You all know the feeling. You’re trying to sign up for the new big thing and the username you want is taken. After 2 or 3 tries you eventually give up or end up adding a number to the end or using something you’ll promptly forget about. Lets say you did actually get up and running. After a few minutes you leave the site and go on with your day.
You go to log in and you forgot your password. Maybe you didn’t forget your password, maybe your username is wrong. Well crap, which is it? You hit the forgot password link. Now it’s asking for your email. Great, you got a password reset email. You still don’t know which username you used.
Why the hell did you need a username for this anyway? Wouldn’t an email suffice? “But I want to show off my individuality” you say. Ok, great, you can pick a display name or something after you sign up. It doesn’t have to be unique either. It’s not like your name in real life is unique.
By forcing you to pick a unique name, the service is adding one more barrier for you to sign up or making it that much harder to sign in if you ever forget your password.
Every service needs some unique way to identify users, but why should it be display name? My email address is already going to be unique (assuming most people don’t have enemies using their email addresses to sign up for stuff). I know that when I enter an email address and a password I’ll make it to step two. There is no hoping when I press the submit button.
I may not always want to be known by the decision I made when I signed up. I don’t want to use the AIM screen name I picked when I was in 7th grade. If I want to change it, I’ll have to tell every person on my buddy list about my new screen name and figure out some way to import everyone from my old account. (Maybe that problem has been solved? I never use AIM anymore). The only service I’ve seen handle this well is Twitter, and they still don’t solve the tricky signup problem.
As I get older, I find myself representing myself online as myself more and more. This is much harder to do when your username is required to be unique because there are a lot of people with my name. Next time you’re implementing a new web service remember this and ask yourself if you really need a unique username.