Deano’s answer to: “How do you maintain user identity integrity on new websites?”

  • Do not mistake “real names” and “integrity of identity” as being the same thing.

Many users, even some of my friends, use fake account names on facebook – all their actual friends know the alias, and any undesirables would never figure it out…

Facebook asks for various types of “real world” verification (working email, phone number) in order to set up an account… The bar is raised just high enough to make it a little annoying for spammers to bulk-create fake accounts (since they then also need to “friend” people to spam in the traditional sense). The point is, these secondary “verifications” are what end up making Facebook users real, not the expressed identification

Most users don’t want to entrust their real identity with an unknown quantity like a new website… And while they may acquiesce to various verification steps, they are also often concerned with having unwanted identity data shared with people they don’t know. The extent of that concern varies widely (social networks, community blogs/forums, and online dating all have very different perceived “danger” levels among users, for example).

So, in order to maintain “identity integrity”, a website must do the following:

  • Make the users feel safe enough to “be truly themselves” – even when that ‘self’ is not the persona they portray at home or in the workplace (some carry just as many masks into the real world, or even more than they do online);
  • Make users feel that the other members are all “real” – within the context of the site, at least. It doesn’t have to be perfect (every sex club has a few corner-wankers, after all), but it has to be good enough to “maintain the vibe” and not creep people out;
  • Make everyone feel that the people running the site, are “real” – Everyone knows Mark Zuckerberg does not respect their privacy one iota, and that use of Facebook requires, essentially, ceding privacy in exchange for “integrity”. For a large number of folks, that is a deal worth making – and in part, because they “get” that Zuck’s complete lack of integrity is what enforces everyone else’s use of it. Genius!

Pretty much following the three above rules should do you well in maintaining a community that “feels real”, wherein users have something to lose should they stray from the rules. What form that takes (up to and including full anonymity of identity, by the way) is up to the site Designers, Maintainers, and Users.

This answer was originally published on Quora: How do you maintain user identity integrity on new websites?

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