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I came across this Ruby question by someone with a username of Amit, and I can't immediately tell if it's another account of Amit Singh Tomar (another Rubyist), or a completely different person. (Some people in the Ruby tag had a tendency to create new accounts every so often, probably because of technical difficulties)

When I looked at the list of users with the name "Amit", the exact matches filled more than one page.

Should people be told when choosing a username if there's lots of people with that username?

Update: Looking at other names: there's also 11 "John Smith"s (but no "Jane Smith"s), 4 "Aryan"s (probably the kind who'd be allowed to get a cake from Shoprite), and 6 "Ruby"s (the top-repping one is a .net developer). Thankfully, there's only one Jon Skeet right now.

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Let's say for the sake of argument that people always put in their real name. There are always going to be certain names with high frequency, and there's nothing we can do about it. Regardless, from my experience, it's pretty rare to have situations where two users are confused or misnotified in comments, for example, which is a bigger issue than a full page of users with the same name. I suppose if you really want to look someone up, you can use Data Explorer. –  Jon Seigel Jan 11 '11 at 23:49
    
I've provided you with an example where I've experienced a problem because someone didn't use their full name, so this isn't a year 292,277,026,296 problem. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 12 '11 at 1:52
    
possible duplicate of Why does StackOverflow allow duplicate display names? –  Adam Davis Jan 12 '11 at 13:28
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@Pollyanna: I wasn't suggesting totally banning duplicate display names, so the suggested mechanism is different. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 12 '11 at 20:43
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

A problem I see with this approach is that it resembles too much the process of registering an account. One of the appeals of SO is that no registration is required. If I just want to ask a question, forcing me to iterate through a variety of usernames just so that I find one which is free is cumbersome and prohibiting.

In addition, I agree with Jon's comment that I haven't seen this create a problem too often, though I agree that it can be annoying on occasion - especially in chat, something that happened to me personally.

On the other hand, I don't find anything bad about a small, unobtrusive message saying "be aware that 11 other users share that username, consider changing it" while choosing to register. I just don't think it would be very beneficial.

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+1 for the nudge idea –  ChrisF Jan 12 '11 at 12:18
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I second what @Jon says in his comment. I don't really see the point in this.

SO is built to accept non-unique user names. If name mixups become a rampant problem, there will have to be different solutions anyway (like, showing the gravatar everywhere, and allowing direct reply to a specific comment instead of to a user name).

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The reason collisions are intentionally designed into the system is to encourage people to use their real names, rather than a nickname or handle. This gives readers a sense that contributors are real people, and encourages people to avoid posting things they would not want associated with their name. It's also very useful from a careers point of view.

The avatar is the best way to differentiate people, as it's tied directly to the email address they used when they posted the question or answer, or the email attached to their account if they've registered. Namespace collisions in real life are common, and the real world solution (face or image identification) is applied here. Plus forcing people to use "Adam314159" is just plain stupid - use the avatar and let our brains do the work.

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Are single names (ie no surnames) ok in your opinion? –  Andrew Grimm Jan 12 '11 at 20:42
    
@Andrew - Sure. A name is what you want to be called, and the site allows the users to define that. I want to be known as Adam Davis on the main site, and so that's how I put my name. There are a lot of people who would rather be known simply as Adam, so they put their names that way. –  Adam Davis Jan 12 '11 at 22:01
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