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I want to create a social network geared towards mainly geared towards user to user interactions (commenting, discussion boards). From observation I've found that users are more likely to engage in constructive conversations when using their full names as opposed to creating flame wars when hiding by a username. While the latter still has the possibility to exist using one's real name its not as evident considering that user is bearing his or her identify either through the site's main registration or through Facebook Connect.

Don't get me wrong I've seen many communities manage to still offer insightful user contributions using usernames. All in all, what are the pros and cons of the two?

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3 Answers 3

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=usernames+vs+real+names Sorry! I just had to :-)

The article Usernames vs. Real Names on Your Community: Pros and Cons says the following:

Real Names

Pros (vs. Usernames)

  • Increased accountability. When people have their contributions tied to their real name, they are more likely to consider the repercussions of their actions and what they post within your community. As Hans Leijström said, this can lead to less moderation workload. I wouldn’t say no workload, just less (probably substantially less).

  • More professional appearance. A community where people use their real name will generally appear more attractive to a professional audience than a community where people go by a moniker. If everyone on LinkedIn had a username listed, instead of a real name, how would that affect your perception of the site? I’m not saying it would be huge, but it is worth noting.

Cons (vs. Usernames)

  • Force people to fit into a particular box regarding how they are identified on the site. If they go by a moniker online, they can’t go by it on your site. They have to alter their generally accepted identity. If there are 30 Patrick O’Keefe’s on your site, I am just one of 30. I don’t have any creativity or flexibility – I must go with my government name.

  • You can’t really be anonymous. This is an advantage for some and a disadvantage for others. But, if it’s a disadvantage, it means that people will feel less free to share something that may come from a good place, but would cause them personal repercussion if it were found to be tied to them. So, because they are going by their name, they’ll keep it to themselves instead of sharing it.

Conclusion

Still it is an important consideration. How do you know a real name is the actual real name? Do you need to use certification from the bank, or from the government to register? Probably not. And that leaves you with the constant feeling that it is not always 100% validated that this user name is the users real name. Not even on Facebook.

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I belonged to a forum requiring real names but I don't recall how they checked for that. The community was small enough, and niche enough, that I think they'd Google for you. It's true that it was much more congenial and professional but there was still that one guy who didn't care, apparently, but it was just one guy. –  Rob Dec 31 '13 at 14:37

To add to those mentioned above, offering the option of usernames allows those who are worried about being the target of abuse to participate.

There are several groups of people (I belong to two such groups) who are routinely subject to negativity online when it is known that they belong in the target group(s). Such treatment ranges from mild offense to seriously vicious abuse. Even there are strong measures in place to prevent flame wars/abuse on the network itself (and not all abuse is obvious to a 3rd party), that is not enough.

Anyone with an easily-Googlable name can easily be traced, thus making it easier to determine whether someone using a real name on your network belongs to a particular group. Then they could be targeted by an abuse-minded person. And then, even if the target leaves the network, real names make it easier for a harrasser to follow that person into other places online, maybe even cause trouble offline too.

I wish I didn't know this from personal experience. Yes, maybe providing usernames enables flamewars somewhat, but to me, being obliged to use your real name if you wish to contribute to discussions just feels like sticking your head up above a parapet in a shooting gallery. A gallery where there is no guarantee of an unlocked exit door.

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I wonder if a solution to the type of experience you described would be to give users the option to display only their first names? Food for thought. –  Carl Edwards Jan 2 at 17:27
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It doesn't work if you have a globally unique first name. Which isn't that uncommon in many cultures. –  Racheet Jan 3 at 10:38
    
Also, you wouldn't then be able to tell the 15 different johns in a conversation apart. Allowing usernames is a much cleaner solution to the problem. –  Racheet Jan 3 at 10:40

I would say real profile names encourage accountability, but also make for better collaboration in certain contexts such as the enterprise or ecommerce one. For example, if discussing solutions to tech problems or support issues where technical credibility or other domain expertise and reputation is important, or for historical reasons where you might join a social media conversation late in the game and you can pick it up easily by recognizing a name. There may be other UX upsides too, such as simplifying matters when signing up and being able to use your real name across integrations of applications rather than risking a fragmented profile. Ultimately, the verification of what is real, of course, needs to be attached to some payment or other form of credible identification.

There may of course, be other contexts where real usernames are not preferred, such as for genuinely altruistic motives of sharing or disclosure of information.

So, it depends...:)

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