Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Critique of G+ Names Policy

I've reviewed the recent G+ answers on names setting out the current name policy at G+ (aka plus.google.com) and have some notes for the team. Be advised that I'm a software engineer turned lawyer and part-time professor of legal research and writing. Which means, doing this amused me *immensely*. It may or may not amuse you. Regardless, this is a serious critique of the way the policy is written.

Nutshell Critique: Your rules, as stated, do not successfully implement your policy.

More Detailed Breakdown:

This is the policy that the rules, enumerated further below, will attempt to implement:

"Google+ makes connecting with people on the web more like connecting with people in the real world. Because of this, it’s important to use your common name so that the people you want to connect with can find you. Your common name is the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you."

(Emphasis added). Now, the rules that attempt to implement this policy are:

a. Use your full first and last name in a single language.
b. Put nicknames or pseudonyms in the Other Names field.
c. Avoid unusual characters in your name.
d. Your profile and name must represent one individual.
e. Don't use the name of another individual.
f. Name Changes - one per 30 days

Let's review them together, shall we? Google defines a "common name" in a specific way - the name "your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you" - and wants you to use that name for a specific purpose - to make you easy to find by the people who you want to be able to find you and connect with you.

None of the rules enable implementation of this policy in any significant way, and half of them hamper it.

a. If your commonly used name is "Skud", just to pick an example not at all at random, the rule that you use a first and last name increases rather than decreases the difficulty of the people with whom you want to connect finding you, because those people will be searching for you via the name "Skud".

b. Ditto the requirement that you put nicknames or pseudonyms in your 'other names' field. If your commonly used name is a nickname or a pseudonym, then that is the name people with whom you want to connect will use to look for you. See, e.g., "Skud", or "James Tiptree, Jr." So, that should be your primary name, not your 'other' name, by definition.

c. Unusual characters: If your common name has unusual characters than that is what must be used to express it. Any other name is not your common name, and thus fails the definition given above and can't satisfy the stated policy.

d. One entity at a time. - This rule I'll address at a later time of my choosing.

e. Don't use someone else's name. This is problematic because names, however much we'd like them to be unique, aren't. There are many Johnny Smiths out there, and more than one might want to be on G+. However, the rule, as written, is not too atrocious - the goal is clear: don't impersonate someone else. Why not make that aspect more explicit, though?

(I call this the 'don't impersonate Wil Wheaton' rule. Because breaking it would make you a dick.)

f. Name changes - once every 30 days. This rule is murky at best (why 30 days and not 15, or 60?), but if you read between the lines, you can see the goal of persistent identity. Why don't you try to tease that out a little more? The problems inherent in this list come from the prior rules, that hamper rather than facilitate establishing your persistent identity through assumptions of what a 'common name' must looks like.

So, Google, your names "rules" as written do not implement your stated "policy" of making it easy for users to be found by those with whom they want to connect.

I give your draft a C-. Maybe a D+. (And that means, not even professionally competent.) Don't be too downcast, though, because I'm going to give you more time to work on it. Why don't you get it back to me in a week, and I'll give you some more critique. We can see where you stand, then.

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