Re: My name is not a URL

Posted by Thomas Tue, 31 Mar 2009 14:53:42 +0000

Chris Messina wrote a little blerb over at his blog. I read it shortly after he posted it, and thought to myself, “self, I disagree”. So here we go. :)

Vanity urls don’t seem terribly harmful at first glance, but definitely do seem a bit silly. I can understand that having a global namespace like that quickly leads to collisions, so people are forced to constantly modify whichever handle they prefer. I can also not understand certain things about people on the internet (like why they’d clamor over vanity urls and why most people on myspace choose the absolutely worst, ugliest web design principles possible — yet people love them for it).

The omission of a memorable url for my “home” is definitely a good design pattern, as is easily seen over and over by such intelligent people as Papa Goog and Flickr. Having what is basically a permalink, a static url that forever points to a particular document, photo, or whatever, is a good idea, especially when compared to urls (unlike WordPress’s urls that can change, depending on changes I make to the title of the post). This is a no-brainer. Check.

He makes some more decent points up until:

That everyone on Facebook has to use their real name (and Facebook will root out and disable accounts with pseudonyms), there’s a higher degree of accountability because legitimate users are forced to reveal who they are offline. No more “funnybunny345″ or “daveman692″ creeping around and leaving harassing wall posts on your profile; you know exactly who left the comment because their name is attached to their account.

This is where I really start “not buying it”. First and foremost, I don’t think this is a case of correlation equaling causation. Just because names are unobfuscated doesn’t mean that the quality of the comment/content is automatically driven up. I would argue that there are several reasons why the quality is so much better, completely outside of what I call myself. 1) You can’t leave messages on people’s walls you aren’t friends with. You can’t even see most people’s profiles. This is effectively whitelisting, and it works like a charm. If I don’t know you, or I change my mind and don’t like you anymore, I can block you. Everyone who’s ever read youtube, slashdot, or digg comments can relate. Which begs the question, why doesn’t flickr have this sort of watered-down spam problem? 2) Everyone I’m friends with, I actually know (or like 99%) in the real world. The people I’m friends with are people I have at least some interest in having some sort of conversation with (marginal as that conversation may be). That model builds in un-spammy-ness. Which kind of leads me to… 3) Facebook started out in colleges. And while I don’t know the demographics, I’d imagine that the majority remains in that original demographic, if now only a bit older and gradumicated. I think this also builds in high quality content, due to the fact that the majority went to college, and it’s not some 12 year old from New Jersey commenting like an idiot on Youtube.

Anyway, I’ve tried to read his post a couple of times, and maybe I’m missing the point. I agree that narrowing search scope can be useful in certain circumstances. But I still don’t quite grok how showing funnybunny345′s real name in a chat list or in my email or on a blog post or on twitter significantly increases the value of the content or relationship given that either way I know who that person is. Shouldn’t that be a simple feature of the software to allow me to give an alias to or simply rename the contact in my list to something more memorable?

Unless his whole point is that there are so many sites out there and people are forced to keep evolving their handles so much so that you can’t really remember who funnybunny345 is in real life. And that distinction probably does have value. But gmail and facebook are my primary means of communication, and everyone there has a first name, a last name, and maybe a picture, so perhaps I’ve just not hit that wall yet; that use case of not being able to recall who that person is who just commented on my [whatever]…

Posted in Technology | 1 Comment


  1. Ben said on April 7, 2009 @ 12:43 am:

    I think there may be a bit of truth in both perspectives. In thinking about it in the moments it took for me to finish reading the post to when I start typing out my stream of consciousness, I see the idea as sort of a linear scale (scale isn’t the right word, but nonetheless). While there still is a degree of responsibility to a known handle, as in the case of flickr, I think there is even still a higher degree of ownership when your Real Name is on the post you just wrote. People don’t have to worry (for now) about their employers tracking down their wordpress blogs or flickr accounts, but they can be accountable for what has their Real Name stamped on it on the internet. Actually, I can attest to this to some degree in my own experiences. I used to participate in some online forums w/ a bunch of other aggies. I went by a username, and only knew the majority of the other users by theirs. I eventually came to meet a good number of them in real life, but that’s beside the point. In comparing my “internet personality” between my interactions in those forums, and my interactions on facebook, there is a marked difference. I wasn’t a terrible person, but “bigbrother0074″ had a different persona than did Ben in real life, and Ben on facebook. It wasn’t totally disconnected, though, because I did know some of these people, and I didn’t try to hide my true identity (my username on there was linked to my facebook profile). Anyway, I think I made the point I was trying to there…

    Also, on a related note, way off on the other end of the line, way past flicker and handle-driven services is 4chan. I’ve never spent any amount of time there, and I don’t recommend even googling that, I have come across it a time or two and heard about it enough to understand what its about. It is a discussion-forum type site that has no official user-base or group. Everybody posts under the name . There is literally zero accountability (except in extreme legal terms, I think… but even then, extreme). While that seems to fall outside of what the original article and Thomas’ response was really talking about, I think it has some relevance to the discussion. There, I believe users are well-known among themselves. Even though everybody is , they still build up some form of notoriety, and recognition (just not name recognition). I don’t know how this is done, but for maybe posting styles, subject matter, and maybe expertise in a subject or something…. or maybe a combination.

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