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The "Taken Username Effect" on Twitter (diegobasch.com)
31 points by diego on Aug 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

The frustrating thing about so many usernames being taken on Twitter is that while new accounts are having to add numbers and underscores, most of the time the name they want is just a ghost account from 2008 with 0 tweets.

Twitter should really have some kind of policy for releasing the names of completely unused accounts.

The problem is that twitter went into the only ID business. People might not use twitter to tweet, but to log into other services.

Of course, direct messages also come into play.

There is a policy on inactive accounts, but there's nothing about requesting an account be released. https://support.twitter.com/groups/33-report-abuse-or-policy...

Note that this hasn't changed in a long time. Meaning: they'll never get to release them in bulk.

"If a username you would like is being used by an account that seems inactive, you should consider selecting an available variation for your use on Twitter. In general, adding numbers, underscores, or abbreviations can help you come up with a great available username."

Every time I read this page, (I checked it a few times because @timothee is taken but has never been used) I'm amused by the "if blah blah…, we offer no solution. But here's a 'solution' that we'll tell you is even better even though it's clearly not."

If that's your long-time username on the Internet, you could file an impersonation claim. But that will be a harder case to make for a common name.

Abandoned IDs is indeed a problem. I'd like Twitter handle cdonath, but it's taken - and is just a ghost account from 2009 with 2 tweets.

Yep - the twitter name I'd prefer to have has one tweet from 8th July 2007, the reddit name I'd like (same name) has one comment from 27th March 2007.

I can see an argument for not deleting inactive accounts in case their owners want to resume using them, but for accounts that are both inactive and practically unused (the two accounts I've mentioned... the one tweet, and the one reddit comment, both read "hi" - different person, though), they should be freed up.

It's basically the same issue as domain squatting, except that a.) there's no cost involved to help limit it and b.) it can, and is, done by mistake by many people

Agreed. I've wanted @marcomonteiro from the start. That account has never had a tweet since at least 2007. It's the only reason I don't use twitter.

I have almost no tweets, but I use it for other things.


My preferred Twitter name:

2 Tweets, 1 Following, 0 Followers, inactive for 2 years.


I share a pretty unique given name with a world famous musician. That name is taken for everything, always. Even if it wasn't it would likely be stolen from me via some kind of crazy infringement claim.

Twitter should let users register for usernames that haven't had been logged into in x years.

They could even email the existing owners first to let them know, and give them the opportunity to use it.

This phenomenon hits me all the time because I'm an early adopter. There are many dgabriels in the world, and all of them think my gmail adress is theirs. I have gotten emails meant for theater directors, therapists (with very confidential info), been signed up for a million services (including adultfriendfinder and some Australian hook-up site). I get chain mail with puppy pictures from other people's grandparents, and yoga lesson confirmations, and invitations to participate in physician studies.

On one hand, it's a fascinating window into the diversity of dgabriels and their lives, but it gets irritating when I repeatedly get stuff after telling the sender I am not the droid they are looking for.

And, yes, I totally grabbed my outlook.com username, even though I don't currently have plans for switching...

I can relate to this. Last week I received 2 rather lengthy and intimate love letters, in my inbox from a lady in half Italian/half English. This was made all the more interesting, by the fact that a month ago I received a series of risqué photos from a different lady speaking Italian. Maybe it's just coincidence, but I like to think there's some Italian stud out there who's too busy working his charm to remember his correct email.

Other highlights have been a company requesting a toothbrush design (to which I promptly replied with a ms paint mock-up) and 2 requests for me to provide artwork for graphic novels.

Generally I agree about this, but I think for something like an e-mail address I don't actually care. If I ever move off Gmail its going to be to something that I manage.

If it is a service that I think I may want to use, or at least try out, I'd definitely squat my name. But I also think there should be an "inactivity" period for most services where user accounts merely get purged.

When I ran an online video game we did this by the number of "game hours" that your character had. At a certain point, if the character had enough "glory," we would make the character permanent for story purposes.

Sometimes, the fun of a pseudonym is the necessity under which it had to be created.

I still am undecided on how to go about account names - do I want people to infer my online handles from my name or other account names and e-mail addresses?

I still don't know if it's in my interest to have a unified account name across GitHub, Outlook.com, Gmail, Twitter, etc.

Convenience and privacy are often mutually exclusive, unfortunately. With GitHub, it's like a digital resumé, so I don't mind using my full name there.

Then again, if you manage to secure your last or first name, it could just as well be any of your namesakes.

This story reminded me about this handle.

I've historically used 'echelon' everywhere since 2001. It's my Gmail address, my Github account, and while I don't tweet much, it's also my Twitter handle.

I was so disappointed when 'echelon' was already allocated on Reddit and HN. It took me years to sign up for either site because I was put off by having to use an alternate username. Ultimately I registered here as 'possibilistic'.

Just under a year ago I randomly tried to register as echelon again; I suppose pg deallocated all of the unused accounts of a certain age--I got my originally desired username. My problem now is that all of my posts are under 'possibilistic'. As much as I'd like to be 'echelon', I like my comment history too. :-/

I wonder if I could bother someone at HN to rename 'possibilistic' to 'echelon' and just delete this account entirely? It's probably not worth their effort, but it would be really nice.

Interesting in that I've had the same experience in delaying signing up for services when my name was taken. It's silly I guess but I didn't sign up for twitter for about a year because of this. Maybe that's the only argument a company would care about enough to make a change - the idea that they won't have as many users if squatters take so many names. Of course, if your service is at the point where there are name squatters maybe you're doing well enough already and don't care.

I suppose I'll post this as verification that this is my account in case someone with the power to change my username reads this.

Essentially, I'd love:

> rm echelon

> mv possibilistic echelon

No worries if this isn't possible or is too much effort.

Yes, it happens to almost every single popular service, starting with Hotmail, Yahoo!Mail, GMail, facebook and so on.

Why is this even a post of discussion? Aren't there better things to discuss about? Isn't this a typical first-world-problem?

1) There's always something "better" to discuss or, even better, something better you could do to better yourself or maybe even make the world a better place. Better, better, better, pointless.

2) The post is useful in that it takes something everyone has experienced and is familiar with and actually quantifies it. As the article suggests, this is particularly relevant on Twitter where longer IDs directly impact one's use of the system.

3) This "first-world-problem" meme or whatever the hell is some silly bullshit. Until HN starts filling up with topics like "Food: How to ensure that your infant doesn't die of starvation tomorrow night" - they're all first world problems.

After enough frustration getting my preferred usernames—both my normal pseudonym, and variations on my initials in real-name situations—a few years ago I just settled on adding an underscore to the front of my preferred pseudonym. I sort of like how it looks, and haven't had username problems since... except at sites that don't let you start a username with an underscore.

It'd admittedly be confusing if there were an active 'delirium' and also an active '_delirium', but so far my doppelgangers hve all been inactive accounts (example: http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=delirium).

Actually, "delirium" sounds boring and pretentious, but "_delirium" (I pronounce it as "subdelirium") sounds whimsical and fun. I'd say your username definitely benefits from the leading underscore. :)

Hah, interesting point. I must admit I'm not as fond of 'delirium' as a username anymore either; a legacy of picking a mildly pretentious handle as a teenager and then feeling sort of tied to it. So, glad the '_' improves it. :)

This happens with every popular service that doesn't release names. AOL used to release names every once in awhile, but it was few and far in between and when they did, they'd be all registered within a few days (because they had a tendency to release good names). I ended up compromising a lot of names in the late 90s on AOL to end up selling them for hundreds of dollars.

My parents always wondered how I ended up making so much money by selling "screen names".

Tell them "by being an ethical internet citizen."

Has anyone here bought a twitter username?

I imagine it wouldn't be so different from buying a domain name. Probably an escrow service would be a good idea. Other than that it seems like it would just be a matter of reaching a meeting of the minds on price.

And that is why I have a fairly unique nick as my preferred username.

That's what I thought as well, but "yorhel" has been taken on Twitter for quite a while.

One solution other sites could adopt is a .com ownership rule.

If the username you want, suffixed with .com, is a registered domain name, you would have to verify the postmaster email address at that domain to prove you own it. (Or upload one of those random HTML files like other domain ownership checks do.)

This way you can just own the .com domain name of your preferred username and guarantee you'll get it on sites that implement this.

I'm usually quick to get 'manfrin', but here I was second and with skype I couldn't even get mmanfrin. I had no idea what to register at that point.


Thankfully, my handle is pretty unique. I use it pretty much everywhere and not only is it available, but I've only seen two other instances of it used by someone else (both on sites I didn't care about).

Unfortunately, hyphens aren't always allowed so I have to switch to an underscore. And if those aren't allowed I have to switch to a backup username.

A while ago I started using my camel cased name: JeanHuguesRobert (some sites don't like jean_hugues_robert)

Long and weird enough. Well, too long sometimes. In those cases I revert to my "unix login name" ie jhrobert.

But, for twitter, where size matters, I got @jhr - I guess it must have been a long time ago.

It bugs the shit out of me when I don't get "davidw". I know it's sort of silly, but I've been "davidw" since 1993, and I've grown kind of partial to it, as well as having a lot of muscle memory primed to type that at logins.

I used to use "slant" in the 80s on BBS's. Once the Internet came around, that name was always already chosen.

Coming from Toronto, I added the local airport code (YYZ) to my nick.

The problem is that what I thought would be pronounced as "slant why why zed/zee" came out to others as "slanty eyes".

Fortunately, I have slanted eyes, so I guess nobody can accuse my nick of being inaccurate.

>> Fortunately, I have slanted eyes, so I guess nobody can accuse my nick of being inaccurate.

This made me laugh a lot. I imagine it spoken by a slightly-embarrassed news anchor on the Simpsons.

An acquaintance of mine once told me there was heated debate among his Twitter friends after they saw my handle in an @reply tweet.

They (none of whom were Asians) thought that I should change my nick because it was racist and/or offensive to Asians, despite the fact that I'm Asian myself.

Duh, everyone on the internet is a white straight man /s

I read it as "slantees". But slanty eyes is way more hilarious.

that's going to be taken pretty much everywhere

I often manage to get it where I care about it, but not always. I got it on github, for instance, and, back in the day, sourceforge. Didn't get it on twitter or gmail (that irked me). Got it on reddit, but don't care about that site any more.

Maybe he can add an umlaut to it somewhere.

i "invented" my username n0mad around the year 2000, now this username is used everywhere i get too late to register.

i don't know if this has to do with usernames being copied or because so many people are around the net nowadays and they all have the same idea now.

Probably the latter.

yeah, i now and then try out m0nad, nobody uses that one -> lets see for how long.

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