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Social Networks, Anonymity, Reputation & Aloha

Last night I was chatting with Laurel and the guys from
Chi.mp about online identities and anonymity. I had a similar discussion with
Roxanne Darling about profile pics. Social network mediators are often faced with the challenge of determining the best policy for the use of avatars and avatar names versus actual profile pics and real names. There are a lot of advantages to interacting with people you can identify. I find people are far more likely to "post with aloha" if they know their real name is attached to the post. Also, if someone is rendering advice, its nice to know who they are and if they have relevant credentials. On the other hand, there are sometimes good reasons for people to provide incomplete information or maintain complete anonymity. They could be a professional who has valuable information to contribute, but doesn't want to deal with an overly zealous employer scrutinizing every word they write. A friend of mine is planning to launch a social network for scientists in the biotech space. He suspects his network will have zero traffic if they don't allow anonymous users. There is also the fear of social network stalkers, identity thieves, and various other concerns, some real and some imaginary. If you mandate a certain level of biographical information you could be excluding people with valuable content to contribute. Roxanne has decided real profile pics are required for
The Reef community members. This is a bold move, and I think there will be many benefits. We have decided to encourage but not require the use of real profile pics and real names. Chi.mp has decided not to push people either way because they believe many individuals have built their whole online identity around an avatar. I'm interested to hear your opinions on this subject. Which policy do you prefer? Is it different for regional versus global communities? Specialized vs. general? Business vs. social?
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Comment by Tony Haile on August 13, 2008 at 6:12pm
Absolutely, it's horses for courses. chi.mp seems intent on renaming me, I've gone through about six different nicknames already, none of them good :)
Comment by Mika Leuck on August 13, 2008 at 6:10pm
Hi Tony. That definitely makes sense for a general identity management system. I think Rox's policy makes sense for her community.
I'm not going to tell them what picture to put up any more than I am going to tell them what haircut to have
Actually Dan does try to tell Ikayzo employees what haircuts to have. Sometimes he also tries to rename us.
Comment by Tony Haile on August 13, 2008 at 5:54pm
Hey Dan, great post. At chi.mp we can certainly understand why Roxanne would go for real photos. The stronger the association with your physical identity the stronger the relationship you are likely to have with a site and also the greater the likelihood that you will not be a bad actor.

However, we give our owners a little more flexibility largely because one of the key concepts of identity in a fragmented world is consistency. If that person is represented by a specific, consistent avatar on twitter, facebook, friendfeed etc then requiring them to use a real photo actually fractures that identity. Moreover, quite frankly, it's their site, their identity and I'm not going to tell them what picture to put up any more than I am going to tell them what haircut to have :)

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