Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Anonymity on the Web

Interaction on the Internet is, no doubt, different than in real life. One such example is the ability to remain anonymous which can leave some users with a feeling of power and abandon.

When they know their face cannot be seen and, in turn, they can’t see the face of anyone else on the web, some users see the opportunity to hurt other people. Seth Godin originally wrote about the problem with anonymity on the Internet in 2004 saying:

“It’s ironic that we’ve set up two very different standards for our trust. In the real world, we’re skeptical of strangers. At the supermarket the other day, someone picked up my favorite brand of olive oil. I waxed on about how great it was, and of course, the shopper put it back and bought something else instead. Online, however, we’re happy to believe whatever image someone sends along, or buy something from a spammer.”

I’m not sure I entirely agree with the last sentence since many users these days glance right past ads and delete unread emails from people I don’t know. Then again, online purchases account for a large share of transactions, so we have become comfortable forking over money to companies whose faces we cannot see. Either way, it’s an interesting commentary on our society that we are fairly comfortable online and often not as comfortable in the physical presence of strangers.

Seth revisited this topic last week adding, “Anonymity hasn't made the web a better place. Instead, it has allowed some of the worst ideas ever to get published.” He suggests that eliminating anonymity on the Internet would go a long way towards banishing hurtful commentary and reducing spam.

I’d like to believe that it is that simple, but how would it be regulated? What sort of consequences would be set? Wouldn’t it just keep the honest, honest?


blogMeTender said...

Like you, I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. In many settings I've been told my ideas aren't far fetched, that they're actually what people are looking for. (Interestingly, along the lines of anonymity, they'll usually pull me aside to tell me that in private.) However, when I propose those ideas in front of a corporate group, I many times get shot down because as good as my ideas may be, they aren't worthy because I didn't follow the company procedure or protocol or they're at odds with ongoing politics. When I go down in flames, nobody wants to be associated with me.

So I've found that I can still have impact anonymously. I see when I've contributed online with a pseudonym that people buy what I'm saying either in its entirety or in pieces. The exchange that happens is fairly good. However, I am not guaranteed of having such an equal exchange in corporate settings.

That's what I dread the most. I'm one of those who isn't a dotcom millionaire. I still need income. I'm therefore reluctant to use my real name because I worry an overzealous employer will Google me and deny me employment because they misread what I said. Or they'll say I'm not a good fit because I seem too controversial, that I'm not a team player.

You may say why would I want to work for such a place. I still need to make my millions.

Leigh said...

“along the lines of anonymity, they’ll usually pull me aside to tell me that in private”

Living in a society where people are publicly chastised has created a number of consequences, one of those being the fear to publicly support someone. It’s much easier to privately mention that you love someone’s idea, than to face possible opposition. Sad that we’ve gotten to this point, isn’t it?

Good luck on your plot to millions!

Anonymous said...

Anonymity and privacy are VERY important. I have used an anonymity site for about 7 years ( http://www.ultimate-anonymity.com ) Ultimate Anonymity and love it.

Those who feel anonymity should be banned are ignorant to the facts. Spammers take peoples REAL information and use it to SPAM. Post and surf and participate anonymously and the spammers wont get your real data. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

t's such a important site. cool, quite interesting!!!