On the subject of Google’s childish insistence on “real names” for its new Google+ service, jwz is scathing, but it’s this comment that gets it right on what mature online communities need to remain civil:
In 20+ years of online communication (much of it with people I either have never met, or only later met) I’d have to say the only reliable predictor of civil discussion is stability of identity, which allows reputation to work. You want people to use the same identity by which they are regularly known, so you can recognise it’s the same person again. As you note this worked just fine for most of USENET’s existence, through most of LJ’s existence, and across a wide range of BBSes prior to that. It even works across a diverse, but loosely related by theme, set of blogs, and their comments, providing there’s a general understanding that people will continue to use the same identity on all of them.
It’s not the only thing you need for a decent online community — you also need a good system to block the numpties, either through active but fair moderation or on the user side ala Usenet’s kill lists — but what you really don’t need and what’s in fact counterproductive is to insist on “real names”. Insisting on that is just another unnecessary hoop for people to jump through to start participating and only an idiot won’t realise that for very many people for very good reasons this is one hoop too far.
But of course Google and Facebook and all the other socalled social media sites are not interested in creating a proper online community, but rather an exploitable resource to sell to advertisers, for which purpose “real names” are much more valuable….