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What's In a Username?

As I've continued my exploration of social-networking sites, it's been interesting to see how the Web at large still hasn't figured out how we all ought to describe ourselves in the usernames we choose at these sites.

You have two general options here:

* a username based strictly on your real first name, last name or a combination of both;

* a made-up moniker that betrays to no relation to any of your real-world identifiers.

Sometimes, you don't have much choice--back in the early days of AOL, the combination of too many people on one service and a strict "screen name" character limit--just 10 letters or numbers, as I recall--often forced people to get creative. One colleague with the last name of "Brown," for instance, wound up combining the names of his cats; another, with a less common surname, fused the names of his kids.

But even when users don't face any serious constraint in a service's "namespace," some will choose a non-obvious, if not completely cryptic, user ID--then use that name in every other service. For example, if you've enjoyed reading the thoughts of the local-news site DCist's most prolific commenters, you can follow many of them around the Web by looking for the same quirky user names on other popular services, sites and forums.

In a similar vein, a cousin of mine has adopted a bicycling reference for her online identity on everything from Twitter to Flickr. (Pardon the vague description; I'm trying to avoid putting her under a spotlight. But you know who you are, Catherine!)

For your reference, I'm "robpegoraro" in most places--that's an easy ID to claim, given the rarity of my surname outside of northern Italy. But on Hotmail, somebody beat me to it, and in a few other places I've gone with a different ID altogether.

What school of nomenclature do you follow? Do you want people to associate the online you with the real-world you, or is the point to have zero connection between your online and offline selves?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 27, 2008; 11:59 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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