Sunday, August 07, 2011

On real names, opt-in networks, and the benefits of authentication

I was reading Danah Boyd's response to the Google+ real-name enforcement policy. I was going to put out a tweet or two, but it turned into something more than a couple of 140 character comments; you'll notice my statements getting longer and longer...

So here are my thoughts on the matter:

I agree people shouldn't be forced to use their real names online, but why should we insist that all social sites accommodate them?

How can Google's efforts to enforce real names on + be oppressive when they're providing a free service that people can use (or not use)?

Not every site needs to have the same policy, and even within a site, authenticated vs. non-authenticated users can be given different privileges.

Danah Boyd couches the issue of pseudonyms from the standpoint of user safety, but I believe her argument hinges on the assumption that people are forced to use Facebook and/or Google+ as opposed to some other competing social network. After all, there are plenty of places to express yourself online where your real name is not necessary; the market (and the internet) can accommodate many competing solutions.

Right now, it's not always obvious why real name enforcement is more than just huge software corporations asserting their will just because they can (e.g. "it's authoritarianism plain and simple, and authoritarianism is bad!"). After all, we just want to get online and have fun and socialize inconsequentially, right. It's not like we're getting money out of the bank, right?

For now, perhaps, but hopefully not forever. As our online interactions increasingly mean more in our daily lives (and carry over into the "real world"), and as what we do online becomes an important measure of our reputation and credibility (see Klout and Peerindex, or even one's eBay reputation score), then it makes sense that we need more places online where authentication, trust, and accountability are required. As someone who is online all day long, I want more (not fewer) places where my words and actions on the internet have an impact on the rest of my life.

Formalized systems of online reputation are just starting to take off. I think it's safe to assume that Google is interested in that space (especially given that PageRank is all about website reputation). For those of us who want safe places where we can congregate and communicate anonymously (or using pseudonyms) online without people stalking us, those exist and nothing is (currently) stopping anyone from making more.

I'm a fan of diversity and choices online, and being angry about a company's decision and choosing not to use their product is something I completely sympathize with, but that's not the same as saying a company's policy regarding a product--that is completely opt-in--is forcing people to be victimized. (For the record, I'm much more concerned about companies adopting initiatives that are opt-out only).

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Pursuing new challenges

This post is just an update on what I've been up to:

First of all, I'm happy to report that I found a new full-time job! In May 2011, two months after my previous post, I started as the Online Community Manager for ServiceNow, a small but rapidly growing company here in San Diego. To quote our marketing material:

ServiceNow is modern SaaS for IT service management. It is a new IT service desk application that just works. Visit for more info.

So far, it's been an outstanding place to work. Since our product is more for businesses as opposed to consumers, I don't plan to write about it very much here, but in my new role, I've been blogging regularly on the ServiceNow community.

In general terms, it feels really good to be doing full-time online community, user research, and user experience-related work again. I get to use so much of what I've learned over the years about fan communities, information technology, and how knowledge is shared and transferred (in both formal and informal settings). I also enjoy working in a proper office environment with a lot of people around, which is different from the small Opera office we had here in SD, and hugely different from all the months I spent working at home.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'll always be a fan of Opera (and I'm still doing part-time consulting work for Opera until my contract runs out). That said, I'm super excited about the challenges and opportunities I have at ServiceNow. Three months in, I know there's nowhere else I'd rather be!

Otaku Studies revisited

Finding a new job, staying fit, and taking care of my kids has kept me more than occupied, but I did manage to do a couple of things related to anime and fandom. Anime Punch invited me back as a guest yet again (which they've done every year since 2006).

I also attended Anime Expo and had the honor of presenting the closing remarks at the convention's first ever Anime and Manga Studies Symposium. My talk was entitled "Writing about otaku: Lessons from fandom, academia, and beyond". In the future and if there's demand, I might publish that here.

Thanks to everyone who attended either con and came to see me speak! (and special thanks to Mikhail Koulikov for organizing the symposium and inviting me to participate)

This summer, I also attended San Diego Comic-Con, which I've been going to for the last several years (though my first SDCC was in 1998). Anime con exhibit halls have gotten a bit repetitive (and therefore boring) for me over the years, so Comic-Con with its sheer size and variety lets me get my geek shopping fix. In future posts, I might share some of the stuff I picked up.

Lastly, I'm involved in a new book coming out in early 2012 called Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected Age. In that book, I have two chapters: "Strategies of Engagement: Discovering, Defining, and Describing Otaku Culture in the United States" and "Anime and Manga Fandom as Networked Culture". My contribution is adapted from my 2006 doctoral dissertation, but there's some new material as well.

The process of getting a book into print is very long one, so my discussion of otaku in America refers to anime & manga fandom that has already changed quite a bit since the time I conducted my PhD research (and the industry has seen even more drastic changes). With that in mind, I like to think my work offers up an interesting snapshot and analysis of otaku culture within a particular context. I expect some people will disagree with my portrayal of otaku culture and what it all means, but I also hope others will be inspired by my vision of otaku (as an ideal to be achieved). When 2012 rolls around, I hope you'll order the book and let me know what you think!