After more than three years, Google+ is removing the restriction that requires users to create accounts under a real name. New Google+ users can now use any name, including nicknames and pseudonyms.
The rule was originally put in place to help build a community free of the widespread inappropriate behavior that often comes with anonymity. The Internet is famous for the trolling, hate speech and rude comments that occur when certain people are given the ability to speak without revealing their identity. However, the Google+ team now believes that it can handle the moderation of such a large community.
"One of the reasons this is safe to launch is that our troll-smashing department has gotten very good at their jobs," says Google+ Chief Architect Yonatan Zunger.
A number of exceptions to the rule have been put in place over the last three years as Google+ has become more than a simple social networking website. The +Page feature is often used to represent businesses and communities rather than people, and thus was made exempt from using the real name of a user. As Google+ connected with YouTube, owners of YouTube channels were allowed to use their YouTube usernames on Google+ in order to preserve their existing virtual identities.
When Google+ originally added support for nicknames in 2012, nicknames were displayed alongside real names, preserving the lack of anonymity. Now users will have the option to not display any real name at all, showing only the pseudonym. Google says that the feature is one users have been requesting for some time, and hopes that the change will draw in those who were put off by the restriction.
"We know that our names policy has been unclear, and this has led to some unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users," Google says. "For this we apologize, and we hope that today's change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be."
Reactions from Google+ users have been mixed thus far. Some say the change is too little, too late, and that changing back to their preferred username now would serve little purpose. Others praise the change for allowing people already known on the Internet under a pseudonym to preserve that reputation on Google+. However, a large portion of Google+ users worry that despite Google's efforts, the change will bring an influx of unsavory elements to the community.