Twitter will free up unused usernames
One of the biggest, hidden problems facing services like Gmail, Instagram and Twitter, which have been around for over a decade, is a seemingly simple one: there aren't any good usernames left. If you try to sign up for a Twitter account today, you'll be saddled with great choices like @owen122349324, and few memorable choices.
None of these companies have had a plan for dealing with this reality, which absolutely impacts the buy-in of new users coming to these services today, until now: Twitter plans to release usernames into the wild, provided they've been inactive for at least six months.
Such decisive action actually got me excited: Twitter seemed to understand that people care more about usernames than it might seem, and freeing up the squatters both provides motivation to log in to inactive accounts again on top of incentivizing new users to sign up for the first time.
The rules work like this: the company has been emailing users that are inactive warning them to click a link and confirm they want their accounts, by early December, or they'll lose access. The only problem with this plan? You can't do that if you're dead.
Twitter hadn't considered the reality of an account cull like this: what happens when access to an archive of tweets when the person behind it has passed away. The company doesn't have a memorialization plan in place, nor did it seem to consider the significance of wiping a good portion of the internet overnight.
The importance of retaining that history, somehow, is really close to some people, as this story in Techcrunch demonstrates. It raises another question, however, for me: what happens, inevitably, when half of the "people" on the internet (or a particular service) are dead?
At some point in the future, more than half of Facebook 'users' will not be among the living, and the implications of that on a service (as well as history itself) are interesting to consider.
My own opinion is simple: memorialization in some form, as an option, is important to consider, but should not be the default. And, more importantly, it should not mean denying the living a chance to actually using the service in the same way I've benefited from with my Twitter username, @ow.
Personally, I find the idea of the things I put on the internet transcending me a little creepy, particularly on services like Instagram and Twitter. I don't want my digital footprints to live on in a permanent, zombie-like state forever, and I'd rather free up the digital real estate for the next generation.
But, people should be able to make that choice about their data, even if their usernames will be cast into the wind. If anything, this is another demonstration of how Twitter often makes a large fuss about how deeply it thinks about hard things on its platform, without actually really thinking about them properly, and the effects of their choices.
To their credit, however, it's refreshing to see a company provide a shot to a new generation at getting the username they actually want. I know, from being privileged enough to have a really good one, that it improves how I feel about using a service, and like domains, I don't think usernames should be forever.
The gold rush, or at least the process of beginning to release them, will start on December 11. Keep an eye on that account you've always wanted, and be quick!
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