When the URL breaks - The difficulty of changing identities online

Jan 1, 0001 00:00 · 410 words · 2 minute read

Cool URIs don’t change, right? But uncool URLs certainly do. For over 7 years, I blogged at blisspix.net and as was the way at the time, my URL was both a handle and identity. Whenever I signed up for a new service, my username was always blisspix. Lately, this has become less popular. I’ve noticed a sharp trend towards using real names, whether on Twitter (where I’d estimate well more than half of those I follow use their real name or some version of it) and Facebook, where many I know who chose a vanity URL chose their own name, myself included. The concept of handles and nicks seems to be dying off. I’m glad I didn’t keep using handles from the IRC and chat days of my youth, but blisspix was not much of an improvement and finally, it is time for it to go. I would be interested to hear if anyone has researched this change.

Identity crisis issues aside, trying to change a name on existing services is a complete pain. Some services offer this with a single click, like Twitter. Others require you to send a form to request the change, like Dopplr. Flickr doesn’t seem to allow it at all. Facebook was very upfront in saying that creating a vanity name was a one time deal.

But if you can change your name – there’s fallout. Your existence has changed, and all those nice URLs are going to break. There’s no redirects, just breaking. Presumably, if you are giving up a name it should be available to others to take, but to have links and RSS feeds just die is pretty painful. Twitter does do an ok job of this, if you change your name you can still track older mentions of you, although clicking on what was once your old username will still lead to a broken link.

There’s no real easy solution to this, but it does bear saying that the way we all need to think about how we represent ourselves online. What may have worked at 20 as a uni student may not work as an older professional. This isn’t about what photos you put on Facebook, or whether you rant about an employer online, but the very act of giving yourself a name, whatever it is, forms an identity that can follow you for a long time so it pays to consider it carefully.

Originally published on the semanticlibrary.net blog

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