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It might be completely unremarkable if there were only a couple of such names on this server, but lately there are many people now going by monikers such as user3432 and user5633, who've accumulated a fair bit of reputation. Here are a couple of reasons why I think continuing in that way is bad:

  • I like associating names to identities, as certain posters have distinct expertise. Suppose you're looking for good answers on say, set theory -- you might decide to ready daily some of User A's answers. Or if you're looking for number theory, you might to decide to read all of User B's. Names that don't vary much from each other, like "UserXXXX," make it hard to remember the identity of posters you want to keep track of.

  • Related is that "userXXXX" names make it hard to search. If one person's username differs from another person's name in only a couple of places, one has to needlessly memorize an arbitrary 4 or 5 digit string just to locate a unique user. Why? Everyone wants to be read and sought out; keeping "userXXXX" makes that harder for essentially no reason.

  • Allowing default usernames encourages bad behavior, by muddling identities. For example, I know quite a few people who blog on Blogspot who will not allow comments to their posts with the default "Anonymous." They force everyone to choose a unique name. Why? One reason is that some people will nefariously hide behind "userXXXX" type usernames to make spam posts that will not be immediately recognized for flagging. What's more important here is that simply picking out a username and assuming a unique identity is an investment in of itself, and signals that one wants to become involved, and is not simply a passive member of the community. It demonstrates engagement.

I understand the need some feel to be relatively anonymous; that's fine, I too like to keep many of Internet identities separate from one another. And, choosing a unique username might seem flippant and unimportant matter compared to the main mission of the site, asking and answering questions. But if that's true, the answer isn't to stick with "userXXXX" -- better to go to a goobledygook concatenation of words or something than to stick with that.

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    $\begingroup$ An obvious exception would user02138; the difference is that his ending 5 digit string has obvious semantic meaning, and thus is easy to memorize and to use for mental identification. $\endgroup$ – Uticensis Apr 4 '11 at 8:12
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    $\begingroup$ for the record, users are presented with a must-dismiss top notification bar at sign up pointing them directly to the profile edit page, and specifically asking them to enter their name and email as appropriate. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Apr 4 '11 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ @billare Good points, btw what is the semantic meaning of 02138? $\endgroup$ – TROLLHUNTER Apr 4 '11 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @solomoan: It refers to the ZIP code of Harvard University. $\endgroup$ – t.b. Apr 4 '11 at 9:54
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    $\begingroup$ Related: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/1482/… $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Apr 4 '11 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ In terms of policy, you can't do much more than prod these users. But on the individual level, people could refuse to answer questions by these users and instead comment on the questions, giving their reasons. Ultimately, nobody will do something you want him to do, unless you give him a good egoistic reason to do it. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. Apr 5 '11 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Alex Bartel I hope you do not read answers from anonymous users with high reputation, either. Would you think it appropriate to not answer your questions to give you an egoistic reason to stop your practice of not answering anonymous questions? You suggest to not answer questions of people who - by their reputation - answered other people's questions. @Billare How can an anonymous user with high reputation be considered lazy just because they do not do what you want them to do? $\endgroup$ – Phira Apr 23 '11 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Billare: You did not ask why I did not choose a username, you listed a reason why you want me to have a recognizable username: To be able to read specifically what I write. The other reasons - spamming and "laziness"- are not convincing in view of the reputation system. $\endgroup$ – Phira Apr 23 '11 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Billare: As for my reasons: 1. Want to look around and post a while before deciding on the level of anonymity reflected in my username. 2. To get "involved" in the personal non-math sense did not seem attractive after reading some of the recent meta-threads. 3. To read in this thread that some people will not answer well-posed questions by me even though I have clearly answered other questions just to enforce their preferences on "good form" unrelated to the question does not have the desired effect on me. $\endgroup$ – Phira Apr 23 '11 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @user9325 I did not write about "you" at all. I wrote about a general class of users. If your sensibilities are offended by being called lazy for not performing what I -- and others -- consider a miniscule change, feel free to exempt yourself! I'll suppose I'll appeal to the others all the more. Also, don't presume that I'm particularly interested in "your" answers; the case may I be wrote this simply because you, and potential others who may not be as aware, may cause confusion with a far more prolific user9352 -- so-called "likelihood of confusion", a staple doctrine of trademark law. $\endgroup$ – Uticensis Apr 23 '11 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @user9325 Your reason number #2 doesn't make much sense either. One can have an identity, a recognizable identity -- such as Billare -- that is not connected with one's real-life persona ("Ulysses N. Owen"; "U.N. Owen", "unknown"). My changing my name to Billare did not make me "involved in the personal non-math sense." $\endgroup$ – Uticensis Apr 23 '11 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed a profound observation. 3 things though: English is not binary logic; many dictionaries, including the OED, define unique as "having a rare quality"; the Corpus of Contemporary American English attests 38 usages from newspapers as lowbrow as USA Today to as august as Foreign Affairs. I even find a usage in the New York Times' On Language column. If it's good enough for the Times.... $\endgroup$ – Uticensis Apr 25 '11 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Billare Although, on one hand, I can sympathize with some of your remarks, on the other hand I find it a bit ironic that in a math forum one is objecting to usernames containing numbers as not being "unique" enough. The law of small numbers guarantees many interesting properties of these small numbers besides zipcodes (recall Ramanujan and taxicabs). To a mathematician, some of these numbers should have more meaning than a random surname! $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Apr 25 '11 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Billare: You have given ample usage and exception for your phrasing. But a very simple modification would be to replace "unique" by "distinctive" in the title of this question. I presume that mathematically minded people on this site would appreciate this choice of words, and it would be a better introduction to the reasonings you give in the body of your argumentation. $\endgroup$ – ogerard Apr 25 '11 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry: While I understand that you feel strongly about this, reasonable minds differ on this subject. See Merriam-Webster, dictionary.com for the usage note, and here for a more informal discussion. $\endgroup$ – Michael Chen Apr 25 '11 at 23:53

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