Edited excerpt from A Note On Anonymous, Pseudonymous, Guest, and Regular Commenters by Fred Wilson, and the comments in response:
I do not think comment identities should always be mapped to a real name and a real identity. It’s great when they are. But there are many reason why that’s not a good option for some.
There is one thing that has evolved into a community norm that is important. Regular commenters use Disqus Profiles to comment here. The frequency of seeing the avatar next to the name in the comments breeds trust, respect, and in many cases real friendship.
If you want to hang out here on a regular basis, I encourage you to build a Disqus Profile, invest some time and energy into it, and participate as everyone else does. It’s how we do it around here and it is one of the many reasons this community works so well.
How a person looks or what they say their credentials are should not be a factor in determining if what they say is of value. Only what that say should be considered of value or not.
Many people, myself included, don’t want an avatar. We don’t want to be tracked by Disqus, and we especially don’t want to give someone an easy way to see where we hang out on the web.
(1) What should be the scope of your online identity? The options: (i) Maps to your offline identity, using your real name (= Facebook comments). (ii) Allows pseudonymity, but aggregates all your online activity (= Disqus). (iii) Allows pseudonymity, aggregates your activity within a specific community, but doesn’t connect to or aggregate your activity elsewhere (= Seeking Alpha). (iv) Zero aggregation — each comment is stand-alone.
(2) It’s important to understand the economic interests here. The more a service can track your activity, the more it can target advertising to you. Deeper tracking also enables greater proactive personalization and therefore allows services to become more valuable for users.
(3) My personal view: Consistency of identity is important within online communities. But linking users’ activity across communities is unnecessary and compromises their privacy. If you aggregate enough of a person’s online activity, it’s easy to identify their real name.
(4) Cf. If you’re in a mobile business, you’d better be thinking about privacy.