A constant criticism of MySpace is that real names are hidden when you view someone’s profile or interact with them on the site. They’re now making subtle product changes that encourage users to show their real name on the site.
Anonymity is great when you don’t want your actual identity to get in the way of whatever fantasy life you are living online. But it’s also one of the reasons Facebook, which identifies users by their real names, is gaining so quickly on MySpace. On Facebook, you generally know who you are talking to. On MySpace, it’s anyone’s guess.
All this anonymity suited MySpace just fine for the first few years of growth. But 2009 is going to be all about social network identity and spreading it out around the web. MySpace, Facebook and Google all want users to log in to third party sites using their account credentials from those sites, and having those accounts be associated with real names to do it is a competitive advantage.
Facebook has a big head start on that already with Facebook Connect, which is now available to any third party site that wants to use it. Google also has its product out the door, and is integrating with sites like Twitter.
MySpace also added a feature in account settings that ask users if they want to display their real name on their profile along with whatever display name they’ve chosen (so MySpace COO Amit Kapur’s MySpace page now shows his real name, it didn’t before).
When adding a new friend, MySpace users are also prompted to reveal their real name (see first image above).
All this serves to legitimize MySpace’s chaotic namespace with actual names of actual people. If they’re successful in getting a large percentage of users to reveal their names they’ll mitigate Facebook’s advantage in this area. I’d expect more of this over time, not less.