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We have a certain number of users of the site who have been here for some time, but still retain their original username of the form userXXXX. I find it relatively annoying as I'm never sure whether I've interacted with them or not, so they all sort of blend into a single user. I wanted to test how much of a thing this is, and the resulting query,

Anonymous users (userXXXX) by reputation, last access date, and time since creation

took me a bit by surprise. There are 18 userXXXXs with 1k rep or more, generally with over a year on the site, and they total between them almost 50k rep. At the lower bar of 300 rep there's over 60 such users.

To users with such usernames: please consider changing your username to something more distinctive. If nothing else, it will make it easier for other users to interact with you.

To the rest of the community: are these numbers bigger than we'd like? If so, how can we encourage people away from this?

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps I'm missing something, but does it really matter that some people prefer the base level of anonymity that SE provides? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Sep 1 '15 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ I don't really understand the internet mentality that anonymity is sacred, but I know some people get very angsty about using identifying information. If they are simultaneously as uncreative as I am, they just won't be able to come up with something non-identifying yet distinctive. $\endgroup$ – user10851 Sep 1 '15 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ I've been asked thrice to alter my name but it's not a matter, of course!! I really love my number & am dreaming to have a tattoo of this number 36790in my hand!!OK, be serious: is it really of dire necessity to have the number-name changed?? After all, we care for good physics - be it a question or an answer: everyone freely shares their views, their problems, their explains; this can be undoubtedly defined as a community. As one proverb goes: "what is in the name? Everything is in the work"! BTW, we can encourage users to at least fill in the real name part in their profile:) $\endgroup$ – user36790 Sep 2 '15 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @user36790 Yes, but it is much easier to identify actual names (for good, and for bad I suppose). If I see an astro question that's sitting unnoticed, I can flag ChrisWhite and see if he can answer it. If I see a numerical methods or fluid dynamics question, I know I need to get there before KyleKanos. Much easier than trying to remember to ping user1230947129348719487123409871473. Having real names isn't required, but it does help build the sense of community, we are all still people after all. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Sep 2 '15 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114: I am in full assent with your statement! Unless the numbers are big like the above horrible one, number usernames can be valid-but that all depends on the user. You are totally right & there must be, but not compulsory, somewhat mild & polite instigation to those userxxxx, who are here for over 1 year or so, to alter their usernames. In my case, believe it or not I somewhat have a quaint likeliness for this number! However your point is strong too(again it doesn't apply on me, is it;). $\endgroup$ – user36790 Sep 2 '15 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ @user36790 I'm not firm on requiring, or even really suggesting it, so I'm staying out of the fray for the most part! But it is nice to identify a poster with a handle that is easy to remember. It does help remind everyone that there is a person on the other side and not a mindless homework-spammer. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Sep 2 '15 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @user36790 This question has inspired me to consider changing my user name to user36790 too! After all, it's 2×5×13×283, of which 36790 is the only number that can say that... $\endgroup$ – Michael Sep 2 '15 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @user36790 Don't overestimate the distinctiveness of the number - to me it is just a number. If I've interacted with you in the past - which I think I have - it takes me some five minutes of tricky searches to find out if it's true. Those past interactions can and do inform my future comments and answers - but it's hard to do this if I can't find them. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Sep 2 '15 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ Emilio Pisanty: "(How) can we encourage [...]" -- To me, considering to change my present default display name (preferrably into my real name, which I had entered during registration already, and which I use in much of my other online communication anyways) would depend on each appearance on SE pages (not limited to PSE) being updated accordingly; in all answers, questions and comments I posted, and, not least, in all comments by others which were addressed to me. Can you guarantee that? (Otherwise, for better or worse, I consider myself stuck with my present display name.) $\endgroup$ – user12262 Sep 2 '15 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ @user12262 All your bylines in questions, answers and comments will be edited. The content of others' comments, including @replies, will not be altered - but it is generally immediately clear that there's been a name change and what the change was; in any case, your user number is a unique id (i.e. http://physics.stackexchange.com/users/12262/whatever-name-you-choose) and it will unambiguously tag the old replies. I wouldn't personally see that as an issue, but as always it's up to you. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Sep 3 '15 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ Emilio Pisanty: "All your bylines in questions, answers and comments will be edited." -- Well, knowing/appreciating this service might've been persuasive to me only until I first received replies to my comments. But: "The content of others' comments, including @replies, will not be altered" -- Then, to me, changing my display is therefore out of the question. p.s. May I suggest the possibility of suitable individual "user options": If you're unhappy with certain display names then you should be given the option to have it (case by case) rendered to your liking on your display. $\endgroup$ – user12262 Sep 3 '15 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ @user12262 That's as always completely up to you. I would read the response to this thread as saying that some in the community are bugged by it, so do take that into consideration. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Sep 3 '15 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, @user12262 is by far the most distinctive "userxxxx" on Physics SE, and I definitely can identify him out of a hat. Keep your name the way it is user12262, and keep being you. (I don't really mean that, but you won't stop either!) For everyone else, "userxxxx" is incredibly annoying. $\endgroup$ – Sean Sep 3 '15 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Um...by not giving userXXXXX as the default name? $\endgroup$ – Yashbhatt Sep 6 '15 at 6:59
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    $\begingroup$ what the point ? if I use "Barrack Obama" do that means you know me better than "UserXXXX". BTW "UserXXXX" is still better than "AsshXXX", replace XXX by what you want... $\endgroup$ – The Unholy Metal Machine Sep 9 '15 at 0:29
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I'm undecided on whether or not it is desirable to have people change away from user<userID>. Here are some points to consider:

  • SE is about questions and answers, not about people: We should judge questions and answers on the basis of their actual content, not on the basis of who has written them. However, the fact that we aren't all user<userID> means we do not consider identifiability to be absolutely detrimental to that (and it can perhaps lend credibility to an answer if you know the user has reliably answers similar questions in the past).

  • We are/aim to be a community: We want to be a community of physicists of all kinds. It's difficult to be a community if you don't know if you've seen the other person around or not every time you meet someone.

  • The choice to be anonymous should be respected: There are many valid reasons to want to remain anonymous, and even if you don't have a "valid reason", it's still everyone's own choice to reveal something about themselves.

So...I dunno, we could say to them "Hey, it would be nice if you chose a username we can recognize", but I don't think we should put particular pressure/encouragement into it - if they want to be user<userID>, it's completely fine. So, unless there is a large number of such users who don't know they could pick a new name, I don't think we can (or should) do anything to change the portion of anonymous users.

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    $\begingroup$ "SE is about questions and answers, not about people" awwwww, but dorking around in the chat room is so much fun. $\endgroup$ – DanielSank Sep 3 '15 at 4:09
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    $\begingroup$ You act like anonymity and creative usernames (not userxxxx) are mutually exclusive. I have no idea who you are, other than that you (ostensibly) have a curious mind. $\endgroup$ – Sean Sep 3 '15 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean Sure. But SE is about questions and answers, not about people or the names they choose to use. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Sep 5 '15 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ On this site you are just as anonymous whether you use a default name, or a custom one. The only difference is how human-identifiable you are. Your unique profile is as always a single click away anyway so choosing a name doesn't expose you any more... $\endgroup$ – Troyseph Sep 7 '15 at 13:48
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Instead of making unique names an opt-in feature, it should be default. New users can get a unique name, such as <random adjective> <random verb> <random noun>. That would allow privacy-oriented people to keep their Stack activity divorced from their identity while being recognizable on the site.

If users don't want to be recognizable, they can manually set their name to userXXXX.

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    $\begingroup$ I strongly disagree with your suggested scheme. The names you suggest have meaning and there's a natural assumption that, if a name has meaning, that meaning is somehow related to the person using thet name. Even names that don't have literal meaning, such as mine and yours, convey information (we both sound like we're men from probably Anglophone or, at least, Western countries). If you randomly assign names that look meaningful, people will draw inferences from those names, even if they shouldn't. You also risk offending people by unfortunate combinations of random words. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Sep 5 '15 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Of course the dictionary used to generate names would be restricted. Nobody wants to be named "Whiny Ugly Pig". Github has already implemented with their suggested names when you create a new repository. In addition, they also randomly generate a unique avatar for new users, which I find very helpful when reading discussions under issues. $\endgroup$ – crypdick Sep 5 '15 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ Sure but even with a restricted dictionary, there's still the possibility of accidentally causing offence, either by an unfortunate combination that the compiler of the dictionary didn't notice or because some innocuous term in English translates into something offensive in some language they don't speak. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Sep 5 '15 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ It's easy to add a button which generates a new name until one you like appears. $\endgroup$ – crypdick Sep 16 '15 at 21:26
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For me it is important that I can recognize a user in deciding whether I should chime in with an answer or not. I tend to have in my head a data base of trust in the physics level for certain users, that their answer will not be wrong or quirky or even personal theory based. These random numbers after user do not help in this. And often they are new people with even cranky proposals

I would greatly prefer nicknames as they are memory friendly, and I do not see why they are not obligatory.

I also do not like the many Jims etc, and I do not understand why the system does not number them sequentially on order of appearance, so as to keep the individuality evident in the answers. After all there will not be 15000 jims answering here, numbers up to four digits are not too bad for memory.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi anna you are one of patient and tolerant people on SO, you have answered some of my 'ignorant' questions. However I am considering on starting using temporary userXXXXs instead of my normal name, since I am getting the feeling that I have 'pissed off' certain users that are down voting and trying to close all my questions. Other possibility is that my questions are not 'very good' but I prefer first option. $\endgroup$ – Matas Vaitkevicius Sep 9 '15 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ @MatasVaitkevicius you should not give too much weight to negative votes . Everybody gets some, and then there are some people who go around giving negative votes. When I get one I check again my understanding of the question and if I still think it is fine, I just ignore the vote. $\endgroup$ – anna v Sep 9 '15 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @annav You must really hate the Jim of the month... I wonder how many times you've really just seen the same Jim and not realized it like I have! $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Sep 11 '15 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 I remember somebody making a statement in meta, that he/she would be changing the jim attached characters. It is not a matter of hate, but of the weight given to answers by a Jim. And the way the system is, a change does not change in the comments and sometimes they become bizarre, as talking to a wall. $\endgroup$ – anna v Sep 11 '15 at 3:25
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I'm of the opposite of your opinion. All names should blend in and people should acquire points just to obtain features, not for public display. Foremostly, it would be very good if points for answers were given without people knowing who answered. Answers would be judged for their content, not because well-known-10k-user answered it and people just trust it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you saying here some prejudice is going on? What is the proof for your claim the answers by 10k users get more votes? $\endgroup$ – user36790 Sep 16 '15 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ @user36790: It's an impression, yes. Not sure how that could be proven, the correlation is evident: If a longer answer has the number "1,572" associated with it, you're more inclined to read it (and then rate it) than if the number is "124". As an aside, the way you formulated it is not what I said. What you say is actually certainly true: If a user has 10k, he has many contributions and this makes her/him prominent. I have about 500 questions/answers on the physics/math board and regularly get random votes for old posts that people stumble upon, also through seeing it on top of my profile. $\endgroup$ – Nikolaj-K Sep 16 '15 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ I imagine it's true that a high-rep user will get a few more votes for an answer than a lower-rep user who posted exactly the same thing. However, concentrating on that feedback mechanism makes it look like you have the causal relationship backwards: you're suggesting that getting high rep causes you to get lots of votes; in fact, it's that getting lots of votes causes you to get high rep. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Sep 16 '15 at 21:57

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