Ah, the Internet, free domain of opinion, fact, discussion, education, and (of course) porn. What would the Net be without the freewheeling anonymity that makes it so, ah, special (in every sense of that word)?

Well, what would it be? A dreary domain of corporate conformity and groupthink? A blessed utopia of kind considerate discourse and shining happy people that just get along? What would the blogosphere be if every blog author and commentator had a traceable, verifiable, certifiable real identity posted with every statement? Would this be the best of all worlds, the worst of all worlds, or petty much just another world?

Or, to turn the question back around again, just how beneficial is Net Anonymity to valuable discourse on the Internet? Would whistleblowers and gadflies disappear if they had to out themselves to make their comments? Would shrill political activists actually be deterred by the thought that their victims might show up at their doorstep to chat about their recent online remarks? Would any of us Angry Men actually dare to write on this blog?

One thing is clear: anonymity is ugly. It brings out the worst in us all to often, and encourages the worst sort of gossip and slander. But is it just an evil, or a necessary evil—an important foundation of the anything-goes freedom of the Internet that annoys us sometimes, bemuses us frequently, but, ultimately, makes our life better.

Well, which is it? Discuss.