Google+, WSO, and the Battle for Your Identity

Eddie Braverman's picture
Rank: The Pro | 21,180

If you're a frequent YouTube user you've no doubt seen, or at least heard about, the new commenting structure imposed by Google last week. You may even be a part of the small but vocal group of YouTube users who are really pissed off about it. In a nutshell, from now on you'll have to use your real name when leaving a comment on a YouTube video. There are a couple ways around it, but that's basically the deal from here on out. On top of that, YouTube comments are now driven exclusively through Google+.

At first blush this appears to be a ham-fisted attempt to force people to use Google+, but if you think that's the reason they did it, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. The fact is that Google has been embarked on a very determined path to eliminate anonymity across their many channels for a number of years now. Up to this point, it's been all carrot: reveal your true identity in the content you create, and we'll give you a higher ranking in Google search results. But now it's veering toward the stick: use your real identity to leave comments on YouTube videos, or don't comment at all.

I honestly didn't even notice when this happened. I was an early adopter of Google+, so I've been doing things this way for two years now and the new policy didn't affect me. But when my inbox started filling up with outraged emails (I guess I'm viewed as a sort of G+ cheerleader and am therefore a reasonable target for righteous indignation) I decided to look into it to see if there was anything people should be upset about. Turns out there is.

Anonymity is one of the cornerstones of the Internet. Wall Street Oasis couldn't even exist (at least not in its present form) without it. Anonymity is crucial to our success as a community here. But there's a real downside to anonymity, too.

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes reading the YouTube comments section knows that it's a complete sewer. Some of the most vile hate speech I've ever seen is par for the course over there. It's so bad that more and more you see videos posted with comments disabled altogether, which is kind of a shame because discussion and collaboration are a couple of the biggest benefits of the Internet on the whole. But it was clear Google had to do something. Their answer was a pretty clever blend of capitalism and social engineering.

By forcing users to comment with their true identities, hate speech and those who traffic in it can be marginalized. Google went even further by enabling a feature that ranks comments based on their quality, so the best comments rise to the top. This has people's panites in a bunch as well, because your average YouTube idiot realizes he's never written anything of any quality and therefore his voice will be squelched entirely from now on.

YouTube trolls aren't the only ones upset about this change, however. The good folks who have managed to keep Google+ one of the Internet's best kept secrets are none too pleased as well. It's as if Google has flung open the gates to the Internet Huns, and now G+ (which is where you go for intelligent content curation) is about to be besieged on all sides. None other than the Fuhrer himself explains that side of the coin:

So basically no one is happy about the change, but here's what you need to realize: Google is not a utility. It's a private advertising company. Everything they do (and they do so many things better than anyone else ever has) is designed to sell advertising. Their advertising is far more effective if they're able to target actual people. And I'm not even talking about you. I'm talking about your friends. How much more effective is a Google ad in your buddy's inbox if it's accompanied by your face and the fact that you bought that product as well? That's what this is all about, and it has the ancillary benefit of cleaning up the cesspool that YouTube has become.

However, I believe WSO has the better model. Obviously we're not dealing with anywhere near the volume that Google is, but this site has struck a balance where we're able to offer total anonymity and a great user experience. I have to say Patrick was way ahead of the curve when he introduced Monkey Shit and Silver Bananas years before anyone else thought of it.

WSO wouldn't work if it weren't for anonymity. I remember back in 2008 this was one of the few places you could go to get the straight scoop on what was happening inside the banks during the crisis, and we never would have had that if users had to use their real names. The company database would have never been a reality, the compensation reports would have been blank, and we wouldn't have anywhere near the volume of helpful content that we have today.

Do we get the occasional troll? Of course we do. But even on that front, we're better than the Internet as a whole. At least our trolls are clever for the most part. The ban hammer eventually falls on all of them, but not before they've given us a few laughs.

Mark my words: this is going to become a big issue on the Internet over the next decade. Anonymity is something worth fighting for. I'm a huge proponent of free speech, even when it's despicable hate speech. In that case, however, I think you should be man enough to own up to what you said. But I'm not in favor of forcing people to do that.

What do you guys think? Is the accountability gained by forcing everyone to go public worth all the benefits of anonymity that we'd lose? Is using your real identity the wave of the future on the web? Can you even imagine what WSO would look like today if we forced people to use their real names?

I'll leave you with this charming (NSFW) video response to the G+ YouTube integration by a chick who clearly doesn't get that YouTube isn't hers, it's Google's:

Comments (31)

Nov 12, 2013

This is similar to what ESPN did in it's comments section by linking it to Facebook. The comment sections immediate got smaller and, at least in my opinion, far more constructive than the rubbish that was there before.

I think, personally, we are at a turning point on the internet where they way you get anonymity is to buy it. When you allow carte blanche access to your content like ESPN does you are going to get a lot of awful crap with it. Go to the insider articles and you at least get a few reasonable and decent comments. I think the same is happening across the internet as companies need to monetize what they are doing. The price of free stuff on the internet will be you allowing companies to have your identity and let them market directly to you and keep your information. There is no free lunch, and people hopefully are just waking up to that point.

Nov 12, 2013

I have found youtube comments to be the source of some of the greatest insults ever. On occasion, I go through the comments purely for the entertainment.

Anyway, troll accounts ftw.

Nov 12, 2013

This will only force the trolls to up their game and become even more subtle. It's a troll arms race!

Nov 12, 2013

I don't really like the idea of potential employers, or anyone really, being able to search my name and see anything I've commented on before. Even if it's appropriate, if it was related to any sort of topic that they may not like, it wouldn't be something I'd want them to have access to. Time to make a new fake Google + account to use on my other browser.
- Carlos Danger

Nov 12, 2013

Use your real name? Nonsense, all you have to do is make a troll email address and fill the name in with Harry Dick and put up a picture of a tree and you are golden to inflame and mock people on youtube all you want.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Nov 12, 2013

Not so, unfortunately. Google is pretty insistent on seeing an actual photo. Doesn't have to be yours, of course, but it can't be a picture of a tree, lol.

Nov 12, 2013

Tell them you are offended that you cant use a picture of your bush and threaten to sue on sexual discrimination.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Nov 12, 2013

Idea for website : freefakefaces.com

Nov 12, 2013

Speaking of trolls, where's blastoise? And why can't I actually purchase anything with my banana points?

As for the topic at hand, google doesn't understand social networking and should stop wasting their time...or they should hire someone like Patrick to run their social networking concepts. You are correct about the banana point system working: this is basically the only site I've ever bothered to comment on.

Nov 12, 2013

Almost every forum has a system similar to the banana points. The thing that really sets WSOs system apart is the name of the point system. Just about every forum has a system to track your post count and allows people to give a thumbs up or +1 to a good post. Pat just themed it and made it a bit more interesting and colorful.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Nov 12, 2013

Other forums have reputation points similar to the SB system. What's the difference between these? I'm guessing it's because you can't just hand out SBs and MS since they're limited?

Nov 12, 2013

i have a problem with this new g+ crap

i might close my google accounts and simply use only outlook (which i already use) for my real name matters

i could, however, make a fake google account for trolling purposes (already have a few..)

Nov 12, 2013

This should clear the muck from most youtube comments. Although I am a huge proponent of anonymity, I don't see how this would change their advertising revenue. Sadly, the ones most effected by this will be the younger crowd. It will be a hard jolt when they lose an interview, job, or something else due to a passionate opinion on something. I fully expect most people from simply abstaining from any sort of opinion.

On a more futuristic note, I wonder how long it will take an enterprising person to come up with a completely fake online identities and sell them? Complete with a Facebook account, witty and appropriate retorts on youtube, and good content on G+. Maybe I'm dating myself, but I remember being able to buy a ebay seller account that had 1000 stars and 97% positive feedback. I fully expect the same to happen again.

PE is the new black.

Nov 12, 2013

I saw something on this the other day and I knew Eddie would be posting on it. As usual, he knocks this out of the park.

I don't troll, spew hate speech or any of that other crap. Hell, I don't even really hide who I am (especially through PM), but I won't publicly post with my real name.

I've gotten to the point where I use WSO for some light entertainment and I provide occasional advice to the Corp Fin or Big 4 crowd. When I do provide feedback or advice I want it to be real, with no chance of repercussions from my current or possibly future employers which is why I choose anonymity.

The one thing that does seem to get lost here is that google is not a public service. They have their products and can do whatever they want with them. I can then choose not to use them or at least not post comments on them. That is all fine. If everyone is so against these policies G+ will turn into the next MySpace, which is fine too. However, I really doubt that's going to happen.

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy

    • 1
Nov 12, 2013

My name is not super common but it's not unique enough where an employer could track me down online without some really good investigative work since there are at least a dozen people in the U.S. and UK with the exact same name--if they are spewing vile hate speech then there's nothing I can do about it anyway, but at least I have plausible deniability in the event that I've said something in the last 20 years online that could be construed as offensive.

Even so, it's a little scary since people can be pretty vindictive. I use Facebook, but infrequently, and have hidden my current employer from the public. WSO is the only forum I use on a regular basis. I'm not sure how Patrick has kept this place so clean because other anonymous places like Fairfax Underground, Reddit, Huffington Post or the Democratic Underground are vile, unreadable places, as was Youtube.

Nov 12, 2013

You seem to mention a lot of very liberal places as vile places. I wonder why.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Nov 12, 2013
heister:

You seem to mention a lot of very liberal places as vile places. I wonder why.

Ok, name some other sites that are sewers. I'm open to other suggestions.

Nov 12, 2013

I think Google had some very sound financial reasons for their decision but improving the quality of the comments is not going to be a result of these new rules(and I don't think it was their goal), unless they change the rules drastically.

First of all, the top comment is now based on which comment gets the most replies. This includes people replying to their own posts.

Second, people don't have to use their real identity, and there is no way to permanently ban them. This means I could create an account called Adolf Hitler, posts antisemitic comments, reply to my own comments with more antisemitic comments, and when that account is banned, all I have to do is make another account called Adolf Hitler and repeat.

Third, commenters now have the ability to post viruses, loud ass porn, or links to otherwise sketchy sites.

Fourth, without a character limit, people are posting full versions of movie scripts, books, and otherwise unnecessarily long messages(i.e. ascii art).

All these issues wouldn't be too bad if they were alone, but combined I think they have actually managed to make the comments worse. At least before every once in a while you stumbled onto . But there wasn't a guy named xxX!KuKluxKlan420blazeit!Xxx making a racist post and replying to himself 50 times getting the top comment. I think they will make more changes to combat these issues but for now I think it is pretty clear that the new rules are not being implemented correctly.

This isn't about improving commenting through transparency, its about making money for Google. Which is completely kosher and in fact their fiduciary responsibility, but let's not get carried away with thinking the system has been improved in terms of commenting.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is the first step to sponsored top comments from advertisers as Google looks for ways increase revenue from online video.

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

Nov 12, 2013

Good to be in China these days. Don't have a worry in the world about youtube currently.

Even though that does sound harsh. Seems Google called for a raid by Anonymous.

Nov 12, 2013

You think Google will stand to being attacked by Anonymous? Anonymous knows better, they will be crushed. The people behind Anonymous are good but Google is way better.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Nov 12, 2013

If you have a job and still use social media, may God have mercy on your soul.

Nov 12, 2013

People are pretty alarmist about employers using social media to block people from jobs. Don't be a moron: put your profile on private, and you'll be fine. I think people here are dramatically overstating the amount of social media background digging employers do before giving an offer.

Nov 13, 2013

Are people really still concerned about losing their anonymity online? Nothing is really protected, if someone wants to find out who you are they will. Silk Road got busted. Most competent people with a week of learning computer hacking can figure out someone's log in information and go from there. Or you could just outsource it to elance. Any website that you visit tracks your IP address. And the more apps you have on your computer, tablet or phone means the more you are exposed. If you read the user agreement for Pandora they track every single website you visit on your phone or tablet. It wouldn't be hard for one of those apps to install a keyboard tracker also.

Bottom line your anonymity does not really exist, if someone wants the information they will get it. So this at least holds people accountable for their words and actions. But I'm more of the mindset, if you can't beat them join them.

Nov 13, 2013

Having your information exposed to a hacker really isn't the same as having your information exposed to the general public.

Nov 13, 2013

Its worse.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Nov 13, 2013
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