I posted this in a comment on this page and thought it would be good to talk about here
A little background. Circa 2006. Every high school kid longed to be different and express their differences. So they got a myspace. They chose strange names for their profile, they posted a million pictures filled with ironic and pithy sayings, they made their profiles their own. Pink text over a strobing background of nickleback? Why not, you are expressing yourself. When someone added you as a friend, it might take 20 minutes to figure out who they actually are.

Ugly Myspace Profile

Check out this mashable article that actually touts this as a good looking profile... Imagine what that bad ones must have looked like. 2007

Enter Facebook. Its clean, people use their real names, their profiles look the same, all the information is in the same place for everyone, and it works. It was a huge breath of fresh air for its users. People realized that they don’t want to be assaulted by everyone else’s confusing and frequently obnoxious forms of self expression. And they realized what they valued in a social network was not childish expression, but the socializing itself. And facebook allowed them to do that as efficiently as possible.

Facebook even almost lost that image for a while when apps became an issue, but due to massive public outcry they fixed it.

Now come back to the present. Facebook users still primarily use their real names. But lots of people don’t. Some use their middle names, others use a made up one. Often it is because they don’t want an employer to find them and don’t understand privacy settings. Sometimes it isn’t. But I can tell you that the consensus among many of the most active Facebook users is that it is extremely frustrating when people use fake names. It is a painful reminder of the way things used to be, when you would struggle to connect with somebody as a result of their overzealous self-expression.

I think google realizes all of these things. People don’t want their social network website to be about self-expression. They want it to be about socializing and sharing. Not that there is anything wrong with self-expression, but in this case people see it as getting in the way of what they are there to do.

The fact is that no matter how much you want to express yourself in an unusual way, people don’t want to be forced to constantly wade through everyone else’s self expression as a constant hindrance to actually socializing with them.

To summarize what I believe the sentiment of most social network users is:

You want to express yourself? Write a song, buy some clothes, paint a picture, do something. If I appreciate your brand of self expression, I will check it out. Don’t change the background of your social profile to a band I hate and don’t change your name so I can’t find you.

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