I was reading the always-excellent Andy Woodworth on anonymous internet commenting (hey, guess who’s way behind on her Google Reader!). This started as a comment there but got long enough to be a post, so I’m putting it here (though by all means read him, too!).
So one of the things that generally bugs me, whenever the issue of anonymous commenting on the internet comes up, is it’s typically represented as two poles:
* not anonymous .
But to me, this misses the most important aspect: persistence.
There are many, many sites which have built thriving communities of people whose names are not revealed — but whose identities are persistent. (Wikipedia, Slashdot, and LiveJournal spring immediately to mind.) People under anonymous, but persistent, identities develop reputation linked to those pseudonyms. They can accrue prestige, responsibility, credibility, authority, even eminence in those communities. They can develop an identity with which they identify, and hence find worth defending. And one way to defend one’s identity is through self-presentation, including standards of conduct.
Persistent communities find ways to enforce these standards, too. They have their own cultures — which are not necessarily those of the rest of the world — but they do develop social norms, and they do enforce them. You can’t do that when identities are both anonymous and transient, but you can when they are anonymous and persistent.
Persistence has its down sides. It comes with technical and usability connotations which aren’t right for all situations. But it is an important middle ground between anonymity and non-anonymity, a nuance with which these arguments not only aren’t complete, but often degenerate into two camps throwing bombs at each other.