Sunday, 4 September 2011

On the internet, dogs aren't helping (in most cases)

The famous adage that on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog is becoming a thing of the past (true to form, the cartoon is over 18 years old already!). With Facebook authentication being a popular feature of many sites requiring login and the recent upheaval about the Google+ policy of requiring real names, more and more sites know who you are. 
Overall, this is a good thing. On various levels of an individual's online identity, it is useful to declare oneself: 
  • Authentication becomes easier (no need to remember different passwords for different sites, and when you get to a site you visit frequently and that requires login - the cookies do the job in the background)
  • Personalization - a news site that knows the topics you are normally interested in can give you a much better experience than a site to whom you are the proverbial dog. Something that is very common with behavioural targeting in advertising has, however, not yet gained traction in other forms of content delivery
  • Reputation - a minor, but relevant point for people like me who live and breathe the internet. Having a central repository of comments made on various blogs can be beneficial as followers can get a quick and easy glimpse of my views and opinions
In the end, every user has the option not to participate in the public identity game - clear your cookies, stop using Facebook Connect, check out what Google knows about you and erase Google's memory of your preferences.

Of course, there's exceptions to the rule where it is important to stay anonymous. Immediately, the Arab Spring comes to mind. One can only imagine what devastating effect the lack of the anonymity option would have on brave people organizing protest against tyrannical regimes.
Also, creative journalism would be stifled - the appeal and rise to fame of the Fake Steve Jobs blog in 2006 and 2007 was greatly fuelled by the speculation on who the author was - Dan Lyons was able to keep it up for almost a year. 

Simply, fewer flowers would bloom in a world without anonymity - there should always be a place for it. Twitter still allows it and it is to be desired it stays that way.

But in the 99% of cases when it's not required, the trend towards public identity helps the ecosystem. Case in point: Discussions are much more civilized with Facebook comments or other services requiring real names. (Techcrunch, for example, confirms that using Facebook Comments has led to fewer "trolls and anonymous cowards"). For a counter-example, only look at the rock-bottom standard of interaction on Youtube where "u faggot" is one of the nicer epithets one usually gets. I see this with myself - in the past, I used to comment anonymously on an Austrian news site and, when I look back now, some of my posts are not exactly something to be proud of. I don't think I would have written them had I been forced to use my real name.

It is good that some of the more unsavoury breeds of internet dogs are dying out.

I will be cycling through Austrian mountains next weekend - so there will be no post. Hope you can cope. 


Eze said...

Congrats on the new blog Michal! I liked your focus on changing society through the power of the Internet, curious to see what you come up with!

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