The Web and especially the social part of the Web is facing their biggest challenge in the upcoming five years. It is not the fact that we are running out of ip addresses, that is not such a big issue compared to this one. It is about an essential part of self-expression, it is about usernames. For the ip addresses there is a solution, for usernames, there is no solution at all.
If you have a common name (e.g. Joe Smith), you are most likely not able to register @joesmith on twitter or a vanity url on Facebook with the the name ‘joesmith’. You are most likely to end up with a usernames such as starfish44, hellraiser666 or thisusernamewasnottakenyet, however how will people connect starfish44 to Joe Smith? And even worse: if starfish1 till starfish999999 already exist, what will you do then? Just add an extra digit or will you go for just some random characters as a username?
Based on the scarcity of usernames some of my friends choose the names of their kids based on the fact whether or not the domain name for that name was still free. This might seem as geeky behavior, however having an identity both online and offline is a standard (and becoming a necessity) nowadays. We (as in the generations that are already online and have marked our online territory) often don’t realize that usernames are even more scarce than ip addresses.
The new username space
The next generation of Internet users probably don’t prefer usernames such as starfish12345698, since it doesn’t really represent who they really are (unless they are born on 5/6 in 1998 at 12:34 and are fond of starfish…), they want to have something they can relate to. However most usernames are already taken before the first time they will come online.
What will happen then? Will people not join Facebook because they cannot register their vanity url? Will they move elsewhere online? Or will the importance of usernames as a tool for self expression fade and be replaced by a new unique identifier?