I'm specifically referring to the user NetConstructor.com (although this may apply to others as well).

They (he? she? it?) seem to be making a decent contribution, but judging by their username and about text on their profile, it is clear that their intention is to increase awareness of their business (even if that is secondary to their participation).

Thoughts?

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ouch... northcutt :-) –  NetConstructor.com Jan 14 '11 at 7:44
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3 Answers

I'm not seeing the problem with user names being whatever the user chooses? The focus of the site is in the information, not the users. I started with Stack Overflow to do a bit of self promotion. If I was forced to change my name to something else, I probably wouldn't have bothered. If this user wants their name — whatever name they chose — to be visible, they have to provide good content; otherwise, no one will see it anyway.

The end result is that the user has more incentive to provide good content. Who is losing out here?

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I realize after my down-voted answer (really don't like having brainstorming discussions down-voted, guess I'll be more careful with my opinion on these from now on) that my concern is not company name but people using one account for (what may appear to be) multiple people. See my comments below as to why. –  MikeSchinkel Sep 10 '10 at 0:05
    
@MikeSchinkel: Definitely don't take the down-votes personally (wasn't me). They simply mean that someone does not agree with your proposal and they're NOT to be taken personally. That's one of the big reasons we removed reputation-for-votes from meta, so people would be more inclined to make suggestions and offer real opinions on this stuff. –  Robert Cartaino Sep 10 '10 at 2:03
    
Mike, I'll echo what Robert said. Don't take the downvotes personally. No rep in Meta, so the votes are just a good way of showing which ideas the community prefers. Thanks for contributing to the discussion! –  tnorthcutt Sep 10 '10 at 12:27
    
Hi @Robert Cartaino & @tnorthcutt: I didn't realize that meta doesn't affect reputation. That makes me look at it differently. Thanks! –  MikeSchinkel Sep 29 '10 at 2:16
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I believe there is no policy about this on the regular Stack Overflow sites, because it isn't really a problem there. Your username links to your user profile, and you were always free to link to your own site there. The commenters there who tried it say they found it had a negligible impact on site traffic.

Is NetConstructor.com answering as one person, or is the whole company using this account? I personally prefer person-bound user accounts, so if Maria is doing all the posting, maybe she could change her username to Maria from NetConstructor. That makes it clear NetConstructor is a company and not just a personal site.

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@tnorthcutt - I saw that too and am glad you brought it up. I'd like to set a policy that people use real names if they are going to be active. The problem for me is that if "NetConstructor" has 5 people working there, who are we dealing with? And whose picture should we expect? I don't want an account shared by multiple people; it makes it too hard to manage.

BTW, I think we should hold people to a higher bar if they are frequent users here. If they post one question and never come back, no problem. But NetConstructorhas posted 10 questions already so he (or she) is very active which means to me we need to bring him into the community and that means knowing who he (or she) is would be beneficial to me and honestly to them.

UPDATE

I just read this by Clay Shirkey that says what I wanted to say but he says it so much better (sorry for the length):

1.) If you were going to build a piece of social software to support large and long-lived groups, what would you design for? The first thing you would design for is handles the user can invest in.

Now, I say "handles," because I don't want to say "identity," because identity has suddenly become one of those ideas where, when you pull on the little thread you want, this big bag of stuff comes along with it. Identity is such a hot-button issue now, but for the lightweight stuff required for social software, its really just a handle that matters.

It's pretty widely understood that anonymity doesn't work well in group settings, because "who said what when" is the minimum requirement for having a conversation. What's less well understood is that weak pseudonymity doesn't work well, either. Because I need to associate who's saying something to me now with previous conversations.

The world's best reputation management system is right here, in the brain. And actually, it's right here, in the back, in the emotional part of the brain. Almost all the work being done on reputation systems today is either trivial or useless or both, because reputations aren't linearizable, and they're not portable.

...

Reputation is not necessarily portable from one situation to another, and it's not easily expressed.

...

If you want a good reputation system, just let me remember who you are. And if you do me a favor, I'll remember it. And I won't store it in the front of my brain, I'll store it here, in the back. I'll just get a good feeling next time I get email from you; I won't even remember why. And if you do me a disservice and I get email from you, my temples will start to throb, and I won't even remember why. If you give users a way of remembering one another, reputation will happen, and that requires nothing more than simple and somewhat persistent handles.

Users have to be able to identify themselves and there has to be a penalty for switching handles. The penalty for switching doesn't have to be total. But if I change my handle on the system, I have to lose some kind of reputation or some kind of context. This keeps the system functioning.

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@Mike: Do you also have a problem with the fact that a company name is used, or only with the possibility that this is a company account? Would Maria from NetConstructor be an acceptable username, if this user account belonged only to Maria, and her colleague Peter used Peter from NetConstructor? I'm just asking this because we might otherwise confuse the two issues (multi-user accounts and company names). –  Jan Fabry Sep 9 '10 at 12:08
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I would be opposed to a "real name" policy. I use my initials and last name as my username. @tnorthcutt seems to do something similar. So tracking down which are "real names" versus pseudonyms versus business names is somewhat tricky. NetConstructor is fairly obvious ... but I used to work for a consulting agency named Parker LePla ... it looks like a real name, so how can re reliably tell the difference? –  EAMann Sep 9 '10 at 14:33
    
@EAMann: By "real name" I meant something that reasonably identifies you as a real and specific person; @EAMann and @tnorthcutt fully qualify as that in my book. And I don't mean something that couldn't be circumvented by a nefarious character but instead simply having a policy that people use a username that identifies them as a real and specific person as a courtesy to the rest of the community. For example @techosailor would be fine because that's what Aaron Brazell goes by everywhere online. –  MikeSchinkel Sep 9 '10 at 23:47
    
@Jan Fabry: Good question and one to ponder. Personally I don't have an issue with the company name being included; I think there is too much backlash in the WordPress community towards people actually making a living and I would hate to contribute to that. I have a problem with spam (posting solely to promote) and with anonymity and people sharing an account creates the anonymity problem. If I'm going to help someone I expect them offer me enough respect to provide an individual persona to interact with, not a corporate facade. So it's the "multi-user" accounts that concern me. –  MikeSchinkel Sep 9 '10 at 23:58
    
@Jan Fabry: Want to clarify the persona comment: I don't need nor expect to know personal information about people, i.e. their religion, their politics, their family history et. al. but I would like to know if I'm helping someone who they are compared to prior times I've helped them here or elsewhere such as WordPress.org support, WordPress group on LinkedIn, wp-hackers, etc. It makes it easier to answer when there is a history knowing skills and experience. For example I would assume I don't need to tell @hakre where to put the code I write but I would for a Wordpress noob. –  MikeSchinkel Sep 10 '10 at 0:02
    
This is a community site and the focus on" person" shouldn't be that overweighted. I think it's a nice gesture of a whole crowd of users from one camp is not over-run the page with multiple accounts and use one instead. That's pretty nice in the end. –  hakre Sep 11 '10 at 1:03
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Whether its a company name or a "real name" it can just as easily be used by more than one person. Regardless I think trying to enforce this policy could be problematic and a waste of time and resources. At the end of the day, the quality of the contribution is what matters. If its one user per account or 100. If the quality is there its there, if it's not it's not and if it varies it varies. In any case the accounts reputation will reflect that. –  Ash G Sep 14 '10 at 1:42
    
@Ash G: Two points, I'm suggesting a requested guidleline, not a policed rule, and as someone who has answered a lot of questions here it's frankly easier for me to get motivated to answer for a person with an avatar where I can see there face and hence feel like I'm "speaking" to them. I also remember if they've asked a lot of questions and I get a feel for if they are learning or not and if so I'll be happy to help but if not I don't really want to. So really me wanting a real name policy is so it's easier for me to answer questions of "real people." FWIW. –  MikeSchinkel Sep 15 '10 at 8:51
    
@Mike: Perhaps you should open a new discussion "Should we take extra steps to encourage individual usernames?" At least, that's how I understand your answer (and the interesting essay). With "encourage" I mean place it in the FAQ and perhaps one e-mail from a moderator, but no "penalty" if people choose not to do this. In this larger discussion your position could get lost. –  Jan Fabry Sep 29 '10 at 7:12
    
@Jan Fabry - I think you are understanding my point now. I probably should create a new discussion, but I'm stealing time away from a late client project at the moment so I'm having to limit my time here until I can make them happy. –  MikeSchinkel Sep 29 '10 at 9:12
    
What an interesting discussion :) Not that it matters in regards to the root discussion but I am indeed an individual. Of course I am trying to self-promote but that should be expected on a site like this. I personally would not want to change my username BUT I do get the point being made here especially seeing that guys like Mike and hakre have been very helpful to me. For anyone else reading this... my suggestion (which I will now try to do) is end each question, answer and comment with my initials - CH, thanks guys :)... oh -CH –  NetConstructor.com Jan 14 '11 at 8:40
    
@NetConstructor.com - I've thought about this a lot since posting, and it just feels wrong to use a company name here. It's self-promoting on a site where self-promotion shouldn't be the goal. Your profile page is where you should promote, not every single page where you are posting. I could use my company name to promote, but I don't because it's not my company participating here, it's me. JMTCW. –  MikeSchinkel Jan 14 '11 at 12:35
    
@MikeSchinkel - I am the company, the company is me. –  NetConstructor.com Jan 15 '11 at 13:34
    
@NetConstructor.com - Just for your consideration, I feel like every time I answer your question I am contributing my free time to helping you market your company, and that just doesn't feel right to me. It feels like an abuse of our help, and I don't want to feel that way even though I really do want to help. Maybe others will be able to help me see how I'm viewing it wrongly, but right now that's what my gut is saying to me. –  MikeSchinkel Jan 24 '11 at 1:56
    
@MikeSchinkel - I am honestly sorry that you feel this way. As mentioned before, I can understand where you are coming from but at least from my point of view I feel there is no real difference between my username and yours. What I mean by this is that when someone goes to your profile page you clearly advertise that you help people build software using wordpress. The only difference that I have a .com on my username. Pardon the stupidity of this next statement but I feel this is like me making an argument that one should not use ones real first/last name together but rather an alias username. –  NetConstructor.com Jan 25 '11 at 17:48
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