Is there a middle ground between anonymity and real names online?

Enterprise Irregulars

Media companies continue to struggle with anonymous user comments as they try to develop productive online communities. Last week, for example, the Portland Press Herald in Maine first halted all article comments, and then two days later reinstated comments with new and improved moderation tools. In that case and others, one of the stated causes of concern was anonymous readers posting inappropriate comments.

Niel Robertson recently identified a new approach he calls “halfnymity.” It is a tactic used by several Web services, including Foursquare. Basically, users are publicly identified by their first name and last initial, such as “Damon K.” Robertson says that using a “First L” naming convention provides a mix of anonymity and identification that is almost completely contextual to one’s relationship to the subject. He writes:

“This information is as good as anonymous to me for someone I don’t know (who is ‘Sally K.’ in Kansas? Might as well be ‘KansasGirl45′). This provides a sort of interesting non-linear curve in transparency. If someone does know you, it’s as good as non-anonymous. If they don’t, it’s as good as anonymous.”

This exact approach would not necessarily work for comments or other user accounts that require unique names. But it does show a possible third way to think about the debate surrounding anonymous comments and online identity.

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