Google+, Pseudonyms, and Writers


I’m on Google+ now.  Isn’t that exciting?  This is me, for anyone who doesn’t yet know.  I’m still trying to figure out the best use for it.  Right now it’s turning into the home for thoughts that are a little too long for Twitter, but not fully formed enough to be a blog post.

You’ll note my name over there.  I’m DL Thurston, just like I am over here, just like I am on Unleaded, just like I am when I enter my weekly writing contests, and just like I am when I submit to anthologies.  That isn’t strictly my name.  Pull out my drivers license and it says David Thurston.  But when I was starting out as a writer I found there were too many David Thurstons in the world, and I was worried it would be harder to get my name associated with myself.  Yeah, apparently I’ve been concerned about branding since the very beginning.  So I chose to go by my first two initials, unpunctuated, instead.  DL Thurston.  It’s fantastic.  With the exception of Twitter, where I found DLThurston already taken, it’s allowed me to directly control who DL Thurston is in the world.

It is who I am.

Now there’s Google+.  Yes, I’m DL Thurston there too, but if you read their terms of service very careful, it’s hard to tell whether or not I’m in violation of them, but the answer is probably yes.  And this has become an important issue the last few days as Google has started going after accounts registered to pseudonyms.  This likely isn’t news if you’ve been in and around blogs the last week.  People have lost not only access to Google+, but also to their gmail accounts, their Google Docs, their backups, their calendars, to any of the number of services that Google has implemented to make the company indispensable to modern life.

There are plenty of valid concerns from people who operate online under pseudonyms because of their job, or because they have a safety need to divorce their opinions from their actual name.  These have been discussed, and I’m not looking to minimize those concerns, but as this is a writing blog, I’m going to approach this from a writer’s perspective.  We live and operate in a world of pseudonyms.  We publish under identities that are not quite our own, whether they be variations of our name other than our direct given and legal first and last names (what Google potentially wants based on some readings) or complete fabrications.

That’s who we, as writers, are.  That’s who people will look for.  People want to find Joe Hill, not Joe King.  They want to find J. K. Rowling, not Joanne Rowling.  While neither is on Google+ yet, if they were then the names they write under would both be a technical violation of the first name, last name policy that is in the Google terms of service.  And if Google is going to implement a policy so strict as to not allow any pseudonyms on the service?  Then it’s going to likely end up largely rejected by the writing community.  And if Google tries to use some sort of fame-and-influence metric when determining to allow something like J. K. Rowling but not something like DL Thurston, then they’ll probably have a bigger PR issue on their hands.

Now, I’ve not had any direct problems with my account, I want to be very clear.  Google is apparently only looking for things that are overtly pseudonyms.  For now, at least.  But to me this is a very real concern.  It’s part of why I’m glad I have a separate account for my Google+ profile and for every other Google product.  And if they’re shutting down access to all Google products for flagged pseudonym accounts, that might not be a bad approach going forward.  Lot of people use Google for backing up their stuff, hell, I’ve even recommended that in old blog post here.  Lot of people use Google for working copies of documents, because it makes them mobile.  Lot of people use Google for a lot of things, because that’s how they’ve set themselves up, and always with that motto of Do No Harm.

This?  This is going to harm.  This is going to harm people, this is going to harm the reputation of the company, and this is going to harm adoption of the new Google+ service.

For now?  I’m using it.  I’m liking it.  But I’m also wary of how I’m using it, and I’m not putting anything up that I don’t mind losing if they shut off my access.  And it’s an issue that anyone who doesn’t write entirely under their legally given first and last name should be aware of, and should keep an eye on.  Branding is important to the modern writer trying to (no pun intended) make a name for him or herself, and if it’s a choice of being on Google+ under a name other than what I publish as, or not being on at all?  I’ll probably pick the latter.  I just hope that’s not a decision I have to make.

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