When I read Violet Blue's account of her struggles to maintain her Google+ account, it occurred to me that Google isn't just making life hard on some of its most dedicated users, it's also making life hard on itself. More than ever I was reminded that Google is an engineering company, not a people company. So, here's my short list of some very basic, very human, things Google could do to make life better both for its users and for its own staffers.
First, Google doesn't really have a policy on Google+ names yet. Oh, they came up with something--everyone will need to use their real names!--but clearly they never really thought that out. After all, some of their own top people don't use their "real" names!
So, until Google has really thought out and laid out what the heck their naming policy is going to be, may I suggest that Google cut everyone some slack with their names? Sure get rid of "Darth Vader" or "Iluv youlongtime," but let's use some common sense with most people shall we?
Moving on, I'm not going to rehash the whole real name issue. I will, however, suggest as my second point, that Google dump the whole idea of real names once and for all. Instead, they should simply require Google+ members use a unique name.
By this, I don't mean that only I should be allowed to use 'sjvn," for example, as my social networking name. It does mean that on Google+, if I elected to have a "sjvn" account that that's the only name, the only identity, I use on Google+.
As Anders Sandberg, a research fellow at Oxford University, puts it in a recent essay on the so-called nym wars, "The real struggle is not about anonymity, the ability to make comments not traceable to anybody, but pseudonymity, the ability to maintain a more or less stable persona that can interact with others without revealing all aspects of the self."
Sandberg goes, "Pseudonymity is important for some functions of the open society: some things need to be said, but there is no need for them to be said by an identifiable person. In order to build credibility a voice also need to have a record and show that there has been a personal investment into the identity--full anonymity rarely produces any credibility."
Exactly. If Google were to take this as the philosophical basis for their policy, they could end the nym wars for good.
My fellow point, and that I feel should be addressed even before Google really sets down in stone its naming policy, is that Google needs more and better customer support staff. It's simply unacceptable for anyone to find out that their account is under review when they check into their Google+ account. Come on Google! You have their e-mail addresses or they wouldn't be on Google+ in the first place.
In short, Google needs staff to address user issues. These staffers, in turn, need to set up a clear line of communications between users and Google.
After all, even after the real name issue is taken care of, Google will have tens of thousands of users a day wanting to know how to handle Google+ technical problems; how to deal with their ex-husband or wife stalking them, and on and on and on. Dealing with this kind of stuff is not Google's strong point, but if Google really wants Google+ to be successful, they need to get their engineering, policies, and support people working together.
Warts and all, I like Google+. If Google just takes care of the real name issue the right way, and then sets up a strong, reliable and fair user-support system to back up their policies, Google+ may yet up become the best social network of them all.