Tag Archives: Google Plus

What’s In A Name? – Naming Policies On Social Media

When Google Plus launched in 2011, I jumped in enthusiastically to try it out. I was already on Facebook, running two pages as well, an avid Twitter user but I was interested in a new offering in the space. Shortly after, Google refused to let me continue using the service unless I let them know my ‘real name’.

Let me explain. ‘IdeaSmith’ is a name I gave myself in 2004, when I first set up a blog. After all, the Internet was still a new if not entirely unfamiliar place. As one of the early Indians on the internet, I had played with handles without knowing the term in the 90s, on chat and later on EGroups-YahooGroups and an email address from which I used to send out articles to friends and family (my first self-publishing & broadcasting experiment). By 2004, the notion that you could be whoever you wanted to be on the internet had already gotten commonplace. I chose IdeaSmith as a step up over ‘Wordsmith’ because I saw (and still see) myself as a person of thoughts and ideas, not limited to just words but multiple media & formats. Also, I liked the gender neutrality of it.

For reasons of privacy, I decided to keep the identities of IdeaSmith and Ramya Pandyan, distinct. This allowed me to explore my writing and my ideas, unfettered by all the restrictions imposed on me as a woman, as an Indian, as a member of my family and all other communities I had been a part of. In time, I realized that this construct had outlived its purpose. I was now a more confident writer and person. A lot of people have tried to embarrass me for those years of anonymity, treating it as something silly or shameful that I had to ‘hide away’. I don’t see it that way. To me, it’s like conducting your experiments in the contained environment of a laboratory before making your work visible. What’s shameful about that?

Since 2007, a lot of people who interact with the IdeaSmith identity have known my ‘real name’ and other details about me. In 2009, I officially came out revealing my name. Now my real-w0rld name appears in most places online too. However, IdeaSmith is now a brand that is associated with a specific kind of writing, type of views and a set of content. As a writer/content creator it both symbolizes and carries in it, my work of the past 8 years. Given that this is the online space, people who are looking for my work are more likely to look for Ideasmith than Ramya Pandyan.

Thus far this has been a consideration but not a problem. My LinkedIn profile states that I have been employed by certain companies (nothing to do with my work as IdeaSmith) whose records carry the name ‘Ramya Pandyan’ and hence that is the name I go by there. In all other places, the records are associated with IdeaSmith or Idea Smith (where a first and last name requirement exist).

This week I received an email stating that a Quora admin had blocked my account. Here is what my account looks like right now:


The account is headlined by the message,

“Your account has been blocked from editing because the name associated with your account does not conform to Quora’s naming policy.”

If you look at my profile, you will notice it starts with the sentence,

“IdeaSmith is the online avatar of Ramya Pandyan.”

The profile also links to my presence on other social platforms, including LinkedIn.

I’ve been asking people what they think about this in the last week. Aside from the scoffing that comes from people who always thought having a handle was a stupid idea, there is one coherent thought that did come my way – security. As the social/digital space continues to grow in its presence in our lives, I can see why platforms and networks are feeling the need to know their users better.

Quora however, does allow people to post anonymously. I could have done that, were my purpose one of mischief or something else equally dubious. What’s more, ‘Smith’ is a perfectly acceptable last name. ‘Idea’ as a first name may be unconventional but it does not strike me as an entirely unacceptable notion. And finally, isn’t it rather presumptuous to decide what kind of name is or is not acceptable? Also, what kind of security is offered to the service by knowing a name? I could come up with a seemingly plausible but false name like say Margaret Reed. How would that protect their service in any way, were my intentions to turn malicious?

I’ve been very interested in Quora thus far but with this, they fail to fulfill one of my key requirements. I am on Quora because I am interested in social content and digital communities. It benefits me to explore this area and work the tools under the name of IdeaSmith, otherwise these are just meaningless time-draining actions. As long as a social media service does not let me do this, they’re closed and unavailable to me. Isn’t that exactly what defines a need-gap?

Here are some other people I’ve seen experimenting with online identities as distinct from their offline ones:

Each of these people have had different journeys and presumably, different objectives for their online avatars. Doesn’t that indicate that there are any number of reasons that a person would want to have a name different from their offline one? It seems to me that an online service would be unwise to force its users to conform to their offline names only, thus depriving them of one of the greatest benefits that the internet has to offer – the opportunity to go beyond the offline.

Social Networking-How Communities Were Built

December opens in one of my favorite ways – a new writing project! 🙂 I’ve been an active member of the online community from 1996 and the social sub-community that emerged in the early years of the last decade. Now I get to lay down my observations in a commentary of this space. I’m quite excited to be part of Social Samosa!

Social Samosa is a venture by Ankita Gaba and Aditya Gupta and will focus exclusively on the Indian social media space. That’s a tall order, as you may imagine, considering just how much there is, firstly, to social media and secondly, to how Indians are using it.

I start with by exploring the advent of social networking in a 2-part article. The first post titled ‘Social Networking: How Communities Were Built‘, looks at the prominent players and their individual attempts to build the social community we have today. Facebook stars prominently of course as does LinkedIn but Orkut, Google Plus and Egroups feature along the way too. Do read it and tell me what you think!

“The primary function of a social network is to connect people. However, it is not enough to link people and assume that they will prolong the interaction, or indeed keep their interactions within the network. Furthering those connections & retaining the conversations within the network, is crucial for the network to survive. People need activities in order to transition from connection to community. “

Read the full article here.

Image via Jscreationzs

WordPress Takes A Leaf Out Of Facebook

I just noticed that WordPress is following Facebook’s stead.

Look at this toolbar. My attention was captured by a bright red 2 (now showing as a grey 0). Clicking on it resulted in a dropdown list of notifications. The images next to it is my gravatar or what WordPress reads as my display picture. A click there leads to a menu with basic options like sign out, profile edits, Help and navigation to my other blogs. Very Facebook/Google

After ‘Likes’, Facebook sets another standard in the socially-networked universe.

Facebook Is The New Prom Queen

Facebook logo

Image via Wikipedia

Facebook is now that annoying classmate you had in school, who got too busy upstaging her rival (Google Plus) to be any kind of friend to you anymore. This new look does precisely what for any of its users?

I wonder if anyone actually cares about the most popular girl in school.

lowercase "g"

Image via Wikipedia

Ideamarked July2011: Social Networks, Twitter Talk & Internet Memes

Birthday month! Among my many gifts were a trip to The City of Joy, the last metro I’ve been to. I also had an article published in Marie Claire India this month and a post on FriendsOfBooks. That apart, I’ve been cooking, dressing up and having fun! Nothing much else to say I guess; happiness is simple!

  • Bizarre but funny, this Twitter baby will probably be the next internet meme. (via Twitter)
  • A striking review of Google Plus & Facebook (via StrikingArrow, link courtesy Pushpa). Also see my first thoughts on Google Plus.
  • My second post on books – let’s go ride a dragon, let’s find a vampire to bite, a broomstick to fly, a tree to talk to…let’s go hunt some troll!: ‘Fantasy For Beginners: 10 Books To Get You Started’ (via FriendsOfBooks)
  • Use the power of social media to give your career that edge! My article in this month’s issue of Marie Claire India ‘The Careerist: The Online Advantage
  • A funny metaphor on food (via Twitter)
  • A chilling story on how dreams are lost, by Sidin Vadukut (via Livemint, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • The world’s first matrimonial social network! What an idea! Login to Youpid
  • Former journalist & still a friend, Arcopol comments on the sad state of the profession he left behind. (via Twitter)
  • The Indian middle class is apparently responsible for a whole lot of things! (via Twitter)
  • An interesting look at India’s online celebrities, by Pinstorm founder, Mahesh Murthy. (via HindustanTimes)
  • A list of countries that an Indian passport-holder could travel to, visa-free. I didn’t realize there were so many of them! (link courtesy Mahesh Murthy)
  • Status update jokes are the new party trick. (via MakeUseOf)

Google Plus, Facebook – The Race Is On!

I jumped onto the Google Plus bandwagon the day it was launched. For the following fortnight, my mailbox was innundated with notifications of people adding me to their circles. I’m still receiving requests to send invitations. Suffice to say Google’s ‘let’s make this an exclusive club’ policy continues to work wonders.

I’m still not terribly impressed by Google Plus, given that it just feels a lot like Facebook. The share-with-who-you-please feature that they rode in on, has been possible on Facebook too. I don’t remember if this feature was already there or if Facebook introduced it as a knee-jerk reaction but now I can choose who sees my status update right when I post it.

Google Plus’s Sparks gave me a chance to pause and think there might be something different on offer. But it turns out to be no more than a list of shared content under a particular tag. Well, it could be an interesting enough feature one supposes. Google Plus certainly is trying to straddle both the Twitter (with tag-searches) and Facebook (sharing, communities) worlds.

Some of the things that I’m waiting for Google Plus to come up with:

  • Pages
  • Login accounts on Seismic and Tweetdeck
  • Comment with/ Share on options on website/blog toolbars

Facebook tagging doesn’t seem to be working. I usually link to related content on the Pages of my blogs (The Idea-smithy, XX Factor) and if the source is also on Facebook, I tag their Pages/Profiles. People who are on my friends lists and Pages I’ve liked are uniformly not appearing anymore in the drop-down menu after I type in ‘@’. If this is a bug, then it’s a mighty bad time for it to happen, Facebook. If not, I can’t see why Facebook would do away with a feature that makes it easier to connect and engage with people.

At the moment, I find I’m unable to Unlike Facebook Pages that I’ve liked before. The error message of,

“Something went wrong. We’re working on getting it fixed as soon as we can.”

is all I get for my clicks. This might seem like a simple technical bug (perhaps not as drastic as a security leak). But consider why a user would want to Unlike a Page that they’ve liked before. The Facebook algorithm that shows up only Profiles & Pages you interact with a lot means that most users probably don’t care to ‘unlike’ a page after it has been liked, even if they don’t care about it any more, because they simply don’t see it anymore. A user who takes the effort to visit a Page to Unlike it is aware of its existence and does not want to be made aware of it through updates any more. This is probably the most extreme negative emotion a user can have with a Page. Not being able to Unlike and hence being forced to see those updates on one’s stream can be severely off-putting. It made me shut my window and switch to the other one with Google Plus (where there were only friend updates and no marketing messages from brands whose Pages I may have once liked and was now unable to Unlike).

I’ve said before and I still say that a social network is only as good as its members. I’m on Google Plus only because most of my community is hanging out there at the moment. The minute I see them all moving either back to Facebook or onto something new, I’ll move with them. Features notwithstanding, I’m hardly likely to hang around a cool hangout if there are no cool people to hang out with.

Google Plus Versus Facebook: Early Thoughts

The day before yesterday, the boy mentioned Google’s latest product. Yesterday, the newspaper carried an article and I tweeted asking if anyone knew when it would be launched. Among the replies (that it already had been), I did get one incredulous one saying,

“I can’t believe you just tweeted that!!”

Yes,we tweeters are a snooty bunch, not unlike American High School movies. Shortly after, a friend ‘shared’ his post with me, which gave me a link to get into the network but not use it. This morning, I found I was suddenly in and able to create circles and ‘share’ myself. So I now have the latest snob-value accessory of the online-techy crowd – a Google Plus account.

I’ve spent the last hour exploring its features and occasionally tweeting about it. The fundamental premise that Google Plus is being marketed on, is the ability to share updates (and other things) selectively with only certain parts of your network (called Circles). Now Facebook allows for many of the same features but their privacy settings are rather clunky. What’s more, the past year has seen a few Facebook breaches and lapses which probably makes this feature of Google Plus, a definite, well, plus.

On the other hand, I’m wondering whether in the rush to get into the social networking race with Facebook, whether Google Plus really will sustain or just fall by the wayside (anybody remember Buzz?). For starters, there’s no other particularly interesting feature over Facebook. There is an easy way to integrate Twitter and Flickr but again, these can be done on Facebook with apps. Even the look and feel of Google Plus is very like Facebook (minus the ads). There’s a Stream which is like the Live Feed. Settings and Notifications are in pulldown menus in the top right-corner of the screen (a minor change over Facebook which has Notifications in the mid-left corner). Profile is laid out in much the same manner with photograph on the top left, main news in the middle body and friends details in the middle-to-bottom left.

One of the first things I noticed was that I could view the people in other people’s networks. Now that’s a Facebook feature I used to use to get around people who had set their privacy settings to not be visible on a general search. If you want to connect with someone, chances are you already know someone they know, even if those people are not connected to you. Somebody in that circle is bound to be open to searches. Get to their profile, look down their network and find the person you’re looking for. Facebook tweaked this awhile ago with an option to hide your friends list (though I think now you don’t anymore have the option to stay hidden from searches). Google Plus doesn’t give you the same benefit so of course, if you want to get snoopy and find out who is ‘in’ with who, look at their network. It’s a good thing though, that you can’t actually see who got put in what Circle or even what the Circles are called. So if you want to put your ex-es in one or even your most hated bosses, guess what? They won’t be able to tell they’ve been clubbed together! 🙂

You can update your status in a very similar fashion to Facebook (on the Stream or the Profile) but you can instantly choose who you want to share it with. You can also tag people by adding a ‘@’ which will then give you a dropdown of names to choose from (a lesser-known but very nice feature of Facebook). And finally, people can comment or +1 (similar to Like) your comment.

The Android app that was released at the same time as the launch is here. The window opens to the following:

  • Stream
  • Huddle (group-messaging within a circle)
  • Photos
  • Profile
  • Circles

The photograph feature is pretty good since the first picture I took and posted to my network showed up within seconds on my computer screen. Within the Stream, I clicked a tick icon. It turned out to be a GPS location tracker. What was really freaky was even though I clicked ‘No’ to enable GPS, it actually gave me a list of options based on addresses close to where I was at that moment! This is the one place I feel Google’s ‘Big Brother is watching you’ syndrome coming on since now, in addition to my email and network details, they also know my location.

It still is early days (or should that be early hours?) for Google Plus. I think the real shift will come if they can provide better add-on features via apps. A lot of Facebook apps are created by third-parties and presumably they’ll get on the Google Plus bandwagon too. What will be interesting is if Google Plus manages to make the app integration easier for the developer as well as the user. Also, I’d like to see them leverage the Android platform to create a good mobilephone-network interface as well as phone versions of the apps. I’ve been a Facebook loyalist but as the owner of Marvin, I’m certainly rooting for the latter.

%d bloggers like this: