Google swerves, allows nicknames on Google+

After requiring real names to register, Google+ will now allow nicknames and pseudonyms.

Story highlights

  • Google+ will now allow pseudonyms, nicknames
  • Announcement is a departure from previous policy on the site
  • Google announced its Facebook rival now has 90 million users
In a big swerve in policy, Google has decided to allow people to sign up using nicknames or other pseudonyms on its growing social network, Google+.
This summer, Google took some flak for booting users who had used fake names on the 7-month-old site.
Members of the tech community, who as early adopters had flocked to the search giant's Facebook alternative, argued that some people are better known on the internet by their assumed names. They also noted that people who used social media as part of social movements, such as those in Iran and Egypt, need to be able to conceal their identity for safety reasons.
"Today we're pleased to be launching features that will address and remedy the majority of these issues," Bradley Horowitz, a vice president for product development at Google, wrote Tuesday on his profile on the site. "To be clear -- our work here isn't done, but I'm really pleased to be shipping a milestone on our journey."
Starting this week, users will be able to add a nickname alongside their real name, Horowitz said. An example? Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, he wrote.
They will also be able to change their actual name to an assumed one. (One amusing example? Madonna).
If Google flags a new name as inappropriate, users will be able to appeal and provide documentation, from a driver's license to appearances in media to "proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following" -- presumably something like a blog or Twitter account.
The changes are Google's response to feedback after initial complaints, Horowitz said. But not everyone was pleased with the results.
On The Next Web blog, writer Anna Helm complained that the new system would, by default, carry a user's Google+ name across all of its platforms, such as Gmail. So, someone who wanted to use a pseudonym there would, in effect, be announcing that name to anyone they send an e-mail to, whether they want to or not.
(Gmail does have a "send mail as" field in its settings that lets users change how their name appears each time they send a message).
"We are many things to many people, and that's what most nicknames are about; we wouldn't necessarily want our parents to know how our friends call us, and vice-versa ... .," Helm wrote.
"One thing is for sure, this is a huge missed opportunity -- after all, didn't Google+ acknowledge early on that our social life revolves around different Circles?
She clarified, however, that complaints don't negate high hopes for the site.
"Please wait a second before calling us 'trolls' or haters' -- if I and other people are pointing out these flaws, it's because we sincerely hope Google+ will become a great Facebook alternative," she wrote.
In his post, Horowitz said that only a tiny percentage of Google+ users have issues with the names they submit. Only about 0.1 percent (one/tenth of one percent) submit name appeals, he said. Of those, about 60 percent simply want to add a nickname and 20 percent are businesses who accidentally tried to set up an account as an individual.
The struggle isn't unique to Google, which last week announced that the site now has more than 90 million users.
Facebook policy also requires users to register for the site with their real names. That site's terms and conditions state: "We reserve the right to remove or reclaim [a user's name] if we believe appropriate (such as when a trademark owner complains about a username that does not closely relate to a user's actual name)."
The sheer size of Facebook (the site claims more than 800 million accounts) means it may take longer for fake accounts to be found, though.