Identity crisis!

Fun days are ahead of us, as Linden Lab rolls out a much-awaited feature: the ability to change one’s avatar name at will, just like on every other platform, and to decouple the username (which is unique in the system) from the Display Name (which is what other users will see displayed on the screen), as announced by Jack Linden on the Official Second Life Blogs last week. Interestingly enough, the amount of drama it generated was almost as bad as the one surrounding the merger of the Teen Grid with the Main Grid — over a thousand angry comments were made on that article.

And not by the same people, either, so, no, it’s not a resident conspiracy attacking Linden Lab’s latest projects. This time, the biggest complains come mostly from all sorts of content creators. And this is where the issue is: avatar names, so far, have been unique, and that meant for the content creators (remember, live music and performing weddings are content too!) that one’s reputation is closely tied to a name that is unique. Remove that uniqueness, and all of the sudden the avatar name loses value.

To explore this further, we have to see some analogies on other platforms.

Let’s start with the simplest analogy. Pretty much every social networking site out there allow a registration login — which is unique; popular ones are, these days, email addresses or OpenID URLs, which are guaranteed to be unique on all the Internet — but often a display name as well. Most services never check if the display name is unique or not; if the unique registration token is the email address, most sites won’t even display it, but just the user-created display name. Except for very ancient sites (where your username was also the display name), this is pretty much what we expect these days to happen.

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