Google+ hasn't quite been the Facebook killer Google hoped for when it launched three years ago - although it still boasts a healthy 540 million active users. Perhaps part of the problem has been Google's strict guidelines and usage restrictions, which has seen even the likes of actor William Shatner temporarily banned from the social network for "violating Google+ standards". While those restrictions have relaxed somewhat over the years, a controversial one that remains in place requires that all users use their real name and, in fact, anyone discovered to be using a fake name is subject to an immediate ban from Google+.
In response to objections about the policy in 2011, Google's Vic Gundotra provided some insight when he said, "Google is trying to make sure a positive tone gets set here. Like when a restaurant doesn't allow people who aren't wearing shirts to enter. The risk is users to create a disruptive, offensive, or confusing experience by using things like upside-down characters, obviously fake names, like ‘god' or worse."
In 2012, Google+ revised its policy to allow users to use their YouTube channel usernames by linking the two accounts together. This week Google announced in a shared post that the real name restriction has been removed completely, and that users are free to use any name they want.
According to Google the previous restrictions "helped create a community made up of real people, but it also excluded a number of people who wanted to be part of it without using their real names".
The tone of Google's announcement was very apologetic, acknowledging that "you've been calling for this change for a while" and "we know our names policy has been unclear". Google closed by saying, "For this we apologize, and we hope that today's change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be."