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Why does StackOverflow allow duplicate display names?

Is it really legal to have duplicate usernames? (This seems like an obvious enough question that I'm surprised I couldn't find it here...am I just missing it?)

On SO I went to users and searched for "Shawn"...and got a page full of users...all named "Shawn". Some of them with identical icons (but different reputation values.)

As a secondary question: is this a good idea? Could spoofing have detremental effects? And is there any reason to think that it's at all likely to happen? (As several people have mentioned, we don't really have any reason to think that this is an active problem at this point.)

  • How about those 6 "Eric" on meta? Or the over 35 (I assume) of them of SO? haha – Troggy Oct 23 '09 at 17:46
  • im right here stackoverflow.com/users/26 : ) – Shawn Oct 23 '09 at 18:30
  • Ah yes, I thought this was a dupe. Good find ire. – Troggy Oct 23 '09 at 19:15
  • The answers ↓ missed the point. As beska said, some have the same avatar. If they’re generated (the default setting), then they are using the same email address which means they were created by the same person. Even if they are not generated, using the same graphic still likely means that they were created by the same person, not different people who not only have the same name, but also just happened to use the same picture. Even if the picture is a popular meme, it’s unlikely that different people with the same name used it since memes are transient. Check at the profile creation dates. – Synetech Sep 22 '13 at 17:24

This is by-design.

On the SO family of sites usernames don't have to be unique.

Users are only uniquely identified by their user id.

The reason for this is there is more than one person with any given name. People shouldn't have to give up their name just because they weren't the first to find the site.

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    That's a little weird/creepy. So I could name myself jjnguy, take your image, and go around trashing your good name? (The rep would be different, of course, but maybe people wouldn't realize that...) – beska Oct 23 '09 at 17:20
  • You could do that. I guess people would probably notice...but you may be able ot get away with it for a bit. – jjnguy Oct 23 '09 at 17:20
  • I doubt it, especially when trying to impersonate high rep user. – alex Oct 23 '09 at 17:23
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    And comments wouldn't even show you the rep...I could make all kinds of nasty comments that would be visually attributed to someone else. I could take the offensive-flag hit on my sockpuppet account at no cost, and possibly do damage to someone's rep. Long term, probably not a big problem, and I haven't really seen this (or have I, and I just don't know it?)...but it does give me the willies. – beska Oct 23 '09 at 17:24
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    Try making nasty comments and see how long that lasts :). – alex Oct 23 '09 at 17:25
  • This has never been a problem in the past, as far as I know. – jjnguy Oct 23 '09 at 17:25
  • @beska: I quite agree. See the discussion I linked to above. – ire_and_curses Oct 23 '09 at 18:11

If there's more than one Alex, why not let them all be Alex? I don't have a trademark on my name, and they don't either. Names are hyperlinked so it's not that hard to know who you're talking to.

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    But do you click on each hyperlink for each comment you read to verify that it's the person you think it is? (Of course not.) If I were to create an "alex" account, and go around posting borderline comments in a lot of places, I could put a bad spin on your name. (Again, I don't really think this has been a problem to this point...but it does give me pause.) – beska Oct 23 '09 at 17:29
  • Well, if someone seems to be posting out of character things people would start to notice. – jjnguy Oct 23 '09 at 17:33
  • On SU, where I'm active, there's more than one alex, yet I've never been confused with others. Anyway, if someone starts writing offensive stuff, I'd flag that even if it would say Jon Skeet next to the comment. Moderators would know who it really is, so I'm not worried my name or rep would be hurt. – alex Oct 23 '09 at 17:45
  • @alex: true...but people might remember that comment and think "that alex, gee, he sure is a jerk.", and it might taint their reactions to you from then on. For most people, realistically, this probably isn't an issue. But for the example you give, I could change my name to Jon Skeet, upload his gravatar, and post something nasty. Most people wouldn't be fooled. But some people would think, "Gee, that Jon sure blew up for no reason there." – beska Oct 23 '09 at 18:54

It's occasionally been very briefly odd for me - a couple of times other people have registered as Jon Skeet with the same gravatar. I can't remember whether they then posted rubbish or not.

Although it's easy to spoof just a name, you can't actually fake where your posts/comments are coming from. The link in the user name is always to the actual user profile, so it's easy enough to tell the difference once you're aware that there are two posters with the same user name.

Given that for the vast majority of the time it doesn't cause a problem, I think this was the right decision. The few times there have been other users spoofing me, moderators have jumped on them very quickly :)

  • A couple have been spammy. One just took the gravatar, but had a different name (we reset their gravatar link, but left the account intact) – Marc Gravell Oct 24 '09 at 9:45
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    Sure, sure...doubtless this is your stock excuse for bad answers. ;) – beska Oct 26 '09 at 13:11

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