Is New York’s start-up community more inclined to appreciate pseudoanonymity on the web than Silicon Valley? Besides Anil Dash and Caterina Fake, Scott Beale of Laughing Squid and Fred Wilson, New York is home to two prominent champions of the pseudonymous social web: David Karp of Tumblr and Chris Poole of 4chan, who has been fashioned by his media advisors into the philosophical foil for Mark Zuckerberg (and apparently, his sister Randi Zuckerberg) who recently said anonymous posting show “a lack of integrity.”
“Zuckerberg’s totally wrong on anonymity being total cowardice. Anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, raw way,” Mr. Poole said during his SXSW keynote.
The pseudoanonymity debate continues as New York City bloggers rehash the question that first beset the internet with Friendster, which caught heat for kicking users who didn’t use their real names; then with MySpace, which turned into a bizarre .GIF-riddled alternative universe of fantastical personalities; with Facebook, which has been militant about the use of real names as per its mission to serve as everyone’s default identity on the web and whose marketing chief recently said “anonymity has to go away;” and most recently with Google+, which has allowed 50 Cent to use his pseudonym but cleaned house of a cast of lesser pseudonymous characters.
Bring on the MySpace scare tactics. Let your users post pseudoanonymously and you start down the path to a slow, humiliating death, the argument goes. “Facebook with fake identities would be…MySpace,” media pundit Jeff Jarvis tweeted at Mr. Wilson this weekend.
“Facebook without structure and newsfeed would be MySpace. Real names is totally overblown in terms of import,” Mr. Wilson responded.
Look at the most visible New York social start-ups: Tumblr, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter and Mr. Poole’s Canvas,which are more design-centric with an emphasis on self-expression and self-promotion versus real identities. Tumblr is the new and improved MySpace; everyone goes by a handle on Etsy. Even Foursquare doesn’t use your full name–it doesn’t matter what your name is when you’re buying real-time daily deals. Silicon Valley, by contrast, has the legacy of companies like PayPal, Google and Facebook, which depend on knowing who you are with an engineer’s precision.