THAT is a burning question on everyone's minds at the moment. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a need or want. Some of us care that you know who we are, some of us don't.
For a quick "how to do internets" I recommend you go read Ophelie's blog post here. She beat me to the punch with that one *shakes fist* I had mine all half written, and BAM work slammed me in the face and I didn't get time. Anyway, go read it, it's everything I was going to write. The short version for anyone on the internets is "Don't put anything on the internet that you would not want your enemies to see and use against you" I highlighted that in this post where someone tried to troll me for gkicking their sorry butt out of my guild.
RealID is here, like it or not. If you don't like it, you don't have to use it. Pretty easy, huh? Well, not so much. Until very recently Forums V2 were going to use your RealID as well. Blizz thought this for a few reasons which I will very briefly go through and slam with a big slammy thing.
The main reason, it seems, was to prevent trolling on the forums. This move seems to come out of fear and desperation. Motivating people to not troll each other because the "know who you are" is going to create an atmosphere of fear to keep people in line. Fear, while effective in the short term, will never engender the environment they are looking to create - one of constructiveness and harmony or some othe hippy concepts.
The other reason was to encourage people to know each other. I am going to let that statement hang itself.
So, how do you make forums nicer, then?
Blizz, you are doing it all arse about. Don't expect flowers to grow in a garden when you keep stomping on everything that looks even a little bit like a weed. We will not self regulate in an environment where we fear real world retribution for trolling. You need to create an environment where self regulation is the rule. Forums like Reddit, metafilter and even 4Chan (as scarey as that place can be) are entirely anonymous and can do amazing things because the community self regulates. Stupid posts (and posters) are down modded and you cant see them. Good posts (and posters) are up modded and their words given weight.
If you are still worried about trolls, then make sure that posters cant hide behind their alts. Simply put a tooltip in where you click on that poster, you can see all their toons. Or, don't give people a choice in their "posting" avatar. You get one avatar for the forums. That's it, no hiding on that level 1 alt you made just to flame that guy. It's you - warts and all - and your one avatar.
The last thing that needs to happen is less banning - counter intuitive, I know. Blizzard need to actually stop banning people for the tiniest little upset person on the internet. Half the issue of trolling has come about because people want to see how far they can push their comments before getting banned by Blizzard or get a response from a "blue". It is a game to them. Remove the incentive, remove (some of) the issue. Simply having people downmod comments so you cant see them, or any posts they make, and eventually after they have experienced people not reading their posts because they are a dick, then remove people with consistently low mods.
Encouraging people to know each other?
This is the part where I get into realID in game.
I don't know about you guys, but I have managed perfectly well so far to communicate with people without having my real name plastered everywhere. If I like someone, I ask them for their MSN, their email address, their blog, their phone number. I ask them to join my guild. I get them on my guild forums. There are multitudinous ways to communicate with people if you think they are worth your time. But the point is, I ask them for the way in which they want me to contact them. Having it forced on me that people know my real name is removing a choice from me. Personally, I don't mind if people know who I am. I have no issues with people knowing me - but I get to choose who those people are. I do not like that Blizzard has taken it upon themselves to tell me that the guy I want to chat with on that other realm when he is on standby for a raid I am running has to know my real name to get whispers from me. It isn't the anonymity, it is the implication that I don't know how to do my own social networking. It is the arrogance that I am incapable of forming relationships if Blizzard doesn't hold my hand.
There also comes into this the issues of minors; this was actually the kicker for me. What of all the people under the age of 18 who have accounts in their real name? What options have their guardians to protect them? The fact that you cannot change Bnet account names easily, how are those people going to deal with this very real privacy issue. Just pause and think about this for a moment. Can you imagine the stink caused when everyone now knows you are a girl and underage?
Which brings me (briefly) to feminism and girl gamers.
From a feminist point of view, it is sometimes hard enough in a game to be yourself. You play a male avatar, you dont talk in vent. No one knows you are a girl. And why is that? Because the gaming world has a looooooong way to go with feminist issues. I am not going to go into the details here, it's tangential and there are plenty of resources to go read on the plight of girl gamers. RealID will force this vulnerable group to be even more exposed and vulnerable if they want to use it. Women will not post on the forums, they will not use realID and their options in game will become even more limited and marginalised than they are now. It removes our ability to play a game for the fear of people knowing who we are, the fear of backlash, of harassment. There is a fear of this because it happens!! Forcing this out in the open is, I believe, discriminating against these people.
So what do you propose NER?
I want choices.
I want to be able to turn off "friend of friend" in game. I want to be invisible to some people if I want to. I want to have the option to "show real name" or default to a BNet Avatar/handle that is directly linked to me and my forum posts. I want +/- modding on the forums so the community can self regulate. I want less reward for bad behaviour (ie blue attention/banning).
Don't get me wrong, RealID is great! I use it. But I am very wary of who I add (at the moment only people I already know in Real Life(tm) or explicitly trust to not harass friends of friends) because of all of the reasons above. I want my options and I would use RealID a lot more.
It is so close to being great - add a few more features so we can choose how we use it, Blizzard. Let us make our own decisions and choices on these things. Give us options.
Blizz have backed down on the forums using RealID, although your account "real name" is still being used for the ingame chat. I do not see that they will change their long term goal of having people use their account names for forums (fora?) anytime soon.
They have not yet described what they are going to do instead in their V2 forums. THAT will certainly be interesting, I dare say. Will they just let people get used to the idea ingame first, then change it over later? Who knows. But I tell you what, it is interesting... no doubt about it.