Google and the Username Conundrum

The web is still a relatively new occurrence,  being publicly available for at most 15 years. During this time the Web has seen staggering growth, that has seen it come to the centre of society due its impact on the economy, communications, socialising etc. However this is not to say there haven’t been problems, there have been plenty, although the one issue I want to mention here is with usernames.

With the web being at most 15 years old, it is almost impossible to get usernames you’d actually want on popular services such as Google. I realise this is something that affects all popular service and it’s unfair to focus on solely on Google, however it easier to focus on one service and it is with Google that I find this annoyance with usernames most acutely.

As of now it is pretty much impossible to get any decent email address on Gmail, at least if you have an Anglo name. Have fun trying to get [email protected] or any other combination of initials or letters that are vaguely recognisable without having to resort to adding random numbers/letters at the end e.g. [email protected], which not only looks stupid is starting to become a barrier to usability, as the more random character that are introduced the greater the possibility of transcription errors when people write down the address.

We are having this problem now with only 15 years on the web and 25% of the world population on-line. The proportion of the global population using the web will only grow as it becomes more fundamental to the functioning of society, the global population itself could grow to as high as 10.5 billion by 2050, this is compounded in that future generations will likely use the web to a greater extent than current generations.

So how can a web service provider like Google address this? In the example of Gmail they could possibly add more available domains on top of gmail.com, but I expect this will only partially help. One way to counter this, at least in the medium term is to allow users to use their own domains with Gmail, this is of course possible now with Google Apps. However this is a very business/institution focused service and doesn’t account for people using it for personal use. However the fact remains that many people use apps for personal use and this likely to grow as the pressure on traditional usernames increases.

It seems to me that Google should take notice of this trend and create an apps product targeted at personal/family use, which enables full integration with Google’s existing services. Otherwise it takes the risk of alienating users who may move elsewhere.