Anonymity online?

When I started my BBS in 1991, Operation Sundevil [1] was fresh in our minds, home computers were a rarity and the internet didn't exist as the repository of information that it is now.

We felt strongly that information should be free, that people had a right to learn, understand, and know, and that actions should be regulated, not information. My BBS belonged to a network that shared this philosophy.

Anonymity was an important part of my network. We made a point of removing new user questionnaires and callback verifiers, allowing full access on the first call, and minimizing activity logs. We wanted to separate BBS and network activity from the RealWorld for legal and ideological reasons.[2]

Anonymity didn't create management issues. We allowed the networks and the users to manage themselves.[3]

Our network gained a reputation as a clearing-house for information, even attracting some sensationalist "evil hacker" writeups in the local media[4] and the National Enquirer[5]. While the attention was startling at first, it turned into a rallying point and a learning experience for all.

Fast forward to 2011; we have a pervasive internet, search engines that aggregate personal and reference information at our fingertips. Online presences have shifted - before, people who mostly didn't know each other in the RealWorld got together in cyberspace to discuss common topic. Now people communicate mostly with people that have some RealWorld connection - think Facebook's friends list and FOAF social networks.

There's no real anonymity when you're friended. Maybe there's no point in handles any more?

Having both real names and handles may be overkill. Maybe I should change the new user process to ask for "A Real Name" and leave it at that.

I've been Poindexter FORTRAN over 20 years. People in the RealWorld know me as Poindexter. I've had people yell "hey, Poindexter" across the street at me - much to the confusion of people I was with who weren't part of the scene.

As connected as I am to poindexter FORTRAN, I may set my account to post using my real name only, change my new user questionnaire to ask for "a real name" and see how I feel after a month.