So Far, The Experiment Hasn’t Killed Me

Awhile back, I posted some comments about anonymous behavior on the internet.

I know, I know, but low hanging fruit is so TASTY.

Anyway, while I was writing that, it occurred to me that I was not entirely practicing what I preached. I have always stated that professional community people need to use their real names in connection with their products. It keeps them honest, and in so doing, increases the community’s trust in their honesty. No community weenie worth their salt would ever create a sock puppet for any purpose.

But I did feel that out of the bounds of my community work, I was free to use handles. I disguise my Real Identity on non-gaming boards, on Flickr, hell, even my online banking log in name has nothing to do with my real name or my better known gaming names.

However, I started to wonder – is online civility only important to me in my career? Am I ashamed of the things I say as an amateur photographer, a wife and mother, a science fiction fan? Will my ability to land clients be impacted so much for the worse if one of them discovered that I disdain 99% of television programming not found on Discovery or the SciFi channel but boy howdy, don’t you interrupt me during American Idol? Am I really all that freaked out over what my friends from the gaming world would think if they looked at my book collection, assuming I ever get around to updating Library Thing again?

Uh, warning/confession on that last one, I started to fill it in and then I ordered a UPC reader. I’m not going back until it comes in. If you are as OCD as my friends usually are, do not click that link. This has been a public service announcement.

So, anyway, I decided I was going to do my part. Every handle I have created online since that moment has been my real name. The only exceptions have been where using my real name would arguably cause harm to a client. In those cases, I am even more cautious than I am otherwise, and after a decade of having my sins follow me because beer is temporary but Google is forever, I am one damn cautious human being.

And you know, it’s been kind of awesome. I feel like I’ve been wearing a corset and I can finally breathe. At least it’s easy to remember my damned user name. I’ve also found that other people are more polite to me, and I believe it’s because they’re on some level acting like they would were I standing in front of them.

Go on, try it. You feel naked at first, but once you realize you can still lie about how much you weigh, you’re home free.



  1. Arrakiv said,

    July 25, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Eh, I like the online handle. It takes 5 seconds and a Google search to find out my real name. πŸ™‚ Heck, its on the first hit!

    Still, it is an interesting idea to use your real name across the Internet. I can already see people freaking out over the privacy issues, though.

  2. Calaruis said,

    July 25, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    I am proud to admit that I am 185 pounds. And I hold civility as a matter of personal pride. I may joke around, but I never intentionally inflict emotional harm just because someone cannot see behind the screen name. Even my on-line identity is part of me. Shame on one part is shame on the whole.

  3. Tom said,

    July 25, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    I’ve got probably one of the oldest Yahoo! user names around (I made it to use Yahoo! pager…before it became messenger) and it’s my full real name. All my primary emails are my name or some obvious derivative. A quick Google search reveals all too much about me. My feeling now is that my info has been out there so long even if I took steps now I can’t erase the tracks. Ironically, compared to you, the only place I *do* use unrelated aliases is game boards. And that’s because the people in the game know you by those game names (which I use on the boards) so it was just a matter of making it easier to identify me if you were a guildmate or arch rival/dead dwarf hunter. Anonymity breeds massive (and false) confidence on the net – I don’t see any reason to make things more complicated than they already are.

  4. Earnest Dodge said,

    July 25, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    I’ve been using this name online for so long that I feel like it’s not really a pseudonym. Funny thing is, you find out much more about me from searching this name than my real name, since evidently my RL name is incredibly common!

  5. Stupid said,

    July 25, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    I almost always use my “real” name online…

    … Except for places that consider it “offensive”…

    … and on forums and other places where it is already taken (it’s not exactly an uncommon moniker apparently)…

    … and definitely not in URL of my personal webspace…

    … nor in my PSN username, steam login, or XBLA account, because that would be silly.

    But at least I’m consistent.

  6. Taral said,

    July 26, 2008 at 12:15 am

    I use a handle for convenience, not to hide my identity. πŸ™‚

    Oh, and get a :cue:cat. They’re cute, and work as UPC readers.

  7. VPellen said,

    July 26, 2008 at 8:37 am

    I’ve been using my real name online since around my 19th birthday (21 now). Not so much because I want to appear all honest and shit, but I want to be accountable for what I say.

  8. Frank said,

    July 26, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    I don’t use my full real name, although my last name is terribly common (hint: when you’re Filipino and you receive the 12th copy of “AOL Latino 10.0” in 13 days, it gets tired). I have practical reasons beyond privacy – I’m a prolific writer and I’m wary that the braindumps and sarcastic nonsense I post will someday catch up with me in some random job interview. Unless I’m applying for “Mildly Humorous Writer”, it’ll be a problem.

    But in forums and other formats, I’m always using my actual first name, unless I have a reason to hide it. I’m a forum monkey at a major WAR fansite, for example, and forum whores tend to pick apart with disturbing detail your personal life even from just a name.

    But it’s not like I have to tell you how that feels, Sanya. You know it better than I do.

  9. Brask Mumei said,

    July 27, 2008 at 12:31 am

    If you have a very common last name, I can’t see your concern about your writing catching up to you – it is as likely some other person with your name as you. Indeed, that is an argument *to* use your real identity online, so at least some of the google hits are you and not the S&M inclined person with the same name two states over.

  10. Aufero said,

    July 27, 2008 at 8:49 am

    My real name is not a terribly useful identifier, as it’s common enough to produce several million hits when used as a search string. (Including the chairman of the FCC and several sports figures and musicians.)

    The habitual handle I use here and elsewhere was a much more reliable way to find me online, at least until last year when a software project and a band both started advertising using that name.

    Oh, well – it’s still more unique than “Kevin Martin”.

  11. Apache said,

    July 27, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    I like the first “nickname” lastname format myself

    Games are supposed to be fun, you know. Nicknames = teh fun

  12. Merlyn said,

    July 28, 2008 at 12:13 am

    Yeah…real names??

    No thanks. Especially not on the interweb. I’ve had problems with folks trying to look me up from a game.

    Now, I do use my real name on some boards, but when it comes to gaming, I use this one. Granted, I’ve got to deal with all the other folks who use it, but…well…them’s the breaks.

  13. Solok said,

    July 28, 2008 at 1:06 am

    One interesting thing about your view on real names is that for someone that works with virtual worlds you sure don’t like virtual identities. What I mean by that is what I take from your stance is that someone can’t place the same value in something because it isn’t real even if the substance is the same. That is just seems wrong to me.

    Anyway, I don’t care if my community managers/devs use their real name or not – actually, don’t break my escapism by using Sally Sothers on the boards instead of Trininty (written for what I hope you’ll visualize :)).

    Anyway, I suggest you choose where you want to use your real name carefully, lest you want to make yourself an easier target for identity theft. As you mentioned, what you post is forever. Over time you will post my personal information than you care to have listed in one place. But it will be in one place. You may not be able to think how your information will be used against you because you don’t post personal things. I’m not going to go in to details how the information can be used – but it can’t and inferences can be made.

    I suggest you embrace multiple identities, give them all boundaries that define them and realize that the person behind them all has the same integrity and that should be good enough for the world.

    Just my $.02.

  14. Skeetarian said,

    July 28, 2008 at 1:30 am

    I have used the same online name for so long that I wouldn’t know what to do to begin using my real name. At this point, especially in my gaming circles, I get people asking me if I’m that guy that got his name nerfed in DAoC when I’m playing something else…

    Thanks again for getting my ‘me’ back Sanya!


  15. Talance said,

    July 28, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    I’d have to agree with Skeetarian. I’ve been using the same name for years and I can’t imagine using anything else, it’s how people know me. I run a Google search every once in a while, the only other Talance out there who gets hits is some former football player. πŸ™‚

    On the other hand, I’ve always treated this name as my “online” identity. I don’t hide behind it and feel like I can flame people with immunity or anything like that. It is me, and means as much to me as my real name. The only reason I use a handle is to protect from identity theft and, well, because I always have, I guess. That’s what I get for gaming online for a couple of decades, eh?

  16. Loredena said,

    July 28, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    This is my primary online identiy –she was my original EQ character, stemming back to 99. I do have two other IDs, one my cleric (used almost as often/sometimes interchangeably) and the other is my ranger (used specifically on ranger boards). At this point though, I’ve been using Loredena for so long that anyone who knows me online knows me as her first, my ‘real’ name second.

    My real name is also pretty unique — I really don’t want the casual forum troll to be able to google my name, and get my address, phone, employer, and relatives. (Anyone who really wants to put in the effort can still get there, but this discourages the casual troll).

  17. Frank said,

    July 29, 2008 at 4:27 am

    “If you have a very common last name, I can’t see your concern about your writing catching up to you – it is as likely some other person with your name as you.”

    Except googling it really does yield results related to me, which, with a little logic, you could see came from me and not some other person with my name. That’s what happens when you are crazy enough to plan, and even chair, conventions.

    I’d rather play it safe.

  18. Chanell said,

    July 31, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    I mainly use my online name because I hate hate hate hate my RL name *cringe*

    But I totally understand where you’re coming from.

  19. Ashendarei said,

    July 31, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    I can honestly say that I use this username for a good portion of what I do. It originally just stemmed from a desire to have a nickname for gaming, (hey, I was young :D) but since I’ve stuck with it.

    that being said, I’m not the only one with it. . a google search found some crap about someone from venezuela who uses that name too 😦

  20. Phaltran said,

    August 1, 2008 at 1:57 am

    I think a key issue is uniqueness. We all have common given and family names because they indicate our heritage. Ultimately, we all came from the same families and according to some religious beliefs, the same original mother and father.

    Enter the computer age and you have to be identified by something unique: a serial number, a username or some other moniker that the computer can differentiate. I think the keystone of the concepts for traceable online identities, online reputation, etc. will be a unique system that ties the real to the virtual in an indisputable, secure and un-forgable, one to one method.

    My first name, “Darren,” even though it has various ways of spelling is still extremely common with that one spelling. I’ve Googled 10 in Texas with that same spelling and the same last name. I’m only one of those 10. “Phaltran” however is unique and special to me. It was my original character name in Ultima IV, followed me through UO, DAoC and on to WoW. Even in WoW if you search for me on the armory, I’m two of those three listed. Out of 10 million players, only one other person “owns” that name, yet in the real world I can find 10 “me’s” in Texas alone.

    As for reputation and acting like ourselves online… There are those of us that can easily stand behind what things we have said or done online and have no shame, no ridicule from others or persecution from any we may have offended. On the other hand, there are many whose sole intent in being online is to cause grief and chaos. Those are the ones that will eagerly hide behind numerous pseudonyms, and like perpetual liars, they are unable to keep up with what they told whom in what persona or forum. There are many other, honorable reasons for keeping a layer between the virtual and the real. Mainly telemarketing, spam or any other “business” that seeks to solicit your business comes to mind of why I don’t want them knowing my real name. It’s so bad now that I took of the practice of creating separate e-mail accounts: one for friends, one for shopping/online submissions and one for professional organizations. I guess that counts as alternate identities, too.

    As much as I’d like to see an honorable, morally correct connection between the real and the virtual, I don’t see it happening in my lifetime.

  21. August 3, 2008 at 6:25 am

    As one of three major Community Managers at Kongregate, I am the only one who uses an online handle. I’ve noticed that my colleagues Greg and Matt, who each use their real names are able to generate much high levels of trust and interest from the community. In fact, in Greg’s case, an entire cult of personality has spawned up around him.

    Perhaps due to this, I agree with Sanya that a real name is more effective in many ways, and generates more trust. Especially for a figure head. In my case, I sometimes get emails to my real name @ mentioning this curious ‘damijin’ fellow who they have not connected to be the very same person they are writing to. This proves more than anything that the handle can be somewhat confusing for folks.

    Still. I like the handle. I’ve used it for years, and it’s a part of me. My bosses call me damijin from time to time in lapses where their brains seem to flicker back and forth as to what my actual name is. I will say that the one benefit of a handle is that it makes you more accessible. Especially in a community where people use handles. It makes you more down to Earth, more in line with the community member you’re speaking to, and less like a mythical figure who works in a mysterious headquarters and posts incredibly important things where every single character matters.

    As damijin, I am freer to make mistakes and interact with the users on a deep personal level. As a human, I appreciate that. Also, with the rest of the community team using their real names, I think we maintain a good balance together.

  22. IainC said,

    August 13, 2008 at 11:28 am

    As someone who used to use a handle to communicate with users and now uses his real name, I have to agree with Sanya. It is very liberating. My name is unique enough that nearly any google hit will be me rather than a namesake and it doesn’t bother me at all anymore.

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