Linden Lab has rolled out the new username system this week. What does that mean for you? Probably not that much, but I'll tell you what I've found out with the hope that it'll offer some clarity.
What are Usernames?
There are now two types of accounts in Second Life -- new accounts and legacy accounts. Those of us who were on the grid before the new naming system are legacy accounts. We chose two names, and we get to keep them. Our usernames are created by putting our two names together with a period. The new accounts are, well, new. New accounts choose only one name, which is their username.
There's a few different ways to format names, so here's a little table stolen shamelessly from the the SL wiki.
|Legacy Name||username Resident||FirstName LastName|
|Default Display||username||FirstName LastName|
Pretty simple. The one extra thing worth noting is that firstnamelastname (without the period) has been marked as taken for all legacy accounts.
Usernames act as a way to uniquely identify any given avatar, sorta like UUIDS but human readable. Why is LL ditching the old two name format? I'm not sure, but probably because having a fixed pool of last names kinda sucks. Offering a single username is simpler and offers a lot more flexibility. Most other social media use a single login name. Twitter, Tumblr, Plurk, Wordpress, Facebook, all give you a single username. Even older things like Google, MSN, Yahoo, and AIM -- single username. So why should SL be any different?
All the Scary Things
So what happens to your existing Second Life name? Absolutely nothing. No one else can claim it as a username, because of the check mentioned above. Simple as that.
Why the Fuss?
For some reason, the loss of last names has prompted a huge username grab by existing users, sorta like domain parking without the selling the domain for profit bit.
I can understand why people might be concerned. If anyone has established a brand name in Second Life, it would be nice to snag the username that matches the brand (or more importantly, prevent others from snagging the username). In fact, I'm guilty of that doing exactly that and snagging a few usernames I consider important.
But, on the flipside, someone has always been able to register a Second Life name with the name of your store and try to pretend to be you. Whats the difference between someone trying to be YourBrandName Resident and YourBrandName Mananguinne or YourBrandName Jolifaunt? At the end of the day, the person they're trying to trick has to be smart enough to figure out the actual owner of the brand. If the victim is new, naive, or just plain gullible, you can't really win that battle.
So the mad rush for usernames seems a little silly, unless of course you went and registered YourBrandName LastName for every single last name available. If you did that, you just have too much time on your hands.
The one thing I can think of is that usernames might come up first in search results (the way profiles do now). So an alt with a pick pointing to your store might not be that bad of an idea. However, trying to use usernames as generic search keywords goes a bit too far. Would you click on the user than comes up for the search "houses" or "clothes"?
Related to Display Names
As a side note, the switch to usernames goes hand in hand with the new display name concept. You can register with boring old firstnamebirthyear like every other place (e.g. johndoe1950) but call yourself whatever you want (perhaps "Sir Bedevere the Wise"). And, just like any other place on the internet, someone can pretend to be someone they are not. Welcome to the interhighway. We have Nigerian prisoners and lotteries that want to give you money. Really.
P.S. If you still want old fashioned dual names, the RegAPI seems to still work. Check out http://slnamewatch.com.
P.P.S. While on the topic of names, there's only one lab. Linden Lab, that is. Not "Linden Labs". Get it right.