I originally wrote this as a guest post for TechCrunch, but based on some good comments, I have modified the proposal. So here is my improved version of that post...
The debate on pseudonyms persists today in the NY Times, as Google continues to eject pseudonymous accounts from Google Plus. Google crafted its Common Names Policy in order to promote trust and transparency, hoping to mitigate spam and flame wars. But the backlash has been strong from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (in this eloquent statement) and others as they advocate for those who need pseudonyms to express themselves without fear of being ostracized, fired, arrested or physically targeted.
Google has promised to review its policy and develop new ways of addressing these concerns. Until then, Google Plus remains irrelevant not only to Arab Spring revolutionaries but to anyone whose life is not completely an open book. Google's policy stifles gay teens, victims of workplace harassment, medical patients seeking information and compassion, and any others who challenge the politics or religion around them.
However, the debate need not dwell on the relative importances of transparency and free expression. We must have both, and I believe we can. If Google seizes the opportunity to get this right, it will further distinguish Google Plus from Facebook as the safe, intelligent platform for sharing.
So Brad and Vic, if you're listening, please consider that you can enable free and transparent expression on the Internet by establishing Google as the source of authenticity for all profile names. I shouldn't pretend that I have thought through all the product ramifications, but roughly speaking here's what I would suggest you do...
Classify each profile name as either: Private for self-proclaimed pseudonyms; Unverified, for new profiles with allegedly "real" names; People Verified for those profiles that reach a certain degree of social activity without any indications of fraud or other reputational issues; Bank Verified for those profiles linked to an active credit card in that same name; and Google Verified for those "celebrity" profiles for whom Google vouches through their manual authentication procedures, as Twitter does.
Once Google does that, I can decide how to interact with Google Plus profiles of varying verification. Furthermore, if you allowed other web sites to also discriminate based on type of profile name, I expect that "Google Verified" would quickly leapfrog Facebook Connect and Twitter 0Auth as the preferred Login replacement.
For example, any community that reaches out to the disenfranchised can be liberal in their policy of expression, while others can exclude, or at least moderate, content from Private and Unverified users. Any statement or request from a Private profile can be considered in light of the person's anonymity. Commercial standards would develop around escalated levels of authentication; for example, commerce sites and banks might accept only Bank Verified logins.
Having cracked the code on how to share intelligently among my different Circles, Google Plus is the perfect platform for bridging transparency and free expression. Let me craft a different profile for each Circle, so I can use my Bank Verified profile at work, and my Private profile as I publicly criticize scary fundamentalists.
There is nothing dishonest about a pseudonym, so long as it's presented as one. Rather than fight anonymity, Google should simply help us recognize it - not only on Google Plus, but across the web.