Real Names and the Emerald Meltdown

So at this point you’ve probably heard about the Emerald Meltdown, where what was really the straw that broke the camels back came down and destroyed what trust folks had built up in the project. I’m not here to talk about that. Actually, I think their final decision was really the only way the project could survive and I’m now cautiously hopeful. If they truly maintain transparency then I’ll have no complaints.  Till then I’d been ready to start a fork myself, or help with whatever one looked most promising.  (I’d been eyeing Satomi Ahn’s fork, but she seems to have closed it, probably because it seems that Emerald will be able to recover.)

What I am here to talk about is some of the extreme crazy issue flogging that I’ve seen come out of it. A number of people, led primarily by, I think, the Second Life Herald and W. James Au over at New World Notes are obsessed with the idea that some how legal names would magically fix– well, any and all problems with Second Life.  They disdain the idea of psuedo-anonymity, and want to dismiss the work of anyone done under a name other then the one on their passport.  (Do I exagerate? Perhaps a little, though hardly as much as they do.)    For instance, from a recent post about the Emerald issues:

But then, who is Arabella Steadham? If the viewer is going to exist in any form going forward, it seems an absolute necessity now that its development be led by someone who is known in real life, and can be held accountable for the actions of her or his team.

But why would it be even a marginal necessity let alone an absolute one? And how would being “known in real life” increase accountability? This seems like a unbelievably naive view of the real world.  Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of open source projects out there, hardly any involve anyone who knows each other, or has any way of verifying anything that anyone says about themselves.  Clearly verifiability is NOT important.  And it’s not like having someone’s “real name” attached to something means anything at all, as well, how would you presume to validate that?  Ask for a photocopy of their ID? They’d not be well advised to share that with a stranger. LL’s own verification is so weak as to be meaningless and is clearly just a sop to people who refused to believe it wasn’t technically possible. (It still isn’t, and what they do measures nothing.)

What it would be reasonable to ask for is identity and authority, and neither is actually related to “real names,” whatever those might be.  Identity just means that when you see something signed with a name, that it’s being signed by the same person that used that name yesterday. Or if it’s a group identity, that there’s an understanding of what that means.  In contrast, authority comes from actions associated with an identity.  You can’t have any authority if you don’t know who’s speaking.  (For an example of that, see 2chan and 4chan.)  So who is Arabella Steadham? Well, to me she’s the sum of the google results for her name.  She’s a blog and various social network entries.  She’s very clearly not an AV that was just rolled by some previous do-badder to hide under a new name.  For Emerald developers and people who participate in that community, she’s surely much more, as she’s been very active in the project for quite a while.  Asking “who” isn’t a bad question, but expecting that a “real name” would do anything to illuminate the question is foolish.

So why all the hate on pseudoanonymity? I’m not sure, but it’s clear that it makes some people very very uncomfortable.  I’d be very interested to hear what it is -exactly- that they fear.  But I suspect I’d hear things that are just as true for so called real names.  Sadly, wishing reality were some way it isn’t, doesn’t make it so.

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