Yesterday I posted Tom Johnson's 20 Principles for usability. In that post I mentioned my prejudice against anonymous commenting and posting. Beth brought to my attention circumstances in which people need to maintain a level of anonymity. Good point.
This discussion is also happening at much more exulted levels. A couple of days ago (4/8/07) Tim O'Reilly lit up the blogosphere with a post on the need for a blogging "code of conduct." In addition to being picked up by the NY Times, it stayed at the top of Techmeme all day as everyone mobbed O'Reilly. Today O'Reilly posted a "Lessons learned so far" article outlining and clarifying the bulk of the feedback received thus far. One of those "lessons" is about anonymity. Their is a distinction to be made between "constructive anonymity" and "drive-by anonymity." The former is used to protect while the later is used to assault.
Constructive Anonymity vs. Drive-by Anonymity
According to O'Reilly's post:
Another place where we clearly erred in the first draft is in the suggestion that anonymity should be forbidden, as there are most certainly contexts where anonymity is incredibly valuable. (Some that come to mind include whistleblowing, political dissent, or even general discussion where someone might not want to confuse their personal opinions of those of an organization to which they belong. As one commenter remarked, it might even be useful for a shy person to whom anonymity gives a bit of courage.)
This is only one small part of this larger discussion, but I thought it was worth pointing out.