Facebook has long attempted to be the place where, above all else, you try to be yourself. Soon, Facebook will allow you to be yourself, but under a different name.
The company is working on a stand-alone mobile application that allows users to interact inside of it without having to use their real names, according to two people briefed on Facebook’s plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the project.
The app, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks, reveals a different, experimental take on Facebook’s long-established approach to identity. Facebook has pushed its main site as a way to establish your online identity, and to map out the connections you have to other friends and family, both on and offline.
“It’s part of what made Facebook special in the first place,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, said in a recent post that discussed issues of identity on the social network. “By differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm.”
This is still the case on Facebook’s main site, which has more than a billion accounts. But the new app is proof that the company is willing to explore alternatives.
The project is being led by Josh Miller, a product manager at Facebook who joined the company when it acquired Branch, his start-up which focused on products that fostered small, online discussion groups. Mr. Miller and the rest of his team have been working on the product in its different forms for the last year, said the people briefed on the plans.
The point, according to these people, is to allow Facebook users to use multiple pseudonyms to openly discuss the different things they talk about on the Internet; topics of discussion which they may not be comfortable connecting to their real names.
A Facebook spokesman said the company does not comment on rumor or speculation. Mr. Miller did not respond to an email request for comment.
There are many unknowns as to how the new app will interact, if at all, with Facebook’s main site. It is unclear if the app will allow anonymous photo sharing, or how friend interactions and existing friend connections will work.
Anonymous online conversations have long been a feature of sites around the web. Reddit, a huge online community, lets all of its users sign up pseudonymously. Other message boards also allow users to use whatever name they want. Secret and Whisper, two start-ups that require no identifying names for users, have seen bursts of activity and user discussion particularly because real names are not required to use the services.
Facebook — and in particular, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive — has recognized the utility of offering anonymity to users. This year, Mr. Zuckerberg said it would allow developers to incorporate an anonymous log in feature into third-party applications, which would let users try out different apps while limiting what information they handed over.
Recent events have highlighted Facebook’s struggles in dealing with identity issues on the network. After weeks of protest, Facebook said last week that it would allow members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities to use names which they have adopted, but are not their legal ones, to identify themselves on the social network. In his Facebook post, Mr. Cox said the company would amend its real-name policy in the future, though was unclear as to how Facebook would handle it.
It is possible this new app will be useful into health community discussions, according to the people briefed on the new app. Reuters reported about that feature last week.
But the new app will likely be useful beyond health communities, these people said, and is more about different contexts in which not using one’s real name is beneficial.
It is unclear how Facebook will protect users from spammers or trolls who could exploit the new service. For the last decade, Facebook has used its real-name policy in part to prohibit abuse and pollution of its network from bad actors.
“The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it’s both terrifying and sad,” Mr. Cox said in his Facebook post last week.By Mike Isaac http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/07/facebook-readies-app-allowing-anonymity/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0