A race is on to reserve usernames on Discord.
Starting in the next two weeks, millions of Discord users will be forced to say goodbye to their old four-digit names. Discord requires everyone to adopt a new common identifier across the platform. For Discord, it’s a step into mainstream social media conventions. However, for some users, it is a change in the basics of what Discord is — a change that has as much to do with culture as it does with technology.
Historically, Discord has handled usernames with a numerical suffix system. Instead of requiring a completely unique identifier, it allowed duplicate names by adding a four-digit code known as a “discriminator”; think TheVerge #1234. But earlier this week, it announced that it was changing course and moving towards unique identifiers that resemble Twitter-style “@” identifiers.
Co-founder and CTO Stanislav Vishnevskiy recognized the change it would be “harsh” for some people, but he said the discriminators had been too confusing. He noted that more than 40 percent of users don’t know their discriminator number, leading to “nearly half” of all friend requests failing to connect people to the right person, largely due to misspelled numbers. .
More on RedditVishnevskiy argued that the new identifiers wouldn’t even appear in the interface that often, since Discord will allow users to set a separate, non-unique display name. With over 500 downvotes on some Reddit responses, he called the original system a “half measure” and rejected ideas like simply adding more numbers to the end of an identifier. “This was not a change we decided to make lightly and we have been talking about doing it for many years, trying to avoid it if we could,” he posted.
During the switch, Discord users will have to navigate a process fraught with uncertainty and fierce competition. Users will need to wait for a prompt in the app when it is their turn to select a new username, which will eventually roll out to all users over the course of “several months.” The company will prioritize users based on their Discord sign-up dates, so people who have had their name “for quite a while” will have a better chance of landing their desired name.
Users are forced to choose a common identifier to avoid the possibility of being spoofed
This raises many obvious fears and thorny questions. Depending on who sets up their usernames first, is there anything stopping people from taking over a particularly popular creator’s distinctive name? Should Discord prevent this by keeping usernames of well-known creators, even if they’re not first in line? This is a problem for many social networks, but unlike some fledgling services that attract new users, all of these people are already on Discord; in some cases, they may even be paid subscribers.
In a statement to the edge, Discord said that it would try to navigate the change gracefully for its most well-known users. “We created high-visibility user processes to secure usernames that will allow them to operate on our platform with minimal risk of impersonation,” said Kellyn Slone, director of product communications. “Users with an ongoing business relationship with Discord who manage certain partner, verified, or creator servers will be able to choose a username before other users to reduce the risk of phishing for their accounts.”
Many Discord users will go outside of those limits. “As a content creator who has a relatively large fan base, my handle is subject to someone with an older account than me being able to steal my username,” artist spicy lemonswho uses Discord to connect with fans, write to the edge. “I am not a member of Discord, nor am I famous enough to be recognized, so I will have no security at all with my public identifier.” ZestyLemons noted that for people who do obtain desirable names, there is a risk of being beaten or threatened to give up, something that happened on Instagram and Twitter.
Discord users understand at this point that there are many accounts with very similar names, distinguished only by random numbers at the end. But absolute names change that understanding. They encourage people to search for credible usernames: If someone catches the only @verge (our Twitter handle) on Discord, people might be more inclined to believe it’s us.
“It’s a bummer that Discord is giving in to the usual social media norms.”
And this pushes people to treat their Discord names as part of a centralized identity, rather than, like many users have referred to them, something like a private phone number. It forces people to take a username that represents them elsewhere before someone else does. This ties whoever you are on Discord to your identity on the internet, with all the potential downsides, like stalking or a simple sense of exposure, that comes with that.
Despite fears of individual users impersonating others, the risks to server moderation are less clear, with some Discord server administrators saying the edge they were not worried. “I don’t think the change is a big deal for admins and moderators,” says Emily, an admin for a large pokemon go meet the group on Discord. The server already asks people to set server-specific nicknames that match their pokemon go trainer’s name, so they don’t rely on discriminators to tell people apart.
But Emily is not a fan of change. “It’s a bummer that Discord is caving in to the usual norms of social media,” they said. “The discriminators were a bit clever…it allows a lot of people to [to] shares the same name without emphasizing the ‘perfect’ username. Discord is a more personal type of social network. You’re not posting publicly in the ether, like Twitter or something, so it doesn’t matter to have an easy-to-remember username.”
“Sites that use identifiers and display names, like Twitter, have very different reasons for why they use those systems.”
SupaIsaiah016, a avid Geometry Dash player who also runs a small Discord server, agrees. “The current username and discriminator system worked perfectly well and allowed thousands of people to have the same name on the platform as a whole,” SupaIsaiah016 writes to the edge. “Sites that use identifiers and display names, like Twitter, have very different reasons for why they use those systems, since they are public social networks.”
Part of the problem is simply that Discord is asking millions of established users to make a big change to their online identity, and there’s no good frictionless way to do it. But there’s also the feeling that Discord’s old style of username made it a different, if clunky, kind of social network. And for many users, that was part of the appeal.
“We tend to value the freedom of anonymity on Discord.”
“Discord was originally meant to be a messaging app, which many content creators used to separate their online lives from their real personal lives,” ZestyLemons writes. Edge Reader SpookyMulder put it another way in the comments to our original news post. “Discord has a kind of pseudo-identity culture,” SpookyMulder writes. “We tend to value the freedom of anonymity on Discord than your usual @username identities on social media.”
Whether you’re a Discord user who wants to maintain a sense of anonymity or one looking for a more shareable and easily identifiable system, the race to get the right username for you is on. But you will have to wait and see where the starting line is.