Rather, real names are a reflection of an attitude, an approach to collaboration, that can only be understood historically. Back in the day, before wikis were famous, people only came to WikiWiki because they knew each other professionally or personally and thus they pointed each other to the site. At the time (and still today) the mainstream culture of the Internet favoured PenNames, so many people presumed all online collaboration required PenNames, including WikiWiki. But that just looked silly since everyone there knew everyone else, or if they didn't, that was where they met people. The presumption was that you would meet them in person eventually anyway, say at a PLoP conference. So, they erected the Wiki:RealNamesPlease convention to politely tell people they looked foolish, like showing up to a black & tie gala in a spaceman suit.
By the time I joined WikiWiki, that phase was almost running out, but the culture remained strong for a long time. Over time, the real name culture morphed from being one of close knit bonds to one of a preservation of community distinct from the mainstream net.culture. While many of us were on WikiWiki to play, we were also there to learn and teach in a mature way. We did not want to play in a masquerade ball atmosphere that was so prevalent on the 'Net where people were still getting used to what it meant to be online. And further, we were there to meet people. It was a good place to talk to who was worth talking to in our small niche of the industry.
Real names, in short, allows you to be you. They allow you to feel free to fully be yourself. Why be afraid of expressing who you are? We'd like to get to know you and to learn from you. We'd like to not be abstract, but be real.
WhyUseRealNames here then? Well, we're back at the phase where we all know each other, somehow. Or at least we were. Thing are changing. WikiPedia and WebLogs are pulling wikis into the mainstream culture and Meatball with it. I'd like Meatball to remain pretty laid back; I'd like it to be the watercooler for the people worth talking to. Why be so full of ourselves? We aren't trying to do anything but be ourselves.
Here are some reasons for the UseRealNames policy:
Pseudonymity (pen names and handles) have become the default on the Internet. However, in physical face-to-face interaction (sometimes called MeatSpace), the default is something more like UseRealNames.
Culturally, some of us want Meatball to be like real life; like real people meeting in person to discuss. The wiki and the net are just a means to bridge distance, rather than some mystical "cyberspace".
We want you to drop the facade and be yourself. That means in part taking moral responsibility for what you say. This doesn't mean that we bear grudges--Meatball takes ForgiveAndForgetting very seriously. It means taking pride in what we build here, and that means we want you to take care what you write here.
Introducing yourself to another person is a commitment of sorts. Rather than maintaining your distance from us, and thus looking at us as only a resource to be used, you have decided that you'd like to introduce yourself to form a relationship. This requires you to identify yourself as you see yourself (as real names means more than just your real name). This relationship requires more emotional cost than simply staying aloof, of course. Of course, a pseudonym avoids this cost since you can either lie or say nothing, so we disallow it, especially since we have all given up something of ourselves by using our real names. Thus, the UseRealNames policy forces a meaningful decision on part of each participant. The choices then become:
This is a barrier to entry that limits us to those who are either committed to the rest of us or are selfless (cf. PostAnonymously).