What happens to your user name when you die?

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User names are starting to become an issue. One’s identity online was never really a problem beyond trying to get the top result in a Google search – not an easy feat if you’re name’s John Smith but as Dan or Daniel Sung, depending upon how I’m feeling, I’ve always enjoyed the luxury of being somewhere near the top.

The trouble is, that my name’s not so rare that I always get my choice of user name on all the big services out there. Most people’s aren’t but, again, that was never really a problem when it was just about e-mail addresses, but now that Google profiles becoming all the rage and services like Twitter actually affect my career, suddenly, my juvenile choices of dannyskunk@hotmail.com and nipples@gmail.com aren’t very useful any more.

I can’t get dansung@gmail.com. It’s too late, unless I want to add a bunch of underscores and a three digit number, and because of that I can’t get the vanity URL I’m after. Regardless of whether dansung@gmail.com has actually clued up to the possbility of his http://www.google.com/profile/dansung address (and he hasn’t because the link’s dead) the fact is that I can’t have it because I don’t have the dansung@gmail.com user name in the first place. Instead, I have to be satisfied in my petty revenge that enough spambots should have picked up his credentials by now and sent a few thousand messages to clog up his account.

So, how do I go about getting my name back, aside paying the guy for it? What if it’s some kid who never uses the account? What if the owner of dansung@gmail.com is dead? Any chance then?

Well, I seem to remember in the terms and conditions when I signed up to hotmail that if you don’t use your account for 60 days or so, then MSN terminates it, and, in fact, having asked around all the majors – Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and Twitter, that does seem to be largely the case. Here’s how it runs.

Gmail

Google was very helpful on the matter, answering my question directly and then pointing me towards the supporting terms and conditions.

Google will terminate your account in accordance with the terms of service if you fail to login to your account for a period of nine months is the phrase I was looking for along with the fact that people can actively delete their accounts.

Now, the tricky part is that, although the user names will become freed up, it will only happen after an unspecified time period and I’ve no idea whether that’s a matter of days, months or years. Still, there is some hope for dansung@gmail.com to eventually arrive at its rightful owner.

Yahoo! Mail

Yahoo! was also most accommodating. The answer was very different though. It seems, with their service, that once your name has gone, it’s gone forever. As it stands, inactive accounts are not terminated and will lie idle indefinitely.

On the plus side, they did launch Ymail just last year, so I might be in for a shout at bagging that one while the service is fresh. Yep, all mine. Eat that one dansung@gmail.com.

MSN

No reply back from MSN as yet but I’ll stick with that 60-day account termination I remember from back in the day. No word on whether they recycle the addresses but I’m infuriated to see that I’ve only got a choice between hotmail.co.uk and live.co.uk with all .coms presumably available to those in the States or behind proxy servers of some sort, or, in fact, those with some other way round which I have, as yet, to work out.

Twitter

Accounts that are inactive for more than 6 months may be removed without further notice

That’s what Twitter has to say about things, but notice the use of “may” rather than “will”. I would assume that Twitter does recycle user names, though, because they’re hot on name squatting. Go and have a look at the whole section dedicated to it if you don’t believe me.

The catch is that I happen to know of a chap desperately trying to get his user name in full knowledge that its current owner has done sod all with the account for well over the six month period. He has petitioned Twitter but they’ve done nought about it. All mouth and no trousers it seems.

The trouble is that the internet is still young; an adolescent really. It’s only now that this kind of thing is becoming an issue and, given the surprise of most of the press officers when I called, it’s something that we the users are realising a lot faster than the big web players.

So, there’s a few ways this can go. Either they get wise to this and realise that they need to start releasing user names or they get wiser and start charging some kind of premium for them. That was Facebooks toe in the water this morning. I wonder how well that would go down if Google tried the same?

So, what happens to your user name when you die? Well, that depends. For now, it’s very possible you can take it with you to the grave. Then, it seems my choices are either begging Google for some kind of alert service for when my name is released or a cash offer to the current owner. If you’re listening dansung@gmail.com, how does fifty quid grab you?

Daniel Sung