Following their recent informal survey, Lucas Cioffi just shared a comprehensive list of arguments why requiring citizens to register on government websites with their real names may not always be such a good idea: Protect Anonymous Comments Online

Here’s the comment I just left:

Nice list of arguments.

I wonder what opportunities there are to design systems that offer more flexible ways of dealing with identity. For many of the participation scenarios I’m aware of, neither a strict real name requirement nor a complete laissez-faire approach seem to provide the right structure.

As an alternative, an online participation system might well require participants to sign up with their real name or even verify their identity (as part of their account information). Yet participants could choose if and to what extent they want to share their real identity with the other participants or the general public (via their profile and privacy settings). In case the system was hosted by a neutral third party provider, participants might even be able to shield their private information from the convener organization.

This approach would also allow us to differentiate between various activities participants are asked to engage in. Some processes would require real names, other might work better if participants stayed anonymous.

Finally, participants could be empowered to choose as a group which level of anonymity (or revealed identity) they prefer. For example, a group of participants engaging in small-group dialogue could choose to reveal their real names only if and when all of them have expressed that they are comfortable with it.

I think it’s worth exploring these dynamics.

Please leave a comment if you’ve come across any online tools that deal creatively with this tension between anonymous and identified participation.