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I often see users who appear as user12345 or something similar. I personally dislike this for a few reasons:

  1. I'd prefer to know who I'm dealing with
  2. I think the quality of questioning is generally better from users who have an identity
  3. Somehow it seems like cheating... disrespectful in some intangible way.. here we all are helping each other for free, and what? You can't even be bothered to show your face?

I've read the question What's the preference on using real names and photos? and there the conclusion seems to be that we don't mind whether the identity is real or adopted.

Fair enough. My problem is with people who can't even be bothered to have an identity at all. (I understand that in some cultures, it might be seen as problematic to make community contributions on your boss's time, even if there's a net gain. Lots of the user12345 folks seem to be asking for work-related answers: even full-blown solutions.)

Coming back to my first point about wanting to know who I'm dealing with; I actually can't tell the numbered users apart. Those numbers just don't stick in the brain, so it becomes like trying to interact with the Borg. Even if people have reasons to conceal their 'passport' identity, why can't they at least be encouraged to put some minimal imagination into making up a fake?

Stack overflow has successfully gamified all sorts of things, so isn't there a way to lean on people (ever so gently) to put a little bit of effort into dumping the auto-generated name. Nag them every 5 logins? Whatever.

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I guess the basic idea is it's not all that important. We are free to ignore such users, if we desire. I agree that I tend to see users who have set a name more 'seriously', but I'll respond to good content, no matter the name. –  Andrew Barber Aug 8 '12 at 20:38
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Why would you need to know who you interact with? If you can answer a question they asked, go ahead. If they answer your question, great. And if they do so more often, but you don't remember them from previous interactions, why should that be any problem at all? –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 20:39
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so it becomes like trying to interact with the Borg And what's so bad about that? You should concentrate on the content and not the user, this isn't a social site. What difference does it make that I'm using my real name (or am I?) to post this comment? –  Yannis Aug 8 '12 at 20:43
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How can you not remember user12345, he's a great guy. Just because he doesn't have a particularly creative name shouldn't detract from his wit, intelligence, and intriguing python related questions. –  Servy Aug 8 '12 at 20:43
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A single user has the ability to award you up to 25 reputation (upvote + accept). The thousands of future (and largely anonymous from your account's perspective) visitors who will view your answer and possibly upvote it have the potential to provide significantly greater rewards for your efforts. –  todofixthis Aug 8 '12 at 20:44
    
I actually have such an extremely contrary opinion that I would enjoy seeing a feature to post things anonymously from your normal account -- even if I never used it, it would be cool because it respects the value of online identity control through anonymity and pseudonymity. (All that would mean is that it hides your name from your answer/question and it hides anonymous content from your profile; upvotes/downvotes would still affect your rep.) –  Jordan Aug 8 '12 at 20:45
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@YannisRizos it actually still is pretty important. It can help one identify particularly problematic or helpful users, and helps one judge the likely validity of an otherwise questionable claim by the user if you recognize them. Also as a mod it's very important to be able to recognize when user3534463234 is starting crap again –  Ben Brocka Aug 8 '12 at 20:45
    
A similar question Should I use a photo as a profile picture? –  Bo Persson Aug 8 '12 at 20:58
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How does the Autobiographer badge work again? Does it count the default name? –  random Aug 8 '12 at 21:05
    
@Jordan that idea has actually been discussed before. You may be interested in Ability to ask questions anonymously but still get notifications, Should there be an option to post anonymously?, Need to ask a question anonymously (and their linked/related questions). –  Pops Aug 8 '12 at 22:09
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How do we know you really are 'Dominic Cronin' ? –  Henk Holterman Aug 9 '12 at 0:21
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@random now that's an idea; badge for a unique name. –  Ben Brocka Aug 9 '12 at 2:11
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@HenkHolterman - You don't, of course, know that Dominic Cronin maps on to my identity in real life (although it's not hard to check if you want to). The thing is, even if you are not Henk Holterman in RL, I can deal with you as Henk here. It seems real enough. –  Dominic Cronin Aug 9 '12 at 18:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Everyone's focusing on forcing users to use names; I think even the asker knows that's not a good idea. However I Think there's something to be said for gentle, maybe even one-time reminders that you can set a username.

For the longest time on User Experience we had a user49999 or something. Forgetable name. Good posts, good reputation. And every time I saw that name I though "wait, is that that guy, or some other guy?" No, social aspects are not the focus on this site, but they're not irrelevant either. There's a reason we have profiles which list all of our answers and questions. If someone posts good answers sometimes people are legitimately curious and want to continue to see their posts.

I think this could be a good idea if there's a gentle reminder sort of like the "consider accepting this answer if it helped you" reminder, but rarer. Maybe only show it once, but some people seem to have just honestly forgotten to set a user name.

As for anonymity requests, that's totally ancillary to this suggestion. No one is being required to add a name.

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Indeed - I'm not saying force people. That's not how SO works. But a little gamification is, erm.. fair game. If only to save the rest of us the trouble of constantly having to check.. well was it this guy, or that guy? –  Dominic Cronin Aug 8 '12 at 21:00
    
@DominicCronin What I don't get though is why you would need to check "was it this guy"? –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 21:02
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Well you do, don't you? Mostly to check if it was the same idiot that wasted your time and energy the last time. Then maybe you won't bother spending 15 minutes crafting an answer. –  Dominic Cronin Aug 8 '12 at 21:05
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@DominicCronin Although I see where you're coming from (trust me, I'm a mod, idiots waste my time all day), I don't think it's the right motivation for a feature. –  Yannis Aug 8 '12 at 21:08
    
@DominicCronin I really honestly can't say that I do. Just this week I commented on a rather rude user that he might want to properly capitalize his questions, which I subsequently edited. Only to discover by chance later on that I had already done so before. But I would readily accept that I'm not the norm. –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 21:08
    
@Bart Oh, I remember that... What a complete waste of time ;) –  Yannis Aug 8 '12 at 21:09
    
@YannisRizos Can't agree with you more. Maybe I should pay more attention to past interactions. But I just don't and have never felt the need to. Keeps me rather sane to be honest. :) –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 21:10
    
@YannisRizos Why not the right motivation for a feature? After all - the people who are going to spend 15 minutes crafting an answer are the lifeblood, not the user00000. Really - you get tired of it, and if we can prevent that, we can help to keep the lifeblood folks motivated. –  Dominic Cronin Aug 8 '12 at 21:11
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@DominicCronin Cause you don't spend that 15 minutes to help just the OP, but me as well, the random dude who'll face the same problem a year after you posted your answer. I honestly get where you are coming from, just keep in mind that you are answering to benefit the community not the individual. –  Yannis Aug 8 '12 at 21:12
    
@benbrocka "Forcing" was my mistaken formulation. My apologies. I have since changed that. These were indeed not the OP's words. –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 21:46
    
@YannisRizos .. and I honestly appreciate your perspective too, but my experience is that these people consume a lot of energy from others. Often this is in editing the question into a form where it can be useful to others. Often you'd prefer to have spent the energy on someone who has done enough themselves. So while the community at large are ultimately the benificiaries, even so, there are genuine trade-offs. –  Dominic Cronin Aug 8 '12 at 21:52
    
If memory serves, there is a one-time reminder right now - when you create a new account, you get a notification in the inbox inviting you to visit your profile and set things up. –  Anna Lear Aug 16 '12 at 14:06

While I have nothing against informing users that they can set a username on signup, I don't agree with your issues with unidentifiable users.

I'm going to be quite repetitive, but you'll have to bear with me.

I think the quality of questioning is generally better from users who have an identity

And encouraging those users without an identity to have one will get rid of bad contributions? Besides, if you want a true identity there still is the whole problem of verification of the identity. I could still call myself Sir Bunnyfuzz Hopandskip without any problem.

Somehow it seems like cheating... disrespectful in some intangible way.. here we all are helping each other for free, and what? You can't even be bothered to show your face?

I deeply apologize for my disrespectful glasses. ;) But where does that come into play at all? Judge the contribution. That's all. That's what the system is based on and the only thing that matters anyway.

My problem is with people who can't even be bothered to have an identity at all.

Once again, judge their contribution, not their identity. A user with full personal details in his profile can be crap as much as an unidentifiable user can be good. And if there is some sort of correlation between identity and quality, just judge the quality as you normally would anyway.

I actually can't tell the numbered users apart.

So? Judge their contribution. Don't remember you have encountered them before? Who cares. Judge their contribution.

In short, none of the reasons you list convince me there is a direct need for a user to have an identifiable name. Not even with an alter ego.

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Eh. How many people say "judge their contribution" and then comment about how epic Jon Skeet is? That just doesn't pan out. The person does matter, hence the profile, the reputation, the picture. –  Ben Brocka Aug 8 '12 at 20:54
    
@BenBrocka I don't follow? –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 20:54
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My point is all of a sudden everyone is pretending like user names don't matter and we should ignore them, when in reality many of us frequent users know and respect a great deal of names out there. –  Ben Brocka Aug 8 '12 at 20:55
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That almost sounds like having an identity is a problem and introduces a bias. I'm merely trying to state that if Jon Skeet would post crap, I would vote it down. If user5235801 would post something brilliant, I would vote it up. And I really don't care who answers my questions. If their input is good I'm equally happy with both and feel no need to get to know any of them. –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 20:57
    
In an isolated situation that's all and well. But the fact of the matter there is more to all this than a single post with a single username attached to it. We have meta discussions, we have comments asking for clarification, we have answers referring to other answers. These social aspects improve the quality of the site and don't work nearly as well without names. This stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum. –  Ben Brocka Aug 8 '12 at 21:01
    
I have not suggested force, only encouragement.... As for judging their contribution.. mostly their contributions are ill-thought-through questions, which other painstakingly pick through and try to improve for them, and then answer. –  Dominic Cronin Aug 8 '12 at 21:03
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How would attaching a name to that help? Maybe I'm missing a point here, but crap with an identity is still crap. –  Bart Aug 8 '12 at 21:04
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@BenBrocka If Jon Skeet's content remained the same but he was user24732 then we'd all be talking about how epic user24732 was. –  The Unhandled Exception Aug 8 '12 at 21:47
    
No, we' all be fogetting that user's number until we'd been on the site for a long time. –  AndrewC Dec 22 '12 at 9:15

I disagree with the premise that having a post associated with your real life identity somehow magically motivates people to produce better quality. It may do that for you, me and some others, but there's a ton of flags and Youtube comments suggesting that it tends to help only when the person can be motivated to produce quality in the first place.

In order for this to fly, I think you first have to demonstrate the reverse by showing data suggesting that questions written by someone that elected to use their real name receive better answers than they would otherwise.

If that is the case (and it very well may be), implementing this would indeed contribute to the overall quality of the site.

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It's the Summer of Reese and Finch –  random Aug 9 '12 at 5:33
    
You appear to be answering a different question; perhaps the one I referenced in my question. Here, we're not talking about the need for RL identities, but rather the value of encouraging people to adopt at least some sort of identity (in my book, preferably their RL identity, but as noted, there are enough counter-examples). –  Dominic Cronin Aug 9 '12 at 18:15
    
@DominicCronin I am answering this one, I just don't see how encouraging people to do that would add any value to the site in terms of it resulting in better questions or answers being posted. I don't think it's a bad idea, but feature requests like this do need data that screams 'we need this right now' in order to be implemented, barring of course obvious UI improvements. –  Tim Post Aug 9 '12 at 19:11
    
@DominicCronin In short, if we're going to implement a nag .. there has to be a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. I just don't see one based on my experience working the salt mines, and using other sites where such a thing is strongly encouraged or required. –  Tim Post Aug 9 '12 at 19:13

If the StackOverflow community doesn't care who or what new users are called, but some, such as Dominic, prefer easier-to-identify names help, consider borrowing ideas from games, email, and other online platforms:

Offer new users names that vary from the user + number format or allow users the ability to tag or otherwise identify individual users.

Unless some actually prefer "user + number?"

For example, I've seen:

  • when signing up, system (game, email account, or forum) might prompt for a preferred user name
  • if selected name is not available, user selects another or the system suggests some options
  • if user prefers not to choose at all, the system may offer selection of available user names--these might be a combination of nouns or verbs, possibly appended with numbers
  • in terms of other users, some chat programs let us rename how other users display

I don't mind the anonymity, but user names with even random phrases, nouns, or verbs are easier for me to follow in discussion. Yes, we answer on the merit of the question or answer. But we do contribute, comment, and offer answers for the same question. For example, I can follow Ben, Bart, Andrew, Yannis, and others here. I feel it'd be slightly harder to follow multiple Ben's, Bart's, or "users."

I don't completely line up with Dominic's reasons, but I do like the idea of new users simply having "user + the next available number."

I'd prefer to know who I'm dealing with

I like being able to recognize contributors, even if they're anonymous and I don't really know who they are.

I think the quality of questioning is generally better from users who have an identity

I think the quality of questioning is better for users that care about such an identity (or care enough to try to avoid getting booted).

Somehow it seems like cheating... disrespectful in some intangible way.. here we all are helping each other for free, and what? You can't > even be bothered to show your face?

I don't think this applies to all questions and all topics, but for some tags that I've seen Dominic contribute to, we'll see users that treat StackOverflow almost like support requests or worse. Questions act like anonymous ticket submissions and attempts at getting free coding, training, etc (this might be unique to code involving a mix of familiar languages plus proprietary/non-public APIs).

Serial bad askers already get removed, so I'm not sure "less anonymous" usernames would help any more.

Would it be better to encourage people to set a user name?

Yes, but for different reasons.

  • I think it will help StackOverflow if users had easier-to-read, recognize, and/or follow user names.
  • I don't think users need to be forced or even "encouraged." These types of names could be selected from available options or generated (somewhat) randomly.
  • Ways to let users tag, follow, or otherwise identify other users might also help (no idea if it'd be feasible on a per-user basis)
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FWIW, there are at least 72 Stack Overflow members who decided to change "userNNNNN" to... "user". Presumably that number was just too recognizable... –  Shog9 Aug 9 '12 at 0:20
    
Well, on SO, the "username not available" (IMHO unfortunately) does not catch. That's forum world, vBulletin & friends :) On SO, you even can have a username that's alreedy taken. You might have seen "Gilles" now and then. The Gilles is a very active member, but there's more than one "Gilles". Just because the system allows multiple identical usernames. Not that I condone that, though... –  syntaxerror Sep 16 '13 at 14:09

Yes.

I don't understand why people are resisting your suggestion. The "it's not a social network" argument just doesn't hold water here. I mean, Pekka & Co messing with their usernames just wouldn't be funny if we didn't even 'know' who they were.

And the question says 'encourage', not 'force'.

I quite like Ben Brocka's suggestion of a badge for a unique user name. But that could be a pretty tall order, given the number of users we now have.

Or you could take a leaf out of The Register's book, and have the default user name be "Anonymous Coward" :)

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According to c2 (c2.com/cgi/wiki/wiki?AnonymousCoward) the usage of AnonymousCoward originates with SlashDot. Still, it's an honourable tradition, however, I'd prefer we didn't do it here. –  Dominic Cronin Aug 9 '12 at 20:50

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