Nymwars: IRL on Google’s Lawns.

We need to bring this struggle to Google IRL (In Real Life – physical, real world, meet space). Here is my thinking on why and my ideas about how.

WHY:  Even women with privileged access to Google insiders and who have real name handle combinations are not getting reinstated.

Yesterday, my friend Joseph Smarr put me in a circle – he works on Google+ and so I decided to e-mail him and ask if He could restore my account. I hadn’t really tried to use my privileged access to him because of being in the identity community with him for the last 5 years. I actually met him at Mashup Camp in 2006 or 2007 where he was leading a session about his ideas on identity. Johannes Ernst and I were both there and told him he absolutely must participate in the next IIW.

He came and was an amazing contributor to the community proactively developing open standards for social networks and identity – so much so that he landed a job at Google… building Google+. What I don’t get is what he doesn’t get about people and their real names. I do appreciate very much what he said in his interview here with Digiphile at OSCON.

Smarr had one other comment on identity that goes to the difficultly of creating social networks in domains that may be hostile to free expression: “It’s not just enough to offer the ability to post under a pseudonymous identifier. If you’re going to make the commitment that we’re not going to out your real identity, that actually takes a lot of work, especially if you’re using your real account to log in and then posting under a pseudonym. We feel a real responsibility that if we’re going to make the claim to people ‘it’s safe, you’re not going to get outed,’ then we really need to think through the architecture and make sure there aren’t any loopholes where all of a sudden you get outed. That’s actually a hard thing to do in software … we don’t want to do it wrong, and so we’d rather wait until we get it right.”

This comment is right on. Google knows it doesn’t have the sophistication to have the two different kinds of “states” within these same accounts and guarantee to users that they won’t be linked to each other, so that if you had a Google account with the “Identified” state using your real name, and then also had within that same account a “pseudonym” that was linked to some sensitive topic/issue/hobby, that it wouldn’t link or leak this correlation. I actually respect them very much for this clarity.

What Joseph Smarr, Chris Messina and others clearly don’t get is that most people who are managing pseudonyms do it today by having the anchors for each of those nyms be TOTALLY SEPARATE accounts, so this assumption that there is one Google account for each person is false. I think Google should be doing user education about how electronic systems work and how if you use the same e-mail address then everywhere you use that, it is linkable back to you. They should help users know the best practices and patterns for maintaining separate personas. One you learn early on is to have a separate e-mail account for the persona on a different service (mine is on Yahoo for example). Fundamentally it seams the engineering culture at google doesn’t get “names” or people and social difference.

I’m still suspended from Google+ – it is frustrating to have an account, to be “in it”, to see things go by and be silenced because of the suspension. I am in a position much like Skud. We have handles we are well known by and also immeshed with our “real names”. She worked at Google so clearly knows folks there and I, having worked around issues of user/peoples’ identity online for 7 years now know four people in leadership at Google who do identity (at Google+ and other sections of the company). Even we with connections to REAL people who work at Google, a very privileged position, can’t get our names.

There is great organizing going on “online” about petitioning and telling stories ala – http://my.nameis.me/ I knew there would be a lot of amazing activity in this realm, I am totally going to chime in get involved in this way….and this is an online struggle that is becoming know as the nymwars (BTW who coined that, its genius).

danah boyd did an amazing post today naming the issue that forcing real names is an abuse of power.

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. “Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people. These ideas and issues aren’t new (and I’ve even talked about this before), but what is new is that marginalized people are banding together and speaking out loudly. And thank goodness.

This states very clearly what I was getting at in my post about my own personal suspension and the deeper issues Google+ and my “real” name: Yes, I’m Identity Woman

I don’t think things will change until this fight shows up on google’s door.


I think to “win” this the profile of the issue has to be raised

It needs to have a “press event” IRL (In Real Life)

The goal is to shift the story/tone momentum our direction.

This is the image that I didn’t actually detail when I wrote the Million Personal March idea..so here it is…

Imagine people “protesting”/carnivalling in front of Google’s campus with Google signs visible in the background…. and if we organize it right, it will be VERY picturesque. So my thinking was a minimum of 100 people dressed as their “real life” alternative persona … just imagine getting 10 folks from 10 of the following groups: (scroll down and you can imagine folks from all the images below mixed together).

  • TAZ Spaces – SCA/Renaissance Fair, Burners,
  • SciFi and other Movie Fans (Star Trekkers, Star Wars Fans, Battlestar Galactica, Harry Potter)
  • Alternative sexuality community members (think gay pride parades including Radical Fairies, Furries, Our Ladies of Perpetual Indulgence), Religious communities (Buddhists, Sihks, muslims, jews,  Mennonites(do they use computers?), Quakers etc.
  • Activists behind particular issues – Enviro, Justice (e.g. Oscar Grant), labor etc.
  • Dancing troupes including ethnic dancers from around the world like Bhangra and Morris Men
  • Musicians, drummers etc.
  • Critical Mass cyclists

I’m totally open to more ideas for the colorful side…. imagine the scene in this video, but on Google’s lawn.

A good percentage of the folks should have protest signs… we can do some work on figuring out good suggestions. The one I keep seeing is “Personas are People Too”.

We should organize this across the country/world at Google facilities, call local television and newspapers to come and take photos,and also figure out a set of clear talking points for the movement.

I thought it inappropriate to use Google Groups to organize (that would normally be the first tool I went to but no longer, Google) . She’s Geeky, a women’s only technology conference I run, has had a lot of discussion about identity and persona management. We have an NPO Groups listserv we pay for so… let’s use that to “organize” and I know there are IRC back channels going about this which will also be key.

I also set a MailChimp for those who just want updates when we figure our more of the logistics and could join it but don’t want to actively organize. – click here to join the list..

Happy to hear your thoughts, comments, suggestions below.

Below is pictures that are all Creative Commons Licensed from Flickr… just imagine all of these kinds of people mixed together on Googles lawns, in front of Google signs, with protest signs and good talking points for the press that show up to get the snapshots for the newspapers and videos for the evening news…..

Comic Con 2011


Just a flesh wound - Maryland Renaissance Festival 2010

[ St. Patrick's Day 2011 Parade : A Spectator View : SERIES : LOOK INSIDE ] Dublin, Republic of Ireland




Comic-Con 2010 Costumes 14

Aztec Dancer In Ceremonial Costume


Victorian Ladies


Gang of Sisters



Gay pride 105 - Marche des fiertés Toulouse 2011.jpg

Marriage Equality Rally, November 15, 2008, San Francisco



Annual Faerie & Church Ladies for Choice Drag March / New York

Burning Man Pre Compression 2011  MichaelOlsen/ZorkMagazine

Indigenous support in NYC against Belo Monte Dam in Brazil

Bright and Shiny



Maker Faire Bay Area 2008

Extra Action Marching Band @ Rickshaw Stop


Mermaid Parade, Brooklyn, 2009

Dia de la Raza



Mermaid Parade, Brooklyn, 2008

Día de la Raza 38

Santacon (street)

the gang's all here

Brides of March at Ye Old Kings Head Pub

Eid al-Fitr at IIOC on Oct. 12, 2007



des majorettes !

Mermaid Parade: Classic

Oscar Grant Protest

La raza Cósmica

La Raza intros

Gagaku Concert: Stage Right


International Year of the World's Indigenous People, 1993


[ St. Patrick's Day 2011 Parade : A Spectator View : SERIES : LOOK INSIDE ] Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Oscar Grant's grandfather addresses the crowd


  1. Simply says

    Nice post! Nymwars: IRL on Google’s Lawns. – Identity Woman really makes my day a little happier 😀 Keep on with the remarkable posts! Best regards!


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