This is one of those so simple ideas that I am embarrassed I haven’t thought about it before, but thankful that it is the non-obvious nature of HF that keeps us employed. 🙂
The username just wasn’t built to withstand what the Internet has become. It’s a vestige of an earlier era, when a large service had thousands of users. Today, despite the billions of people online, we’re still designing for the sparse old days.
Here is the basic gist. Some systems (e.g. Twitter) force you to come up with a unique username. This is a challenge because when you are the 600 millionth customer, anything close to anything that you have ever used before or that remotely resembles you as a user has been taken. This makes it hard to remember and hard for other people to find. And it gives off the wrong brand image for you.
But there are other systems (e.g. Facebook) that don’t. When you search for John Smith, they just ask you which John Smith you want and append a few profile tags to help you find the right one. The 25-year old UX specialisT from California who works at Oracle or the 65-year old soybean farmer in Idaho?
Which of these is better? Which has the better user experience? What are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each one? Please let me know what you think in the comments.