Growing old online

The other day I made a comment on someone’s blog and I noticed I was the only one that put my online pseudonym into the name field. Everyone else posted as “Jane Doe”, “Bill Simpson”, etc.. Thirty real people and then there’s me with my cute name. How quaint.

This is one of those moments when you notice you’re becoming a dinosaur.*

I would venture to guess it happened sometime in the past year or so, due to two factors. One factor is when movable type-based weblogs began proliferating with comments enabled. It clearly says “name” next to the name field, and not “username” as most previous applications did. The second thing is the explosion of Google and most everyone’s acceptance that anything they say anywhere will eventually be mapped back to their name. With Google, it doesn’t matter who you say you are, if people know the real you, your psuedonym will point to your real identity.

In some sense, people have given up on anonymity online**. If everyone has a long history in Google, it’s not that bad for any single person to have their life indexed. Essentially, if there are bad things to come from having your life online, we’re all equally fucked. I used to read papers written by online and community experts, who used to put a lot of stock into crafting separate online identities and for one reason or another, people just don’t seem to care anymore. Blogs started in the past year almost always give a full name to the author’s posts, they tell you where they live and where they work. Their comments area is populated with people openly posting their first name and last names as attribution. Many of the user accounts registered in the past year at MetaFilter (when user signups were on) are in the format Firstname Lastname.

I’ll probably drop the “mathowie” moniker from future movable type blog comments, as every day passes and I make a comment somewhere amid a crowd of real people, using a clever username feels more and more like an anachronism.

* Back in the olden days, my first email account was on a aging relic of a DEC, sporting VAX as the operating system. Your email username couldn’t include spaces and the max length on the field was eight characters, so few accounts were based on real names. I guess I brought that mentality to MetaFilter when I built it, seeing how Slashdot relied on usernames separate from real names.

** When I say “online” I’m only referring to blogs, not IM, IRC chat, gaming communities, or even community sites. Just blogs and other spaces within the reach of the mighty Google.