Should I allow people to freely change their name in my file hosting application?

I don't think anyone should be able to change their name freely and as frequently as they want without any type of limitations. Because nobody has a new name every week.

I noticed that Facebook allows you to change your name every 60 days which might be an option, while Dropbox has no limits. Another option might be to make people have to request a name change first so I can review and approve or deny the request.

What would be a good way to go about it as far as limitations goes?

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It sounds like you're starting with an assumption. Before going any further and risking over-engineering, I would take a moment to challenge that assumption.

I would take a step back and understand your business requirements.

  • Is there a security concern with letting your user change his name, letting him impersonate different people constantly?
  • Is the user name just complementary information like a screen name because other users access someone's data through a shared URL?
  • Are there billing issues that occur when the name isn't the same month to month, and doesn't match credit card's records?
  • Are there use cases where these name changes are appropriate? What if a user is trying to escape cyber bullying and keeps getting found? Or worse, an abusive partner?

Then I would ask if this is a real problem. Hopefully your system logs can tell you.

  • Are users constantly changing their name?
  • Are we really just talking about one user that did it a couple of times?

Once you have the requirements and context I would start evaluating solutions.

  • Are these people abusing their terms and conditions, should they be reprimanded?
  • Is a solution like Facebook's appropriate?
  • Do you just need an audit log of name changes so that if a fraud case comes up you can back-track and find a user's alias at the time of a given interaction?

What's the user experience for each solution? The cost to you? And are any a significant improvement over the status quo?

As for restriction, if after all that it is still the way to go, then I would simply make sure to set the expectation in your sign up and editing forms, so that users are clear about the business rules behind name changes. It could be as simple as one short line of text alongside the name field.

  • 2
    +1 Why was the changing name feature implemented in the first place? Either you want the real name, then changes could probably be handled manually by the support team, or you don't care what name it is then there is no reason to restrict changes. – Christian Strempfer Jun 29 '14 at 12:06
  • @Chris: Even if one doesn't care what name it is, if any user name that was used at some point remains blocked forever (so as to prevent future impersonation of former users), it seems sensible to prevent name changes for the name of not blocking an unreasonable amount of names (more than one per existing or former users), if possible, so future users can still find a sufficiently short name. – O. R. Mapper Jun 29 '14 at 13:54
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper: Ok, but then make sure if duplicate names are really a problem. And regard that unique names and real names cannot be forced at the same time. – Christian Strempfer Jun 29 '14 at 15:01
  • @Chris: Oh, right. I automatically interpreted "names" as the unique identifiers of accounts (where support for real names may be present in the form real name + automatically assigned number). If we're talking only about a display name that does not serve as a unique identifier, reuse or changing of names doesn't matter indeed. – O. R. Mapper Jun 29 '14 at 15:42

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