Over the weekend, Google annoyed numerous one-time Google+ users by blowing away their accounts because they'd broken Google's name restrictions. That went over well. As I asked at the time, “What was Google thinking!?” Google's senior VP of social, Vic Gundotra, explained Google's logic for insisting on real names, as an attempt to set a positive tone, "like when a restaurant doesn't allow people who aren't wearing shirts to enter." Now, Bradley Horowitz, Google's VP of Google+, stated on a Google+ post that Google will be changing its naming policies “as soon as possible. We’ve already improved our process, and the changes below should arrive in a matter of weeks.”
First, Horowitz apologized for how Google had been handling many of its Google+ users' choice of names. “We’ve noticed that many violations of the Google+ common name policy were in fact well-intentioned and inadvertent and for these users our process can be frustrating and disappointing. So we’re currently making a number of improvements to this process-- specifically regarding how we notify these users that they’re not in compliance with Google+ policies and how we communicate the remedies available to them.“
Specifically, Google will give:
users a warning and a chance to correct their name in advance of any suspension. (Of course whenever we review a profile, if we determine that the account is violating other policies like spam or abuse we’ll suspend the account immediately.)
- At time of this notice, a clear indication of how the user can edit their name to conform to our community standards
- Better expectation setting as to next steps and timeframes for users that are engaged in this process.
Looking ahead Horowitz states that Google will be “looking at ways to improve the signup process to reduce the likelihood that users get themselves into a state that will later result in review.”
In addition, Google “noticed that some people are using their profile name to show-off nicknames, maiden names and personal descriptions. While the profile name doesn’t accommodate this, we want to support your friends finding you by these alternate names and give you a prominent way of displaying this info in Google+. Here are two features in particular that facilitate this kind of self-expression:”
If you add nicknames, maiden names, etc. to the "Other names" portion of your G+ profile, those with permission to view those fields can search for you using that term. For example: some of my colleagues call me "elatable," a pseudonym I’ve used on many services, so I've added it to my list of other names.
The "Employment," “Occupation” and “Education” fields in your profile can appear in your hovercard all across Google+ -- to those with permission to view them. This also helps other users find and identify you. In my case "Google+" appears in my hovercard, but I'm already seeing lots of creative uses of this real estate.
These changes don't go far enough for some users. ZDNet's own Violet Blue, for example, observes that “pseudonyms are still an account violation, there is no explanation about policy regarding exceptions being made for certain celebrities, but he has made a few clarifications that are important.”
From where Blue sits “It's mostly about 'giving people a chance to correct' what Google determines as a name violation. Open question: is this helpful?”
Horowitz went on to dismiss what he calls two myths. The first is that Google doesn't care about one or the other groups of people, such as businesses. He states that is not true. Instead, he states that “While this may appear as easy as the stroke of a policy pen (“Just let the businesses in!”), we think we can do better. We’re designing features for different use cases that we think will make a better product experience both for them and for everyone else. Please don’t misconstrue the product as it exists today (< 4 weeks since entering Field Trial) as the 'end state.'”
Finally, Horowitz wrote, that it is a myth that “Not abiding by the Google+ common name policy can lead to wholesale suspension of one’s entire Google account.”
He explained, “When an account is suspended for violating the Google+ common name standards, access to Gmail or other products that don’t require a Google+ profile are not removed. Please help get the word out: if your Google+ Profile is suspended for not using a common name, you won't be able to use Google services that require a Google+ Profile, but you'll still be able to use Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Blogger, and so on. (Of course there are other Google-wide policies (e.g. egregious spamming, illegal activity, etc) that do apply to all Google products, and violations of these policies could in fact lead to a Google-wide suspension.)”
As Blue points out though, losing your Google Profile, which goes if you lose your Google+ name, “you lose access to Reader and do not have Data Portability - you lose your G+ data and posts.,”
Even so, I think that this is a good start. I know some people, like Blue, don't feel that Google has gone far enough. Personally, I'm giving Google the benefit of the doubt. For example, I trust that Google isn't deleting people's information along with access to their Google+ accounts when the accounts are first set aside for a name violation.
In any case, for all that Google has been ham-handed with the names, I think it's good to keep in mind that Google+ is still in beta and, at only about four-weeks old, early beta at that. Even with over 10-million users, Google+ is just getting started. Mistakes with management, as well as technology, could only be expected.
Finally, I'd encourage the powers that be at Google+ to look closely at Eric “ESR” Raymond's suggestion of adding “a form to apply for an alias. Once the alias is registered, it would become usable as a + reference and discoverable by name search. Limit of three per customer to prevent spamming of the namespace. Raymond, one of the founders of open source, makes a good case for this approach to handle “corner cases that can be solved at low cost first, and deferring the tougher ones until we can use that experience to revise our evaluations of cost/benefit.” It's not perfect, but he doesn't claim that it is, and in the meantime, it would make a workable approach for dealing with nicknames and the like.