This has been doing the rounds of the net today; Google wants to own your online identity. Chairman Eric Schmidt gave a speech in Edinburgh which was primarily reported as an attack on the British education system. I think the guy's got a point, but that's not quite what's really interesting at the moment. He also said that Google+ is taking a hard line over the use of 'real names'. There's a reasonable amount of insanity over this - what exactly constitutes a 'real name?' My 'real name' isn't Phil, it's Philip, but other than on Google, that's not where you'll find me. How about other people who have changed their names - plenty of actors do it all of the time. You'll also find individuals who use a single name - 'Prince' and 'Banksy' come quickly to mind.
Google however sees Google+ as an identity service, and they're not allowing any deviation from this policy - even in the face of quite obvious situations where they're just plain wrong. So what exactly is going on? Let's start by taking a step back - Google is in the business of making money - and they make this via their advertising network. Advertisers like to know who people are, and as far as they're concerned 'Prince' or 'Banksy' probably just doesn't cut it. Doesn't matter if that's how they're known - according to Schmidt, if people don't like this policy they have one choice - don't use Google+. In actual fact, it's worse than that - if you get banned from using Google+ because you're not using your 'real name' you risk losing access to the rest of your Google resources, such as Reader, and even Gmail.
It's also being suggested that Google is setting itself up in the next few years to becoming a bank. This wouldn't surprise me in the slightest - anyone who still thinks that Google is a search company is really living way in the past. Obviously for this to work properly, 'real names' and real addresses and a real identity is going to be needed.
Do we - as librarians - need to care? I think that it's important that we do. If people are setting up accounts on Google+ within the library, they may ask for information or advice, and I think it's important that we're able to give those users a rationale behind what's going on. It's also important that we keep reminding ourselves - Google is not a search company. Sure, they do search, but that's only a tiny part of what they do. It's also important that we get in there in order to get our 'own names' (however you define that) because as much as anything else, Google is going to be moving into social search - an in the coming years, what is going to be important isn't so much the website, it's the person behind the website. Search is going to rely heavily on the authority of the person and people talking about a particular subject, and obviously in the majority of cases (as far as Google is concerned) you'll have more authority to talk about social art if your name is 'John Smith' than 'Banksy'. It may well be nonsense (heck, forget the 'may well be', it just damn well is), but that's beside the point. If Google wants to play by those rules - their rules - then the rest of us are going to have to play along with them as well. It's important for us to get into this new search paradigm as quickly as possible - and I'm going to say again what I've been saying for ages and will continue to say - Librarians NEED to be actively involved in social media and social search. A final point, which should again be obvious, is that Google doesn't care about me, or you, or any of us - it's only interested in us as cattle. WE are the commodity that's being sold to advertisers, it's not advertisers who are selling themselves to us. The fighting and posturing that Google, Facebook and Apple are currently involved with isn't about trying to get more users, it's landowners fighting over the cattle. (Not my line - I wish it was!)
Don't want to play? Sorry, but you don't have a choice. Really, you don't. If you run down the road to Facebook, they're doing exactly the same thing. And so is Apple, and Amazon. It's not a question of selling your soul, it's a question of who you are going to sell it to.