Usernames for most websites are based on UNIX conventions/standards. They are lowercase, usually begin with letters, and have no whitespace. Many sites offer a “display name” which is more flexible.

While discussing requirements for a new project, my first inclination was to do something similar, simply because “that’s how it’s done”, but someone suggested this method might be antiquated. After giving it a few days of thought, I tend to agree. “Old” user domains like AOL, Windows, and Slashdot have logins that have allowed spaces for years, yet most of even the latest, shiniest Web 2.0 sites go back to the 1970s for their guidelines.

We’ve even taken it a little further and not only can users use spaces, underscores, and dashes, these characters are ignored for purposes of uniqueness, because I’m guessing people’s brains will tend to stem these characters when it comes to memorizing them. So “Eric Savage” and “ericsavage” and “Eric_Savage” and even something like “Eri__c-SAVA g-_E” would all be the same.

When appearing in a URL or other machine-readable context, these characters are all changed to underscore and consecutive duplicates are eliminated, so the previous username would be “eric_savage”. Also, leading and trailing non-alphanumerics are stripped, otherwise we’d likely find users all naming themselves __alphadog so they appear first alphabetically. We could expand the list of which extra characters are allowed, but we’ll start off easy.


    Can anyone think of good reasons for why you should stick to UNIX-style usernames?
  • Should users on a community site be able to change usernames? [I’m currently in the “no” camp]
  • If changeable, should the change history be public?
  • Most people like short usernames, some people prefer long ones. What do you think should be the limit? [I’m currently thinking 20]
  • Is a short limit too ethnocentric?