Talking 'identity' and news websites at EuroIA this week

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 20 September 2010

Last week, Paul Biggar published an astonishingly frank blogpost entitled "Why we shut NewsTilt down". There is a huge amount to delve into there, as it touches on so many crucial issues relevant to the future of digital news - the relationship of journalist brands to the audience, buy/build decisions, digital product development, and all with plenty of sniping comments underneath. I mentioned to Rachel McAthy at journalism.co.uk that I could probably be blogging about it all week.

I did want to particularly pull out one issue - Facebook integration. Paul writes:

"I was married to this idea that Facebook integration was really important. It was the only way that we would allow people to comment, because it forced them to use their real names. This would mean high quality comments, and great community interaction, and I was convinced that this was essential for our success. And we could only get real names by making everybody use Facebook to sign in. Absolutely everybody worried about this, but I was convinced. I was totally wrong. It alienated people who didn't like Facebook, including some of our journalists. Worse, it caused people to just not comment, meaning they didn't come back, they didn't engage with the journalists, and they didn't start to frequent the site."

I've made my feelings known on the recurring "real names" debate around news website comments before. It is important that users have one consistent recognisable identity on a site - but that doesn't have to be their "real name". Insisting on "real names" is impossible to police, and is going to deter some of the most valuable potential contributors to a debate - those with sensitive personal experiences to share - from joining in.

This is the kind of topic that I'll be talking about this week at EuroIA in Paris. My presentation is on the first day of the programme, entitled "Implementing 'Identity' on Guardian.co.uk". I'll also be taking part in the evening IA Jam session, explaining why "Tags are magic!".

As I'll be rather busy putting the final touches to all that, I suspect that any further analysis of Paul's essay will have to wait...

There are still a small number of places available for EuroIA. You can register here for the two day event, or opt to join in one of the pre-conference workshops: "An Introduction to Remote Usability Research", "An Introduction to Information Architecture", "Writing for the Web" and "Faceted Navigation Design".

7 Comments

I agree with you that a commentor needs a consistent recognisable identity and I don't think it should have to be a real name. Most people use online handles or something similar. I always use the same name and it never causes any problem. "Proper" comments are what I think is important.

I believe that people have a hard time with feeling safe using their real information online. It will take time for people to feel comfortable with any new technology.

I agree with you that a commentor needs a consistent recognisable identity and I don't think it should have to be a real name. Most people use online handles or something similar. I always use the same name and it never causes any problem. "Proper" comments are what I think is important.

Hardwood sounds kinda pretty. With the kinds of names celebrities in particular give their kids, you never know ;)

I will never understand the insistence on using real names in any type of online debate. It's almost impossible to prove and if there *was* a good way to prove it, the link between online identities and real life indentities would most likely be wide open to exploitation. With the growing sense of the importance of privacy, who could still think this was a good idea?!

I think that if Tiltnews was in the right hands it wouldn't have reached its early demise. Also, why bother shutting down a website to begin with? Why not sell it to someone who cares and make a profit? Newspapers are basically prehistoric, so what's next, the internet news?

I don't think we should penalized everybody just because of some trolls... being able to say anything you want because of anonymity is not something that bother me and i'm not sure that it will be for the better to change that.

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