Anxious Masculinity Under Threat: Google+ and Diversity, part 6

Google+ in rainbow colorsGoogle+’s naming policy isn’t failing because it’s poorly implemented, or because Google’s enforcement team is stupid. It’s failing because what they’re trying to do is (1) impossible, and (2) antisocial.

— Bob Blakley, Google+ Can Be a Social Network Or The Name Police — Not Both, Gartner Blog Network

I wonder what folks at Google thought of Chairman Eric Schmidt’s description of Google+ as an “identity service” which requires people real names? So friendly! So out of sync with what they’ve been telling the media! So … creepy!

It’s hard to see this going over well in the rest of the world, where everybody is sooo eager to share their personal information with a US company so that it’s subject to the PATRIOT Act. And here in the US, Gartner is only the latest to point out how destructive this is for Google+.

Despite its imperfections Google+ was on track for being a grand slam, taking a big chunk of audience from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and yes even Quora.* And now? The joy of the brilliantly-executed launch has dissipated. Passionate early supporters are now so anti-Google that they’re switching to Duck Duck Go and even Bing.

“Data-driven”?

“Operational excellence”?

How embarrassing.

Anxious masculinity under threat

Basically, any situation in which a group of less privileged people makes critiques or observations of the dominant group in a way that threatens to upset the dominance of that group, to change the established order somehow, or to at least make the established order seem less virtuous, normal, and inevitable, is a situation in which the tone argument gets pulled out.

Sheila Marie on “the tone argument”

The rhetoric’s gotten somewhat heated, with Tim O’Reilly calling Google’s critics “self-righteous” and a “lynch mob”, and Douglas Crockford calling us entitled, selfish, hysterical whiners.   [Explain to me again how real names increase  civility?]  The guys from Google keep trotting out the party line which basically comes down “we’re going to intentionally make our system less safe for women, transgender people, activists, and a whole bunch of other groups, and it’s okay because they don’t have to use it“.

It’s almost like they want us to go away.

Sure enough, a lot of people are going away.  And who can blame them?  While Google+’s promise continues to shine through tantalizingly, a lot of folks are finding it a mighty oppressive place to be these days.  There’s only so many hours in a day, and everybody’s sick of talking about nymwars.   Talk about annoying your passionate early adopters: Technogran left not long after she wrapped up an excellent ten-part series on Google+.   Zauber Exonar and Bonnie Nadri,  along with sites like Goodbye Google and the Genius Files’ Google Plus Strike, are providing great road maps for others who want to follow them.  It’s a boon for Dreamwidth, Diaspora*, and quite possibly startups like Unthink.

For all I know Bradley, Vic, Joseph, Eric et. al. are cheering these departures, as their “identity system” becomes more like their idealized “real world”.   Who knows, maybe in their “real world” everybody wears name tags and they never interact with people who have weird-looking names.   For a social network site, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense from a business perspective: women are the most valuable demographic online, and women and minorities are the most avid users of other social networks. But as I observed last week, for a bunch of rationally-identified guys at a rationally-identified company, Google+’s leadership don’t seem to be optimizing particularly well.

I wonder why?**

So much to look forward to!

Thanks, I'll continue to use Google+ to criticize and undermine Google as long as they'll let me

Then again there are plenty of people who aren’t planning on leaving.  And with more and more discussion of how Google+ relates to NSTIC, the US government’s “Trusted Identities in Cyberspace” initiative, the opposition seems to be settling in for the long haul.

Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but Google can change course at any time if they want to.  As Kathy Sierra says, keep the pseudonyms and lose the assholes.  Drop the name policing; instead, introduce some decent moderation tools and enforce anti-harassment policies.  And to once again quote Suw

Reinstate everyone you’ve suspended…. Collaborate with the community on how best to moderate bad actors. If you need some sort of identity policy, let us help you write it. And, finally, apologise to everyone you’ve bullied. There are lots of them, so you might want to start now.

Of course, admitting they were wrong and apologizing is often a very hard thing to do for guys who are anxious about their masculinity.  So we shall see.

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on a wall inside Google next week as everybody comes back from Burning Man, looks at the train wreck-in-progress, and realizes it’s not going to go away?  Until things change, every day will be spent dreading the latest round of press, the next faux pas by execs, the next critique by someone they respect and admire.  And coming up in October is the next Internet Identity Workshop, organized by Kaliya “banned from G+” IdentityWoman.

So much to look forward to!

To be continued …

jon

* as long-time readers know, I’m fascinated with Quora.  Prisms, Kool-Aid, and Opportunity has more — along with analysis of Google’s vulnerability in their core search market.

** Just to be clear, I don’t mean to ignore all the other dimensions of diversity affected by Google’s naming policy.  My Name Is Me does an incredible job at showing how many different reasons it’s important for people to be able to choose their own name.   But Google’s decision makers on this are all guys, and they’re reacting very much the way guys do when they’re feeling under threat: toughing it out, making strong statements that turn out to have no basis, ignoring what women and trans people have to say, and limiting their public interactions to supportive guys like Robert, Alexander, and Tim.  Especially factoring in how they’re treating Skud and Identity Woman … yeah, I really do think gender has a lot to do with it.
Check out the previous posts in the series: A Work in Progress, Why it matters, #nymwars!, A tale of two searches, and The double bind of oppression