The death of pseudonyms? Not so fast...

Aug 19 2011 Published by under meta-blag

As old as the internet itself is the use of pseudonyms, names that identify individual users but happen to be different from their "real" names.  This practice differs from anonymity in that a unique identity follows the user from blog to board to email.  I blog under a pseudonym, not because I wish to remain anonymous (I am trivially google-able) but because the 'nym has been my internet handle for years.  To change now would confuse me and the people I converse with. There are myriad reasons for pseudonymity and anonymity online, something discussed at great length in many other venues.  There has also been a recent push (putsch?) to rid the internet of these 'nyms.  But I don't see a crisis here.

Google + has made it clear that they prefer "real names" which I'll admit is confusing to me, since I don't know my internet buddies' real names.   Now, one of the first large-scale science blog networks, ScienceBlogs, has announced the end of pseudonymous blogging.  Given that several of there most popular bloggers use 'nyms, this is clearly not an act against the practice itself but some larger business decision (I suspect, as do others, that National Geographic simply bought the network for it's domain name and plans to trash the old ScienceBlogs and replace it with something else, something which will not necessarily be worse.

The blogosphere, especially the science blogosphere, has undergone a lot of change in the last year or two, with network fracturing and new ones forming.  From the perspective of the "back end" of these networks, they aren't simple to run, unlike opening a WordPress or Blogger site, but they offer other benefits.

I'll leave re-hashing the history of structure of blog networks to someone else---my point is that pseudonymity will survive Google+, ScienceBlogs, and whomever else prefers the name on your passport.  Netizens want it, and they will have it, through commercial outlets such as Twitter or on their own via dozens of free infrastructure sites.  Those of us who value choice in naming conventions will simply slip away from Google+, ScienceBlogs, and any other site that fails to offer us what we want.  Our creativity will continue to drive the future of the internet.

9 responses so far

  • David/Abel says:

    Dear Deity-of-Your-Choice (or not), how many times are we going to have to beat to death the valid issues why people choose pseudonyms, particularly women?!?!?

    At the risk of driving traffic to ScienceBlogs, didn't you and I have a 2009 ScienceOnline session and extensive lead-up discussions about this where the equine was already beaten to a pulp?

    Indeed, awesome talent, creativity, and reason will move on to venues where those traits are appreciated regardless. I'm really glad that you're here.

  • I'm always conflicted over this. If I'm reading something important or something research related, I want to verify the credibility of the author. I want to know his credentials. And that requires knowing his name (or her). On the other hand, I also know that there are several very good reasons to have some sort of anonymity. I've used a pseudonym myself, because I don't want my political and religious beliefs (which I blog about) to be confused with or interfere with my life as an educator. I can keep them separate, but I don't expect that's the case with everyone on the net.

    Eventually the cat was out of the bag, due to a careless link, but none the lest, most people wouldn't connect my name to my blog until Google + linked the two, then, I figure, it's too late. And at this point I'm not sure I give a flip whether a prospective employer knows I'm a liberal.

  • Kausik Datta says:

    Well said. It possibly means that ERV now will have to go by her real name, and so will Orac, Drugmonkey, Comrade PhysioProf and others, if they choose to stay on ScienceBlogs. The proposition is ridiculous. I am glad that most people I follow have alternate blogs that are not subject to the tyranny of some absurd naming convention.

    Ah, well. Now I can erase a few names off my Google Reader RSS feeds.

  • A. Marina Fournier says:

    Will published authors no longer be able to use pen names, which many do now so as to separate their work in different genres, if this trend continues?

    I read DrIsis, and she also wondered what this change would mean for her. I have no problem with bloggers I read having handles/pseudonyms--I actually don't care, as you are doing no harm in using one. The interpretation that springs evilly to mind is that there is the assumption that if you're using a handle, you are likely a criminal intending to Do Somethng Awful. Yup, you promote the scientific method, thinking, and what medicine is up to now, as well as attemping to defrock frauds & charlatans. Gohs, go after Dean Edell, as well, then.

    One example of a stupid assumption about name usage:
    Until 1997, California was one of five states that did not directly determine the marital status of mothers who give birth. When Jackie Speier, now D-Rep for California, then State Assemblywoman, discovered that there was no field on birth certificates in California for the mother's marital status, and that there was a practice of assuming a mother is unmarried if she doesn't use her husband's last name, she hit the roof. She had just given birth, in 1995, to her husband's posthumous child, and found that due to the "inferential" method of determining the marital status of the new mother, she was presumed unmarried--and possibly, if not probably, on the State's welfare rolls.

    I'd given birth myself, with my family name on the record, and my son and husband's family name in their place. I admit to being rather annoyed that the ancient and modern practice of keeping one's own name after marriage was not acknowledged as a possibility by the state in which I had given birth. It never occurred to me, non-bureaucrat as I am, that we were so far behind the times!

    Let us know if/when/where you move. Don't want to lose track of your blog.

  • Shecky R. says:

    It's not surprising to see Nat. Geog. try to turn the clock back when it seems way too late to do so, but I do find it surprising that Google is doing the same... unless they wish to gather and package even more individualized private data on real folks for real financial leverage than they already have (...hmmm, do no evil???)

    • PalMD says:

      I think they don't really care about nyms, they just want to create a new network with the old name. I suspect, at least.

  • "If I'm reading something important or something research related, I want to verify the credibility of the author. I want to know his credentials."

    I'm not saying you don't have a valid point, but on the other had, if an article is well written, reasoned, supported, and referenced, it stands on its own rather than on any argument from authority. This is the basis of skepticism and critical thinking.

    Even when I read bloggers I trust implicitly, I read critically, asking- are their points reasonable and well supported, is it possible the author is wrong, mistaken, or being a little hyperbolic?

  • Kaleberg says:

    I'd support the trend against pseudonyms and the like if it were applied to all those corporations with unnamed principals and those cleverly named astroturf organizations, but anonymity is at the heart of our legal and economic system through the limited liability corporation. There's a reason you'll see SA here and there in company names, it means Société Anonyme, parties unnamed. Until the internet registrars start cracking down on domain names like, I think the rest of us deserve our limited anonymity, such as it is.