Last Friday, Linden Lab spokesperson Peter Gray responded to my e-mail to him from last Wednesday, asking if it was true, as original reports and an interview with CEO Ebbe Altberg seemed to suggest, that Project Sansar would require users to create accounts with their real life names. Peter insists that this is not accurate, but I haven't gotten an official response from Altberg himself, despite three follow-up e-mails requesting one.
"As Ebbe said [in the interview]," Peter told me, "requiring a user to provide their real identity to Linden Lab in order to create an account wouldn't preclude one from using a pseudonymous (or anonymous) persona when interacting with other users on the platform. This is quite clear in the quotes below: 'So I could go into a role-playing, or into an experience as an anonymous user in that context. But to the platform, I am not anonymous...It’s definitely something we’re thinking a lot about. But do I want that people in Sansar should be able to walk around anonymously? Absolutely!'"
However, in another part of the very same interview, Ebbe also suggested that the company is considering an identity system which integrates Facebook's real name policies with a pseudonymous one akin to Second Life and Twitter:
Ebbe Altberg: "Second Life is on, I would say, the far spectrum of the anonymity side; and on the other side you have what we call real names, real identities, like probably the most successful real system on planet Earth is Facebook. And there’s a reason why they’ve been extremely successful with that; and there’s probably a reason why 100% anonymous networks like Twitter and Second Life run into some really interesting challenges. And there are pros and cons; and we’re trying to think of ways of potentially mixing these models, but we have not made final decisions yet. I have a preference, some other team players have slightly different preferences, so we’ll see where it ends up. But I think what would be best for Sansar would be real names, and then the ability to have personas underneath that."
Emphases mine. So on the one hand, Sansar users will be able to have anonymous personas in roleplaying contexts and to "walk around"; on the other, we have Ebbe praising Facebook's real name policy while pointing out the problems with SL/Twitter's pseudonymous policy, then saying Sansar may blend the two approaches in some way, with Ebbe's preference to put pseudonyms "underneath" a real name.
These are decidedly mixed messages, so I've asked Peter to get Ebbe Altberg to clarify by answering five questions for the record:
- Will Project Sansar only require users' real names to be registered with the company and by default, only be known by the company (in normal circumstances)?
- Under what circumstances will Linden Lab reveal Project Sansar users' real names to authorities?
- Under what circumstances will Linden Lab reveal Project Sansar users' real names to other users?
- In Project Sansar, will displaying real names in a user's publicly viewable account be opt-in, or opt-out?
- In Project Sansar, will Facebook Connect or other linking with a user's Facebook account be mandatory?
So far, despite two follow-up e-mails over the last three business days, I haven't gotten a reply. This may mean Linden Lab hasn't nailed down its user name policy enough to answer them, or that they just don't want to publicize their approach so soon before Sansar launches, or any number of other possibilities. At this point, I think the only thing we can be sure of is Sansar will require users to register their real names internally on the system, but still allow some level of anonymous and/or pseudonymous identity and activity -- but how much, and with whom, and in what contexts, are not yet clearly laid out.
At the same time, it's also clear Linden Lab's CEO has a personal preference for making real names primary -- but how that will actually be implemented is still unclear. I hope Altberg does get around to making some more definitive statements for the public record, and will post an update if and when he does.
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