Google continues its war on anonymity, and YouTube is next

Google and real namesIf Facebook knows anything, it’s that real names are a valuable commodity. Unlike blogging communities or early stabs at social networks, the platform has always made using your real name a requirement for having an account.

According to Facebook’s rules:

“We require everyone to use their real first and last names so that you always know who you’re connecting with. To keep our community safe and trustworthy, we block the use of certain names when you create an account. This helps prevent people from creating fake or malicious accounts that may hurt your ability to enjoy sharing with your friends.”

And the platform has a point; if you want to be the foremost point of virtual connection on the planet then there needs to be an air of legitimacy. Earlier platforms allowed you to use aliases and create secondary identities, but Facebook had a different vision that involved combining our online lives with our actual ones, and that intersection meant using real names.

That foresight has turned out to be incredibly profitable. The social Web has exploded at the same time that mobile and geo-local technology have, and the app economy is a very real thing. And surprise: all these app developers want to integrate with Facebook. Yes, its sheer number of users is a very big reason why, but developers often talk about how the advantage of a real identity is another important factor.

It’s very chicken or the egg, but it doesn’t matter what caused what. Either way, Facebook chose to use real names and identities and now it’s a big draw for developers who want to experiment with social apps and augmented reality. The flood of so-called “SoLoMo” apps are a great example, and regardless of any slow adoption and skepticism of these tools, they aren’t going anywhere and are a big part of how we’ll connect in the future.

Now, Google is trying to backtrack a bit and get on board with these anti-anonymity policies and all the rewards they can yield. Last year, shortly after the launch of Google+, the site landed in some hot water after users realized it was enforcing a real names rule. Because Google’s approach to social was like working in reverse, things were complicated; if you’re a search engine, email client, mapping product, and browser first — and you’re tracking all this information to varying degrees for years — then adding a clause about connecting this data to real names after the fact is going to raise a few eyebrows. 

Next on the Google product anonymity hit list is YouTube. Google has started using a pop up on the site to persuade users to switch their names to… well, their actual names. And denying the prompt is relatively difficult — you have to provide Google with a reason why you want to remain anonymous. This follows Google’s last YouTube switch-up where users were required to tie their accounts to Gmail accounts.

youtube and real namesIt all makes a lot of sense for Google to keep pushing its agenda this way. But YouTube has always retained just a bit of autonomy from its owner, and the community is a tight, strong one — one that doesn’t necessarily feel it needs to be integrated with Google+.

Part of the strategy is supposedly to also cut down on comment trolling, which is undoubtedly a war worth fighting. But there are larger implications here, and that’s weeding out anonymity in order to justify its social platform and become a more attractive asset to marketers and developers.