On Saturday night I visited Google+ for the first time in a week to discover that I was about to be banned and have my account suspended from G+.
I was instructed to change my profile to comply with the Google+ "real name" policy - even though I am using my real name on the service.
My real name, they told me, was not my real name.
I couldn't even imagine that a company where I have given two Tech Talks at their headquarters (one with 1.5 million YouTube views and counting) could be getting this so very wrong. Not to mention that if they looked, my name could be verified in Google Checkout data from my recent Google I/O attendee purchase. Among many other things.
I'm just saying, my identity footprint with this company is huge.
I was guilty until proven innocent.
When you get your account suspended on Google Plus, you lose Google Reader, your Google Profile (it is deleted from Google search) and any Picasa photos and photo albums.
Or more. A significant number of people still report experiencing a G+ account suspension bug that also locks them out of Gmail or causes problems with Gchat (though they state it will not happen). Gmail lockout was also reported in the first wave of Google+ account deletions.
Upset? You could say that. After writing three very visible, critical articles about Google Plus, it was a struggle to maintain an unbiased reaction.
Worse, I only found out because I visited Google Plus. I received no other notification.
If I had been off Google+ all weekend, I would have woken up Monday morning to my services being shut off and no idea what had happened or how to get them back.
Too much risk for a social network
So now I faced losing business services I not only used, but depend on as cornerstones for my livelihood.
Social networks are supposed to be fun, dammit.
I actually hadn't been spending much time on Google Plus. Trolls have figured out how to game it, half of my friends and people I love to share with are gone over the real names issue, and its conservative Terms pose a significant hinderance to what I can share.
Additionally, a few trolls had joked a few weeks back about trying to find a reason to report my profile, and I figured it was just a matter of time until they made good on their threats. Being a veteran - nee expert - on getting griefed on social network sites, I could see that G+ was ripe for exploitation.
I thought that if I quietly mothballed my account, no one would bother me. I wouldn't risk ending up with vital Google services in jeopardy because some power-tripping jerk hates girls that talk about sex, or LGBT issues, or just women, or me, or whatever. In fact, I was only copying friends that have done the same to stay safe.
The very same Saturday afternoon - before I got my G+ notice - the subject of publicly writing critically about Google+ had come up in a circle of tech friends I chat with. We were worried - and to a person, all of us depend on Google's services, in one way or another.
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Google is not Facebook: it is a utility
Losing my Gmail, Google Groups and Docs access would be devastating.
Having conversations with other tech personalities raised my awareness about how much these services are now part of the fabric of our lives.
What this means is that if you tell me to "like it or lump it" when it comes to Google Plus' "real names" policies, and its continually mismanaged enforcement and penalties that come with Google+ infractions, you can stick it in your yapping G-hole.
You see, I'm sick of that argument because it is simply invalid.
Google+ is not like Facebook or any other social site, not at all.
If you don't like Facebook's "real names" policy, you can leave and cultivate your social media presence elsewhere - yes, you'll be shut out of a significant area of commerce and social interaction, but you're not completely screwed.
If you don't like Google Plus' terms, or like me you run afoul of policy simply by existing, you stand to lose more than just a social network. You stand to lose access to aspects of a public utility.
Google is not just a company. It maintains infrastructure for what have become vital services. And this is something you'll only start to see if Google suspends you from Google Plus.
I had no idea how to save my account. The only thing I could think of to do was make a post on Google+ stating what had happened, and that I am using my real name. Many friends chimed in to raise awareness, not just about my situation but about the larger problem: Google Plus' continuing community mismanagement over profile terms.
Then panic set in. I've used Google's services because out of all the fly-by-night startups, companies and social networks, Google was one whose infrastructure I felt I could really rely on (even if I don't always agree with their politics or policy).
Meanwhile, people messaged me on Twitter to say that after their third Google+ account suspension and appeal, they had simply given up. Not reassuring. Others expressed regret that I was dealing with this, but thankful that my situation had alerted them to dodge this particular bullet.
Wake-up call: move away from Google services
I had set my Google profile page to be my main, accurate bio page and one that could be accessed by everyone. I moved all points linking to it over to Posterous and Flavors.me (which have been incredibly stable and don't appear poised to do a ToS bait-and-switch).
What would this mean for my Android phone? I really regretted getting myself into this situation by using so many Google products and services.
Next, I moved everything off of Reader and into NewsBlur - which turns out to be an excellent move. NewsBlur rocks, and I'm at least glad to have found this fabulous new tool.
Then I just spent the rest of the weekend stressing out wondering if I should start migrating my Google Docs and email.
Sunday night, midnight... Nothing.
I woke up Monday morning... Nothing. I checked my Google Plus profile - it was still there, but now with a "Verified Account" checkmark.
They really could have told me.
Later that afternoon, they decided to let me know. In an email around 1:10pm, I was told:
Dear Violet Blue,
I am happy to report that we have reviewed your profile and confirmed that Violet Blue is your common name and you may continue using it in Google+. In addition, we will be adding the verified name badge to your profile.
We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your patience. Thank you for your continued interest in the Google+ project.
Michael The Google+ team
Apparently I had a case number - wow, that would have been handy to know about. So would knowing that my account had been deemed a problem as early as Friday.
Getting verified on Twitter wasn't easy, but it was kittens, pop-tarts and rainbows compared to this. Also, I'm more than a little insulted that they're allowing me to continue using my common name, which is my real name, thank you very much.
This was a total failure in user experience. It's nearly impossible to think that a company with Google's time and resources could not have come up with a better way.
The "real names" issue is more important than certain people seem to understand. It's at the center of all the noise because personal identity control is a core internet value. Even if Google+ figureheads are fine with breaking their own rules about identity, and okay with not having people like me on Google Plus.
Google is part of this landscape, people like me belong here, and Google has to be just as responsible of an internet citizen as we are. Even more so when they embody the aspects of traditional public utilities in commerce and communication.
This post is a little more personal than my usual Pulp Tech fare, but after contributing to My Name Is Me, and then having this happen, it's all gone about five miles past the "ironic" signpost in my world.
Dear Google Plus: no more drama, please.
I'm just not that into you.