Google is now allowing a limited number of users on its social network Google+ to have fully pseudonymous accounts, a Google representative just confirmed with me. This after Google+ VP Bradley Horowitz announced yesterday the reversal of a previous Google policy banning pseudonymous accounts. The new policy isn't to be confused with "Nicknames", a Google+ feature also announced yesterday, which are just alternate names listed in addition to an existing (real name) on the profile.
Regarding fully pseudonymous accounts, here's the key clause from Horowitz:
[S]tarting today we’re updating our policies and processes to broaden support for established pseudonyms, from [artist] trench coat to [pop star] Madonna. If we flag the name you intend to use, you can provide us with information to help confirm your established identity. This might include:
We’ll review the information and typically get back to you within a few days. We may also ask for further information, such as proof that you control a website you reference.
- References to an established identity offline in print media, news articles, etc
- Scanned official documentation, such as a driver’s license
- Proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following
Does this mean you can have a Google+ account named after, say, your Second Life avatar, or your Reddit username, or whatever? Maybe. Here's where things get tricky. "It’s important to note that not all appeals will be granted," the Google spokesperson told me. "Users must show that this name is known by a meaningful number of other people."
I asked the spokesperson if that would specifically include pseudonyms based on Second Life avatars. "They include web profiles that only the avatar's owner can use," I explained. "For example, here's mine [Hamlet Au]."
"Unfortunately, we don't comment on our thresholds or sources for submitting proof of identity. This is in order to prevent abuse and spam." They went on: "[I]n our first step toward updating our common name policy - we are only allowing established pseudonyms into Google+. We know that the Internet has a rich history of users that have established new identities. So in order to support these established identities, we simply ask for proof that that identity is actually in meaningful use."
So G+ pseudonyms are not limited to extremely well-known, real world persons like Madonna. "Anyone is welcome to go through the appeals process," the spokesperson told me, pointing to the three pieces of evidence Horowitz also mentioned. Overall, this is a significant improvement to Google's policy, and significantly better than the half-measure tech experts like Jamie Zawinski predicted.
All that said, and reading between the lines, my personal interpretation is that some SL avatar-based Google+ accounts are permissible -- if the account owner can show, for example, mentions of their SL avatar in the mainstream press. On that assumption, I'm pretty sure, say, New World Notes contributing writer Janine Hawkins could create a Google+ account named Iris Ophelia, since she was profiled in the New York Times with that avatar name, and has a large following on NWN. For that manner, I'd guess any SL blogger with more than a few hundred regular readers might make the cut (if they can prove to Google they own the blog in question). But random SL avatars known only by a few dozen other random avatars? Maybe not so much, and some SLers are likely to be disappointed. But as the Google policy guide says, "We’d hate to see you go, but if you choose to leave, make a copy of your Google+ data first."