(From Peter Steiner, the New Yorker).

While anonymity adds value for some users, others might prefer seeing real names. Amazon has a special Real Name badge that can be earned by reviewers. Google+ is planning a real name policy.

Should GIS.SE have a badge for members using their real name?

People posting with their real name might think twice about posting copyrighted material. I'd probably blame my dog though.

Update: Let me rephrase this:

Should GIS.SE have a badge for members who opt to use their real name?

Suppose I start using Google+, and make it past the Google Name Police. Then suppose I use my google OpenID to log into SE. It would be useful for SE to assume that if my name as entered in the Real Name field of my SE profile matches the real name in my google credentials, then the UI should somehow reflect that fact, with a "real name" similar to the one used by Amazon (How did they manage to trademark that !?)

To me, the Real Name badges on amazon reviews lend and air of authenticity.

  • 1
    Do you mean filling the "real name" field or using your actual name as a user name?
    – underdark
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:18
  • 2
    We blame the cat.
    – Mapperz Mod
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:18
  • I'd think it would need to be more than just filling out the "real name" field. Is there a way to authenticate names with OpenID? Aug 31, 2011 at 14:25
  • Of course one could just use a fake name that looks like a real name. How would/count any naming convention be verifiable? Your truly Bob Smith :)
    – user681
    Aug 31, 2011 at 14:50
  • @Kirk No, because there are multiple kinds of OpenID providers that are attached to services which do not require real names.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Aug 31, 2011 at 19:10
  • @Kick I would suggest reading Jeff's posts on OpenID and suspension for his view on this with Stack Exchange. Aug 31, 2011 at 19:27
  • 4
    No. Privacy often becomes important on moments when you least expect it.
    – johanvdw
    Aug 31, 2011 at 20:31

5 Answers 5


As long as the dog in question is writing good answers to GIS questions, then we should not particularly care that it is a dog.

  • 5
    Though the dog's owner might want to know because of the opportunity for personal profit.
    – jvangeld
    Aug 31, 2011 at 16:29
  • 3
    Clearly I'm barking up the wrong tree. Maybe we instead of a badge it would be a tag (a dog tag ?) for questions asked by someone with an authenticated real name. Sep 1, 2011 at 3:09
  • Aye, I don't think name authentication is important enough to prevent someone from joining, but it can be a valuable piece of information.
    – jvangeld
    Sep 1, 2011 at 18:38

They should at least make people choose a user name. The user12345 names convey a lack of interest in the community. Personally, I'm less likely to go to lengths to answer questions from people who aren't even invested enough in the site to create a user name. Auto-generated names just seem anti-social.

This isn't rational but I think it's human nature to distrust and not want to invest resources in individuals who show no investment in the group.

  • 1
    One of our greatest resources is our ability to attract interesting questions from outside the community. The SE philosophy is to make it as easy as possible to ask a good question, no matter who you are (woof!). Requiring a login, asking for a user name, etc., all add friction to the process and degrade that resource. What we can do is personally welcome and upvote new users who ask good questions or provide good answers. By our actions we can thereby entice newcomers, who originally just had a question to ask, to come back and continue contributing.
    – whuber
    Sep 1, 2011 at 15:16
  • 2
    @whuber I can understand wanting to reduce the barriers to entry and StackExchange does that well. And, I endorse anonymous questions and answers. But, somehow, registered accounts with user1234 still rub me the wrong way.
    – Sean
    Sep 1, 2011 at 17:29

I don't think I would support a real name policy; what matters is the content and quality of your posts, not necessarily the name your parents gave you.

Also, we now have a bit of an emergent privilege based on having 1k rep and a profile that is filled out with the user card hover expansion:

How does the User Card popup work?

  • Maybe instead of a policy, this could be a feature: If you login with Google+ openID credentials and the real name in Google matches your SE profile real name, then you would have the benefit of letting people see this fact in your user card. Otherwise the UI would behave as it does now. Sep 2, 2011 at 14:15
  • This post sounds so flippantly dismissive of the OP's suggestion ("name your parents gave you") that one wonders whether you have considered it seriously. I think the motivating idea is that people engage in activities outside the SE arena. Taking your point at face value, let's go all the way and assert that" what matters is the content and quality of your posts," regardless of whose site they appear on. It seems we should conclude there is merit in providing name authentication and awarding reputation for it. Whether that is practicable perhaps is the issue for you.
    – whuber
    Sep 2, 2011 at 21:33
  • 1
    @whuber there's nothing stopping people from putting plenty of information in their user profile indicating they are who they say they are. I can't recall ever having any problems with "fake" accounts in the 3 years of the network... Sep 2, 2011 at 23:03
  • 1
    @whuber this "real name" policy stuff is also extremely contentious so please pardon me if I don't want to touch it with a 10 foot pole. (I also don't believe in it..) zdnet.com/blog/violetblue/… Sep 2, 2011 at 23:06
  • Fair enough. It's nice to hear a good reason for your rejection of the idea.
    – whuber
    Sep 3, 2011 at 0:56
  • SE can use Google as the fall guy if anyone complains about this. All I'm suggesting is that if someone uses the same real name on SE as they do on Google+, then that should be recognized. Identity seems to be a key differentiator between FaceBook and Google+. If there were a medical Q&A site, some viewers might like additional proof that Marcus Welby really is who he says he is. I wonder what FaceBook would think about such a feature. Sep 3, 2011 at 19:32

One thing we prize on the Stack Exchange Network is the ease of use and entry for a Q&A website. People don't even have to register in the first place, nevermind provide personal data such as their name or address. They can just drop by, ask and answer, and so ends their commitment to us.

The most we offer is a "Real Name" field which isn't validated in any fashion. And that's not exactly an easy thing to validate. To accurately confirm identities, we'd need to somehow retrieve official identification documents from users, which are different across the world. That's not just a hassle for us, that's a hassle for the users, too.

If it's required, it means people are less likely to register because of the extremely increased commitment - a big hit to our entry ease. If it is not required, then it implies a correlation between "Willingness to reveal personal data" with "Ability to give useful answers", a stance that is not reflected in your current reputation spread. So either one has to start doubting good answers just because they come from "non-validated" users, or it just doesn't act as a strong deterrent in the first place.

Overall, I don't think it would be an effective direction for us to take. Our focus is on the content, and much like a completely new user has every chance to be an expert genius that the site has yet to see, so too can a user who simply does not wish to commit their real name.

  • OK, instead of requiring real names, can we make it optional? Suppose I start using Google+, and make it past the Google Name Police. Then suppose I use my google OpenID to log into SE. Couldn't SE assume that if my name as entered in the Real Name field of my SE profile matches the real name in my google credentials, then the UI should somehow reflect that fact, with some sort of "real name" badge on my profile? Aug 31, 2011 at 20:27
  • @Kirk If it's optional, what makes it have any real impact? You're either implying that the only people we should trust are those who have validated names (which I submit, again, isn't reflected by your current userbase), or accepting that it's not going to be a strong deterrent since you will have strong indication that users can be trusted without needing that badge.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Aug 31, 2011 at 20:39
  • I'm thinking in terms of the Amazon Real Name model where real names are an option. IMO Amazon has successfully used this badge to give an impression of authenticity to user reviews. There are similarities between Amazon product reviews and SE. Aug 31, 2011 at 20:58

I personally prefer natural names, as distinct from real names. For example I'd rather refer to mkennedy as Melita Kennedy and whuber as William Huber or Bill because those roll off my thoughts and finger tips smoothly. It also gives a mental sense of connectedness, more like a friend and less like a distant acquaintance. As to why I use 'natural' instead of 'real': Underdark works just as well while as Anita, but User1899 does not.

All this said, I do not in the least wish to restrict any person's freedom to be known by the moniker of their choice. It's just a preference.

  • I've updated my question to ask if having a real name option makes sense. Aug 31, 2011 at 21:21
  • @Kirk we have that option already. I'm registered as 'maphew', a nickname I use pretty much everywhere, but in my profile page added my real name. Aug 31, 2011 at 21:33
  • But it is not authenticated as your real name. Seems possible for SE to ask Google+ (via openID) when you log in if the real name you entered matches the one they have. Amazon Real Names use credit cards. I thought they had some sort of real name authentication service, but I don't see it anywhere. If they did, then SE could use that too. Aug 31, 2011 at 21:55
  • 2
    ahh, ok I understand now. I'm not interested in authenticated names in the GIS.se context. It's the content of the questions and answers which are important. Aug 31, 2011 at 22:00

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