Are Real Names Required For Real Socializing?

Over the weeekend my friend Jeff Jarvis and I had a twebate about this topic. You can see it in action on storify thanks to David Connell.

I'm all for real names if people want to use them. I use "fredwilson" on every web service I can and that is almost all of them. It's a vanity thing for me more than anything else. I want to get to the service early enough that I can grab that handle.

But not everyone wants to use a real name. There are all sorts of reasons for that. This post on the EFF blog, which kicked off the twebate between me and Jeff, lists a bunch of them.

This community is a perfect example of the value of anonymity. Kid Mercury, FAKE GRIMLOCK, Prokofy, JLM, etc, etc. They are some of the most engaged community members. We love them (at least I do), and I could care less who they are in real life. What I care about are their ideas, their voice, their participation, and their energy. If anonymity brings that out in some, then bring it on.

David Weinberger left a comment on Caterina Fake's blog that I love and reblogged on Tumblr last week:

In our culture, we’re suspicious of strangers. They’re a threat. They lurk in shadows. On the Web, however, strangers are the source of everything worthwhile. Strangers and their utterances are the stuff of the Web. They are what give the Web its matter, its shape, its value. Rather than hiding in our tents and declaring our world to exist of the other tents near us — preferably with a nice tall wall around us — the Web explicitly is a world only because of the presence of so many strangers.

The desire to clean up the web, civilize it, and sterlize it pisses me off. I hate it. The Zuckerbergs can run a sterile community on the web if they want. That's just fine. But to suggest that real names is the source of their success it to learn the wrong lessons from Facebook.

Facebook is successful because they bring structure (phototags are the best example) and order (the newsfeed) to the social web. The requirement to use real names is a weakness not a strength of the service.

But of course not everyone will agree with me on this. Jeff doesn't. We ended our twebate with an agreement to take this debate to the stage. I hope we can do that this fall somewhere in NYC. I'm hoping for some sketchy dicey neighborhood to be honest. This is an important debate as it impacts the way social services are designed and executed. So let's have it.