Tuesday 5 February 2019


A decade ago, the Burning Wheel forums asked people to use their real names rather than aliases. I remember feeling mild disappointment, but it was no big deal, really. (Some folks won't use real names for safety reasons, and that's totally fine.)

Years later (the forum is gone now), the names of the folks I met there are seared in my mind. I think it was a prescient community-building choice.

I'll come back to this point.

As G+ is shutting down, I realize that a lot of what we're losing is not just the concentration of creative people, but the finely curated network of connections. I like this person, but not that person, even though they like each other just fine. It takes time (and pain) to sort these things out.

When we all move to MeWe or reddit or Facebook or Twitter, even if we all arrive safely, the network is still lost. It takes time to connect (or disconnect); all that careful pruning must start over from the beginning. I'll come back to this as well.

I suck at names. I don't know if it's because I'm an introvert or just lazy with my mental filing system, but I seem to be able to track about 100 people. Beyond that, without the benefit of a face-to-face impression, names start to blur together.

I probably rely on the circumstances of meeting too much. For instance, the only person I ever meet at the Workaround's front desk is Renee. If I were to forget her name briefly, she's surrounded by a halo of clues that connect this latest encounter with all the previous ones (e.g. the location, her physical appearance).

Online, I don't have that. In the main feeds of G+, Facebook and Twitter, names (and profile pics) are literally the only continuity from one encounter to the next. I can reasonably trust that if you're in my feed I have no reason to think you're a dick, but other than that, the name is all I've got.

Not long ago, Rob Donoghue changed his icon, and remarked that he couldn't recognize his own posts.

What has become clear as I dig into other social networks is that people call themselves different things in different places. Sometimes different things in the same place.

I'm no better, I suppose I'm variously 'Michael something', 'the Trilemma guy', 'I'll See It When I Believe It", and 'fuseboy'.

Taken with all the other things I've mentioned, the experience is like a weird, hyperlinked dementia.

I visit a Discord server, supposedly a refuge from the G+ shutdown. Apart from two names I recognize, everyone is using aliases. I can't tell if I know literally everyone, or literally nobody. This is a really weird feeling.

Despite conversing with and near him for several years, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I realized that Luka Rejec and wizardthieffighter were the same person. This sounds stupid, but imagine you got over to MeWe and found this guy drawing maps, going by the name Carl Pinkson. How long would it take you to realize that Carl wasn't a Dyson imitator, but actually Dyson Logos? Now ask that question again, but for each of the hundreds of people with less iconic personas, and it becomes a confusing morass.

All in all, the transition is less of an annoyance over having to go to a different place with a slightly more annoying UI, it's a profound and unexpected alienation.

The news that G+ will shut off notifications a month before the service goes down is hilariously apt. Of course. It's the perfect flourish to cap off the experience. Now we'll be able to start conversations and not finish them, leaving earnest questions unanswered, counterpoints sent but never received; conversations forgotten and abandoned in the middle.

* * *

I don't have any pithy final words to close this off with; I think that's the nature of how this is going down. G+ is going away, and it's more of a loss than I realized.

If you see me shuffling along in a bath robe, not sure how I got there, please remind me who I am and point me home. That is, if you know either of those things, and you're not lost yourself.


  1. The sleeper must awaken?

    While it certainly sucks, this is also a good opportunity to branch out and explore new people and places. So, enjoy the silver lining and maybe give those "dicks" a second chance!