So you may have read this weekend that some users of Google+ have already seen their shiny new accounts suspended, and are being told that their user names violate the service's "community standards". As noted over at thinq_ (covered by thechromesource), this means that people who regularly use nicknames online as opposed to their real names are, effectively, excluded from Google+. (The same has been happening on Facebook, albeit more slowly, probably owing to the sheer number of users they already have on board.)
For those who don't understand why it is important to allow people to adopt a pseudonym, I'll point out that pseudonymity far predates the Internet. A very well-known author from the Victorian era was George Eliot, a "pen name" for real-life woman Mary Anne Evans. During that period of time, female authors were routinely not taken seriously, so Evans adopted the pseudonym in a successful effort to get noticed by the literary world. By taking on a new identity, Evans was able to do more in life than she otherwise could have.
The need for pseudonymity goes much deeper than novel authors, however. The modern Internet allows for near-instantaneous access to information, conversations, ideas expressed by anyone, anywhere. So today, everyone on the Internet who participates in online discussions is an author of sorts. In spite of supposed "privacy settings" for any given social networking service, there are plenty of documented incidents of people losing their jobs, or being denied employment, simply for being themselves online. This is a real-world impact from virtual-world conversations, and no "privacy" setting can exist to prevent someone else from copying a post or comment in such a way that it ends up in the wrong hands. So much for "being yourself" online.
It gets worse, though. Forcing people to use their real names can be directly damaging to people, especially people who are persecuted for their political views, or persecuted just for being who they are. Here I'm talking about LGBT people — who still face execution in at least three countries (actually more in practice; these are only the ones with written laws saying so); who face ostracism anywhere in the world, including children being kicked out of their own homes; who face societal disdain sometimes resulting in physical real-world attacks that contribute to the rate of gay youth suicide.
Online networks are sometimes the only safe social outlets for gay people. They can be the only way that some people are able to communicate using their real personalities, even if these same people cannot use their real names for fear of the consequences I've noted (and far more). As a result, pseudonymity is critical to the gay community, until societies all over the world become dramatically more accepting of people who are "different".
Google, you're seriously messing it up. Your own experience with LGBT political causes should be enough to make you know better, but this obvious attack on pseudonymity will result in you shooting yourself in the foot even before Google+ is standing on its own. Here you have an opportunity to stand out, but you're just doing exactly what "the other guy" is doing.
I use my real name online, including in social circles where I had previously used a pseudonym myself — but it's not my place to force others to open up the same way. I am lucky to have a certain degree of personal security that biases against the negative effects above, but most people are not so blessed. The era of the pseudonym is far from over.
I have plenty of friends who use pseudonyms online for these, and other, perfectly valid reasons. Many of these people I've met in the real world, and I personally know their real names. But even some of those go by their self-chosen nicknames in real-world social circles. Who am I to say that their self-expression is not valid? Who are Facebook or Google to say the same?
Google, why are you on one hand supporting progress on LGBT issues, even explicitly championing the concept of the pseudonym, but on the other hand forcing people to be "out of the closet" who may be in imminent danger if they were?
Shame on you, Google. I didn't expect a notion of privacy from Facebook, but I had higher expectations of you.
Finally, to those of you predictably saying "if you don't want to use your real name, don't sign up", I'd be happy to get you a "GAY AND PROUD" tattoo on your arm and a plane ticket to Afghanistan or Uganda... well, maybe just the middle of Mississippi's countryside would suffice. I'm sure you'll find plenty of people, who don't use online social networks, to talk to. No return ticket will be necessary, but I have a feeling that long-sleeve shirts will be a mainstay for you...