Most Second Life users have probably read the New Year address by Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon by now. Judging by the reactions we've seen, well... let's just say that we're not keen to be in his shoes right now.
Kingdon wished us all a Happy New Year, and threw some stuff out there about things that might become possible, and things that might be coming up on the schedule this year, and ... well, it was like carrying a big stack of pizzas into an anime convention. I'd hate to be the driver delivering, you know?
Anyway, the laser-like gaze of many (including ourselves) turned right away to one particular bullet point, "The ability to choose either real names or fantasy names in Second Life."
Which is cool, right? It'd be nice to have the choice of either in Second Life. There's just one little hitch with that. It's not actually possible. Well, it kind of is, but it'd be horrifically confusing.
I once worked at a company that had three Mike Wallaces on the staff.
Oh, just imagine the wacky fun times we had, right there! Or there was that time with all the Jasons.
Now, imagine two hundred thousand Mike Wallaces, a million John Smiths, a half million Susan Davises. Even a couple dozen would cause an astonishing amount of confusion.
So, obviously nothing much like that would be workable. At least not without exposing a ton of offline identity information (like Facebook does) in order to disambiguate people. Problem is, we already can't tell people apart on Facebook. Unless we already know them well enough to know these details about them can we tell Charlie Parker from New Hampshire apart from Charlie Parker from Bath.
And how would they even log in? They'd need to have unique account names.
Of course, maybe we're talking about keeping unique user-names. But of course that means that the first Susan Davis would be the only one. The second one in might have to settle for Suzy. After about five variations, you've run out of plausible modifications to the name, and you've still got over four hundred and ninety thousand Susan Davises to go. Welcome to Second Life, Susan43250 Davis!
Doesn't that make you feel so welcome?
Of course, few of us actually use our real names on a day-to-day basis. For the majority, the name on our driver's license or birth certificate isn't actually the name our families, friends and co-workers know us by. Usually because names come in trends. This year there are a ton of Jasons and Susans, next year everyone's naming their kids Terence and Ashleigh.
When you get into school, common names like that tend to get shunted aside in favor of some contraction, variation or nickname that's based on your first, middle or last name (or even based on some physical trait, habit or ability). By the time we're out of our teens, our use-names are frequently not our given names – and they generally remain different unless we bother to get our names officially changed.
Nonetheless, those are the names everyone knows us by until we go online and pick something else, or fill out one of a million bizarre forms from a business or government – and even then, we might wind up putting our use-names down without thinking twice.
Do we think the Lab has a plan in the final stages of preparation to allow real names as a possible alternative in Second Life? Heck no!
Do we think that Kingdon sat down and thought "Well, someone brought this up at the meeting last week and the idea sounds interesting on the surface. Maybe I should mention it so that we stop surprising people by coming at them from out of left field, if it were actually to go anywhere" or something similar?
Yep. You guessed it. We think that's a whole lot more likely.
Only now we want pizza.
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