realized how important of a concept this is, but the implications are even more far reaching than you might have originally thought. For instance, we’re using a similar concept on OpenTrader.com to bring transparency to the retail trading/investing community. Traders/Investors of the financial markets can sign up using an anonymous Username and then establish Authority/Credibility by sharing their real trades and P&L on an on-going basis. The sharing of real trades and investments brings a level of transparency not currently possible, bringing with it benefits like valid benchmarking, trusted networking, and more legitimate education. But none of this would be possible without pseudonymity because most people do not want to share their results and returns using their real names. Over time, the Username becomes authoritative and can have as much credibility as a real name. Again, great job on the interview and I’m looking forward to future episodes.

  • http://twitter.com/starttowonder S Jain

    Thanks Mark. Will send you the email.

  • http://www.alearningaday.com Rohan Rajiv

    I must admit I didn’t full understand it myself. 

    But, after having watched THE FAKE GRIMLOCK on AVC and the way Fred makes an effort to make sure everyone feels welcome made me realize that it takes all kinds to make this world.

    and if people want to be anonymous/pseudonymous.. so be it.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s one of mine!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, I guess I didn’t mean to imply that the concept of a pseudonym was new, just this concept of pseudonymity in a world where everybody is talking about “real ids” vs. “anonymity.” Thanks for your contribution.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Great point re: transitioning from pseudonym to real. It’s an interesting challenge to manage

  • http://www.howardlindzon.com howardlindzon

    Coolio.  Dmitry just makes me smile.  i love being my extra self over on anybeat (I am an investor).  I cant’ spell psooodonimity so ‘extra self’ is my way of thinking about it.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    great example. and thank you

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes. But who are you? j/k

  • http://twitter.com/davidsmuts David Smuts

    Hey Mark groovy post. 

    Fred’s had a few posts on anonymity recently but hitherto I haven’t heard the term “psuedonymity” used before.  I think that really captures it! 

    Second Life is a really good example of where psuedonymity is everything. Don’t know if you’ve ever tried it- I dabbled in it a few years ago and it was really quite strange and interesting and almost perverse in a way, creating a virtual body and chatting up virtual girls in cyberworld. And who know’s if the person behind the virtual Pamela Anderson body really is a woman!

  • Anonymous

    A major issue is for younger professionals – you don’t really know where you’re going to end up so most anything can be a CLM if someone’s thoroughly Googling you. Especially for people in Law, Consulting, Investment Banking and Politics.

    So you develop a pseudonym that may span a few sites, you develop some reputation but you’ve also said some, er, less than discreet things. 

    A friend of mine has just transitioned this gap, taken a pseudonym he used across comments of a few “earthy” finance sites, Twitter, and a few blogs and turned it into a business, a way to get into a top 10 B-school, and writing for high end publications. He just dropped the kimono a few weeks ago, but there’s been real fear about doing it (and I’ve been helping him game out the process).

    Personally I try to keep interactions under my name at a level that won’t be an issue in hiring. Otherwise I just rely on Twitter search not being effective at all. For off the cuff, controversial, or remarks on subjects you don’t want coming up in a quick Google, I have a plethora of IDs that tend to persist on the topics or sites.

    It’s of a piece of the reasons behind your reluctance to add certain types of people to Facebook and your list of subjects in the post.

  • David Clarke

    Has it really taken us almost 20 years to paraphrase (in a much less succinct way) Peter Steiner’s 1993 New Yorker cartoon: ‘on the internet, no-one knows you’re a dog’?

    @twitter-253340585:disqus If retaining the right to repudiate past opinions/past outings as Beercules is important to you, then Eric Schmidt’s idea that by 2050 (or whenever) people will routinely change their names at 22 for just this reason is likely appealing.

    And at the risk of sounding Freudian, I’m often struck by how technologists approach this whole question of identity from the assumption that all individuals really do have a unitary identity, and that pseudonyms or alter-egos are just phoney or duplicitous projections and therefore somehow less worthy of consideration on their merits as presented.

  • http://twitter.com/unabst K. Johan Miyanaga

    A technical FYI:Scientifically, what is boils down to is identity and utility. Names are required to associate, and the patterns of those associations is what translates into a perception of what is behind that name, aka substance – all of which is rather illusive. Brands are an attempt to build value through those associations, and in capitalism, that value translates into money, hence our great interest. Now with social networks, everyone is their own brand whether they acknowledge it or not.Pseudonymity is harder than one might think. It is very easy for someone to be outed, and that can be the end of it depending on how it is done. But the same can be said about anonymity. Most people who think they are anonymous are not (they leave huge fingerprints in logs, access is completely traceable etc).  And once someone seeking anonymity starts to retain multiple associations, be it to maintain a conversation or channels of communication,  identity naturally emerges.  This unidentifiable but traceable state is “pseudonymity” discussed here, but again, once you start creating patterns of associations, it is only a matter of time before those patterns make the real identity obvious (then a google search makes it instantly accessible to the public). Much of this is played out already offline. Celebrities and musicians create their professional personas and brand themselves with identities of their choosing. Anyone is free to look-up their real name, but that is a non-issue. We aren’t always interested in what is real. What is real, and more important, is the value generated and the money that is made. If you look at retail brands, there is no real name to begin with. It’s all just a front sustained by a corporation.What Google+ overlooked are how these identity/brand dynamics exist even at the most personal level. “Real” is sustained by use, and identity is by choice. A real name is useless if it isn’t being used to begin with, and the identities we choose for ourselves are the ones we love the most. Not all of us want to use our Real Name, but it isn’t the Real Name that should matter to you anyway… unless, perhaps your information is being dealt to others. 

  • Anonymous

    Ha!  I had a Check (Czeck?) friend whose last name was entirely consonants.  When people asked how it was spelled he’d look at them blank faced and say: the way it sounds.

    -XC

  • Maureen Scott

    I am CEO of Ether Books, a  Mobile -only Digital Publisher. Many of our Writers publish under a PEN name for our erotica genre. You need only look to the world of Publishing to see that Pen names have been used for years!

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com awaldstein

    Interesting take Mark.
    In old avatar communities and BBS worlds the big difference between anonymity and pseudonymity was persistence. This holds true in social nets as well.Anonymous, avatar-less ‘guests’ may have things to offer but its hard to have a conversation with them. Community (and friendship) and successful social nets require that persistence in my experience. Real name or nickname, link to your blog or link to nothing, facial avatar or whatever, we can develop a relationship with a persistent presence.That’s the key that comes out to me. Pure anonymous outbursts by anonymous, non persistence people on a forum are social spam.  The key is you can be accountable and be anonymous but not really without being persistence.Another slant on it from a community design perspective. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Allen-Laudenslager/100000631292091 Allen Laudenslager

    If you have a single pseudonym, how long till it gets connected back to your real identity and “everyone” knows that Jingle225 is you? Now it becomes like logins, one for twitter, another for facebook, etc. Just keeping track of all those logins and passwords is a big enough job – add in an identity and why bother. Add to the mix that I now have to remember not to say anything about work at this site or sailing at that site so I won’t have my real identity “outed”.

    In simpler terms, “What a wicked web we weave …” You can finish the quote.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    In and before college my friends and I had a different spin of experiencing pseudonyms, and it was table top role playing games. 

    Like acting for gamers, the folks around the table would buy into the illusion of alternate roles and walk in the shoes of an independent identity. Everyone knew who you were, but accepted the veil of the character role you created or took on. Fun times.

  • http://twitter.com/MeetingWave MeetingWave

    There are disadvantages and advantages provided by anonymous options on the Internet.   Blog comments made under the cloak of anonymity, etc.  However, when using sites like VRBO or Airbnb, I much prefer to know where someone works or went to school (e.g., when someone responds to ad with @company email).   

    So, we partnered with other collaboration/sharing sites and built http://vrfy.me  to help people leverage their @company.com or @alumni.university.edu email without disclosing their email address.

  • http://wikidi.com/ Michal Illich

    It’s czech. Say “strč prst skrz krk” :) – that was a real sentence :)

  • http://obtuseangles.tumblr.com Leslie L. Kossoff

    I’m an anachronism.  I come from a world where your word was your bond and you really could do a deal on a handshake alone.  My problem is that even though the rest of the world doesn’t operate that way any longer – or at least too much of it doesn’t – I continue to do so.  (Sort of sweet, isn’t it?  Naive?  I know – but I’m an optimist by design and am willing to take the risk.)

    That’s why this discussion – here, on AVC, the pushback to Google+ and more – is both a fascination and a disappointing commentary on society from my perspective.

    In my world, people take responsibility for what they do.  They are not only held accountable, but, most importantly, they hold themselves accountable for their actions and their words.Were the decision to be anonymous (we’ll get to pseudonymous in a moment) one which was based on a true fear of consequences, I’d actually feel better about it.  Unfortunately, too many who use either a pseudonym or no name at all aren’t doing so for that reason.  Otherwise their contributions would be substantive and of value.  Not simply rants or insults for which they don’t want to take responsibility.

    In the world of pseudonyms, yes, authors have been doing so forever.  Sometimes – and even today – it is simply a means of separating different writing for different series or genres.  Sometimes, too, there is a fear of real consequences.  Using this argument isn’t quite the same as what we’re discussing here.

    The internet is a wonderful thing – but when I think about this topic I go back to its early days and the first concerns about pedophiles who were grooming children by presenting themselves as other than what they are.  The danger is in the anonymity – or pseudonymity.

    So, I’ll just keep watch, pay attention to and have far more respect for those who use their names than those who don’t.  After all, they have the courage of their convictions.  And yes, I know, I’ll stay an anachronism, too.

    Thanks, Mark, to you.  I’ve been a reader but this is my first time commenting.  I really appreciate your blog and your thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    With your permission I’d like to link two of my blog posts here that relate specifically to this topic.  The posts came from a discussion about my online persona as it related to Facebook and my wife’s perception of the Internet as a whole.  She accused me of not talking about my family on my blog like all of her friends did on Facebook.  From that, I derived a couple of blog posts explaining the difference between Facebook and the rest of the Internet.  I then revised that in an update about a year later to reflect the changes in my perception.  My Ah-ha moment on this topic was about two years ago.

    Thought it might be relevant to the discussion but didn’t want to link my blog here without asking.

  • http://twitter.com/DanielSBowen Dan Bowen

    While I think you make some very interesting points, for this to come to fruition would require an extraordinary level of maturity and purpose online and that isn’t exactly commonplace!

  • Pete Griffiths

    Mark – is ‘pseudonymity’ anything other than a new word for a familiar concept?  The idea that a person could have a consistent identity, on one site or several, that is nonetheless cloaked is reasonably familiar, is it not?

  • http://www.xuropa.com/ James Colgan

    An excellent crystallization of a crucial concept.  People,  lives, and situations are complicated.  To insist that everyone distill all their interactions down to a single and public persona (FB) either limits the exchange of ideas or leaves the inexperienced exposed to life altering consequences.  

  • http://essaysnark.blogspot.com EssaySnark

    Wow, this is exactly what we have been doing for over two years now – blogging in a way that  hopefully provides real value to our audience, but behind a pseudonym (a name which we have grown a little fond of, it so completely sums up the essence of this persona). We’re on Twitter, but not FB, and it’s likely to stay that way. FB much too intrusive for so many reasons. Yet we want to be able to be heard/found on the internet since we do have something to offer.

    You hit this on the head, Mark. Pseudonymity is exactly what we want/are doing. If only we could learn to spell it.

  • Anonymous

    Ha – according to Google Translate this has to do with carrying beer: tick your finger through the neck.Or so I hope!-XC

    http://translate.google.com/#cs|en|str%C4%8D%20prst%20skrz%20krk

  • fitz flynn

    it sounds like you are going to worry about your Klout rating for your pseudonym? 

    I like the way Barry Ritholtz of the big Picture handles anonymous commenting on his blog.  I think it summarizes your former view. 

     

    “Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance,
    unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes,
    and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create
    straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied.
    Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly,
    kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all,
    anonymous.”  -BR

  • http://absono.us whitneymcn

    Andy Weissman has written and talked about this a fair bit, as well. One thing I find interesting about his take is the idea that use of a pseudonym is not necessarily driven by the need to hide identity; rather the pseudonym can itself be an entirely valid and sufficient identity within a specific context.

    He doesn’t make a secret of the fact that newspeedwayboogie on Tumblr is also NYC tech’s most beloved Andy Weissman (ref. his love of the Minutemen quote “real names be proof”), but he also doesn’t go out of his way to link them.

    This seems to me like a different scenario from the ones outlined above: the issue is not insulating yourself from the potential effects of being linked to your activity in the pseudonymous environment, but possibly giving one aspect of yourself its own space to grow.

    Newspeedwayboogie would still be newspeedwayboogie if Andy Weissman were a short order cook rather than an influential venture capitalist, and  (while this is pure speculation on my part) it’s probably really valuable for Andy to have a place that he expresses himself without thinking about his day job.

  • http://twitter.com/campfirewest Dan Deppen

    I made that transition in online poker. After finishing my MBA I suspect some employers may have been put off by it.

  • http://twitter.com/hariath Clelia Thermou

    you are right Mark! pseudonymity. It’s the most accurate term. This is why people on facebook for example are restrained and the same people on twitter are extrovert. if your fb account is anonymous you are a weirdo, if your twitter account is anonymous you can be cool. All these are the consequences of the structures on top of which each network is based.
    Great Mark. It was a nice one :-)

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Ha! You think  Czeck is a challenge? Try Welsh!

  • http://twitter.com/EMFpotential Ezra M. Fortune

    I absolutely agree. Does anyone really think Ezra M. Fortune is my real name? It’s my twitter handle and online persona because I AM that 24 year old kid trying to find my way. Of course I have properties in my real name and the two sometimes overlap. It’s not as strong a line as it used to be.

    But honestly, I can debate (never troll!), comment, interact, etc without worrying about some future employer taking offense. I wish I could just be myself online, and to a large extent I can, but hey…I’m only 24 and trying to break into my industry. Can’t making career limiting moves while I’m a nobody.

    BTW: Looking forward to following AnyBeat’s development!

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Very well put Arnold: I agree with all of your points.

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Reminds me somewhat of Dungeons and Dragons. I never played that game but my son did so I may have it wrong but it seems that was a game in which players assumed alternate roles as you have described here Mark.

  • Anon4fun

    From the article: “1. Job Search – You’d mostly want to be yourself, thus we have LinkedIn. A place were it makes no sense to be anonymous. But you might like to start interviewing for jobs or posting on job sites without using your actual name. That can create some awkward moments with your boss.”

    Another way to create some awkward moments with your boss, and raise eyebrows with potential future employers too, is using your actual name when posting about anything politically or otherwise controversial that can be found through a simple web search.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Yup that was probably the most popular table top rpg we played, Champions, RIFTS, GURPS, Diceless Amber, and White Wolf were among others. The system provided a platform for the collaborative story telling to happen.

  • http://www.missi.com/ Peter Beddows

    Mark: Your comment that “I guess by 43 I’ve found myself in a situation where I worry about that a bit less and I trust myself to skate close to the line but not cross it (too often)” is particularly interesting in this debate.

    What struck me here in reading that was that as we age – perhaps also gaining wisdom but certainly gaining much greater awareness about how the world actually works (remember: hire a teenager while they still know everything?) and discover what matters and what does not in life in general and in terms of building relationships and business – we certainly should be able to worry a bit less and trust our self a lot more to choose with experienced based discretion what we make public relative to using our authentic identity versus using an anonymous identity.

    Apart from the fact you have obviously gained awareness that gives you a different perspective through advancing in years and thus now have less tendency to worry, you also have the particular advantage, technically at least, of not having to worry about what your “boss” may think if he/she sees your posts because, to all intents and purposes, you are now your own boss – albeit that impact upon your prospects, customers and partners is clearly very important and thus discretion still is the watch word: However, having risen to the level of responsibility that you now have in your own partnership, this reality of responsibility surely also has an unconscious built-in important psychological constraint on what you would be inclined to share under either anonymous, public or private identity.

    That being said, since I have a few more years under my belt than you, I wish I could also claim that “by xx” (you don’t really expect me to put my own age in here do you :) ) I’ve found myself in situations where I would reliably make smarter choices about what I post under my real name but judging by the way my twitter follower count yoyo’s after some of my tweets, alas I’m still learning! Or it could just be that as an ex-pat Brit’ some of my views my be a little too tendentious for an American audience!

    But then, I also see this debate as an extension of the preceding one you opened on the topic of: “Don’t Commit BSAK Errors. The World is Too Small”. There’s never a dull moment here on Both Sides of the Table!

  • JamesHRH

    Nothing will ‘beat’ Facebook. Some companies will focus in on other social networking markets and establish dominant positions in those sub-markets. But Facebook will be the defacto place to have a connection to someone who fits the loose definition of ‘friend’.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Mark,

    I normally either agree or listen to what you have to say, but this time you are dead wrong. You used to be right (cf. the beginning of your article) though. Note that Dmitry is not wrong. He sells the product, which obviously has herds of customers in waiting. No flaws in logic here.

    Two things I wanted to point out. First, pseudonimity opens the Pandora box of mouthes who want to “smoke weed and talk blip like Lane Kiffin”. Which means more work for content providers to block them and clean the threads up. Pesudonimity already exists everywhere as you and  many who commented mentioned already. But it does not make it right. With the exception of situations with money or personal security or police investigation involved.  Look at Youtube. Any discussion of Bob Seger or little kitten or whatever else quickly turns from insults to plantation lexicon to “comments for this video has been disabled”. Who needs this?… Exactly.

    And second, to the point that Dmitry raised (in his other This Week in Startups interview), about being able to speak freely on political issues under the cover of pseudonim, it is do or die situation in many countries. Yet, those who truly believe in what they are saying should have a very serious reason to speak under assumed identity. For instance, if you are a hard core pro-one-man-one-woman-marriage guy, and you feel tempted to blast gay marriage activists, are you seriously afraid that gay terrorist will come into your house and bitch-slap you? or if you simply uneasy about you co-workers calling you a biggot, then maybe you do not believe in what you saying hard enough? Maybe. Do it under your real name or do not do it at all.

    And to be less hypocritical, my name is Igor Rozhkov, and not LouisFerdinand, which is login I use on social networks. The reason I am using it is to reduce load on my real inboxes. Back when I opened this account at Yahoo I was also concerned about financial information security. I do find myself prone to what you (used to) call CLM, but surprisingly, so far so good.