People like to be heard

2012-01-26 18:24

So, thinking about it.

Here’s what’s wrong with Google+‘s new names policy, and why it will not significantly abate the outrage.

Fundamentally, what’s most important to people is to be acknowledged in some way. Right now, the Google+ name appeal system is actively denying any kind of acknowledgement.

1. There is no provision whatsoever for personal commentary of any sort. You can’t offer even a single sentence of explanation for why you would rather use one name than another.
2. The response is a complete form letter, with no acknowledgement at all of anything you said or submitted.
3. You cannot reply.

You get no indication of how the determination was made. Did they even notice that I had 40,000 posts over a period of five years under that name? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t tell whether they didn’t notice it, or didn’t even follow the links because it’s “obviously” a nickname, or what.

And that comes into a very fundamental trait of humans, which Google seems completely unaware of: You can tell people no all you want, but if you don’t demonstrate convincingly that you actually heard and considered what they said, they will always be angry with you. If I’d gotten a response in which they offered a meaningful explanation of why they don’t think the only name my friends have called me by in the last twenty some years is my “real name”, I might have agreed or not, but I would have at least felt like the question got considered.

Instead, I have no evidence at all that my links were even followed. I have no evidence that they have even considered the question “how many people know this guy as seebs?” or “will this guy’s friends have an easier time finding him under this name or that name?”

So I’m furious. I think their behavior is unconscionable and insulting.

Key customer service lesson here: When you want people to accept an answer, be sure you convince them you understood the question, first.

A followup, as a thing has clicked:

Part of the reason this is a big deal is that, for most people, your name is a big component of your self-identity. Telling people they are wrong about their name is a kind of telling them that they are wrong about who they are. This is why any policy like this is pretty much doomed to failure. Telling people they are not who they think they are is stupid; refusing to allow them a mechanism for correcting you is even stupider.

Peter Seebach



  1. I have a this issue with every social network-y thing. My last name is very unique, like 3 people in the world, myself, my sister, and my mother, have it. I don’t want to share it with the world at large. I can’t use initials instead, of course, that’s hiding my true identity some how. Why shouldn’t someone be able to be themselves for the people they know and a stranger to those who don’t?

    — Ariel · 2012-01-28 10:06 · #