The problem with Real ID is not necessarily that it violates people’s privacy by linking their real name to people their Real ID friends know, although that sucks.

The problem with Real ID is that it has created a significantly awkward social situation.

Real ID has been out for all of a day and a half. How many people have you actually accepted or become Real ID friends with? How many have requested it of you? How many people have you requested it from?

Before I had even patched my client, I had requests (via other methods of communication) from my buddies Euphie, Shadowcry, Osephala and Carmentes.

I love them to death, but I am not Real ID friends with them and I won’t be unless this “feature” gets a lot more refined.

How does this make my buddies feel? Well, I can’t imagine it made them feel GOOD. These are people I’ve raided with — for practically four years, in the case of Shadow — and people I really like and respect. And they’re all excited about swapping IDs and then they find out that their former GM and/or healing lead isn’t going to friend them?

Frankly, I’d be pissed if I were any of them, and I appreciate the understanding they’ve shown after I explained my reasons to them. I’d STILL be pissed. ;)

I can understand Blizzard. They want to keep us playing, so what they’re trying to do is move us to communicate within their framework. They think it’s super easy to use and convenient. They know that people play a variety of Blizzard games and want us to be able to talk to each other across those platforms.

This is not bad. This is actually pretty cool. I’m all for convenience and easy communication and honestly, I enjoy the idea of chatting with my brother on Proudmoore while I raid on Skywall. It was actually a fun thing to do while I was in ICC 25 last night.

What is bad is that people aren’t thinking about the consequences. I’m seeing people in my new guild throw around their email addresses in a flurry. I love my new guild, but I don’t know them terribly well and I DEFINITELY don’t want most of them to know my “real life” name and identity at this point. Shit, they’ve found this blog and I was totally unprepared for that. :P Not only that, but do I really want my new guild to be able to find me on Proudmoore or something? Not particularly. If I’m on Proudmoore instead of Skywall, it’s because I’m doing something ON PROUDMOORE. I have five 80s there. I have things to do! :)

And yet, there’s this social pressure — not necessarily with my own guild, but I’ve had hints of it there — to friend everyone you’re friends with in WoW.

Apart from the fact that this completely redefines “friend”, it puts anyone unwilling to jump on that bandwagon in a very awkward situation.

How do you tell people you truly like and whose presence you enjoy in your raid that you don’t want them to know about your alts? How do you tell these same people that you don’t want to share your real name with them? Or your real email address with them? Or the names of YOUR friends?

There are three answers.

1) You tell them straight-out that you don’t want to be Real ID friends with them. This is hard to hear and I swear it’s harder to say. But it sucks for both individuals.

2) You tell them that you’re reserving Real ID friend use to a very small group of people; likely people you actually HAVE met IRL, whose real names you already know and use and that’s it. This is what I’ve chosen to do because it’s TOO COOL to be able to chat with people on other servers while I raid.

3) You don’t tell them how you feel and, instead, get peer-pressured into using Real ID when you’re actually a little hesitant or uncomfortable.

Why has this happened? This has happened because geeks have a problem with social niceties.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very geeky. I really think that I am that rare kind of person who can understand where geeks are coming from and translate their behaviour to non-geeks and vice-versa. I understand both the geeks and the non-geeks.

The geeks see it like this, I’m thinking:

“Man, I wish I could talk to Majmaj while he’s playing SCII and I’m wiping in heroic ICC25.”

Which leads to: “Hey, if I built a system that was common to both and I used email addresses as the actual destination/recipient identifier but used the name linked to the account as the name representing the email address, that could be done! Oh my God, how cool would that be?!”

And then, being geeks, they CAN create that system. So they do. Voila, hello, Real ID. How’re you doing?

Being geeks, however, they have completely ignored the social niceties required in a situation like this.

The social niceties required are as follows, in my not-remotely-humble opinion:

- a character privacy scale: let the person see all your characters (as it presently is) or certain characters only, where you would get a list of all your toons and select the ones they could see.

- a RL privacy scale: let the person see your full real name (as it presently is) or just your first name.

- a Real ID friends privacy scale: let the person see all your Real ID friends’ names (as it presently is) or select which friends you want them to be able to see through you.

- a self-Real ID friends privacy scale: allow yourself to be visible (as it is now) or hidden to Real ID  friends of YOUR Real ID friends.

- a self-privacy setting: allow yourself to be visible to all your friends when online (as it is now) or just visible to those on the same server as the specific character you’re on. (The way the old friends setting used to work.)

The privacy creep is on, people. I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but when people I don’t know can see that I’m a Real ID friend of someone else, that’s not really cool by me. Doesn’t matter if they can’t link me to my toons or servers within the interface itself; I don’t want to share my name with a lot of people.

In all, I think Real ID, as it’s currently implemented, is a FANTASTIC groundwork for inter-server/inter-game communication. Long overdue, if you ask me. This all works okay, but that’s all.

The geeks have neglected to take into account how people will want to use this and how awkward it might be if people choose not to. They haven’t considered how this will force some people to redefine what “friend” means. Worse, they haven’t considered how this will force some people to EXPLAIN what their definition of “friend” is to some people who don’t make the cut.

I’m sure that the flurry of posts and comments about Real ID will subside soon enough and that within a month or so, no one will really care if you friend them that way or not.

But on launch? Boy, does this have the potential to be ugly.