A race to reserve usernames is starting on Discord.
Starting in the coming weeks, millions of Discord users will be forced to say goodbye to their old four-digit names. Discord requires everyone to pick up a new common platform-wide handle. For Discord, it’s a step toward mainstream social networking conventions. However, for some users it is a change in the basics of what Discord is – a shift that is about both culture and technology.
Discord has historically treated usernames with a numeric suffix system. Rather than requiring a completely unique handle, it allowed duplicate names by adding a four-digit code known as a “discriminator” — think TheVerge #1234. But earlier this week, it announced it was changing course and was moving toward unique identifiers that resemble Twitter-style “@” handles.
Co-founder and CTO Stanislav Vishnevskiy acknowledged that the change would be “difficult” for some people, but he said the discriminators had proved 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 not connecting people to the right person, largely due to mistyped numbers.
On Reddit, Vishnevskiy argued that the new handles wouldn’t even show up that often in the interface because Discord allows users to set a separate display name that isn’t unique. With more than 500 downvotes on some Reddit answers, he called the original system a “half way through” and rejected ideas like adding more numbers to the end of a handle. “This was not a change that we made lightly and have talked about for years, trying to avoid it if we could,” he wrote.
During the change, Discord users will have to navigate a process filled with uncertainty and cut-throat competition. Users will have to wait for an in-app prompt when it’s 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 registration dates, so people who have had their name “for a while” have a higher chance of getting a name they want.
Users are forced to choose a common handle to avoid being impersonated
This raises many obvious fears and thorny questions. Is there anything stopping people from adopting a particularly popular creator’s distinctive name depending on who gets to set their username first? Should Discord avoid this by holding usernames of well-known creators, even if they’re not first in line? This is a problem for many social networks, but unlike a new service that attracts new users, all these people are already on Discord – in some cases they are probably even paid subscribers.
In a statement to The edge, Discord said it would try to navigate the change in an elegant way for the best-known users. “We’ve created processes for users with high visibility to secure usernames that allow them to work on our platform with minimal risk of impersonation,” said Kellyn Slone, director of product communications. “Users with an established business relationship with Discord who operate certain partner, verified, or creator servers can choose a username before other users do to reduce the risk of impersonation for their accounts.”
Many Discord users will fall outside those boundaries. “As a content creator who has a relatively large fan base – my handle is subject to username sniping by someone with an older account than me,” artist Spicy Lemonswho uses Discord to connect with fans writes to The edge. “I’m not a Discord affiliate nor am I famous enough to get their recognition, so I will have absolutely no security with my public name.” ZestyLemons noted that for people who Doing gets desired names there is a risk of being beaten or threatened to give up – something that has happened on Instagram and Twitter.
Discord users now understand that there are many accounts with very similar names, distinguished only by random numbers at the end. But absolute names change that notion. They encourage people to search for credible usernames – if someone finds the one and only @verge (our Twitter handle) on Discord, people might be more inclined to believe it’s us.
“It’s a shame that Discord is pandering to the usual social media norms.”
And this prompts people to treat their Discord names as part of a centralized identity – rather than, as many users have referred to, something like a private phone number. It forces individuals to adopt a username that represents them elsewhere before anyone else does. This links whoever they are on Discord back to their internet-wide identity, with all the potential downsides — like stalking or a simple sense of exposure — that entails.
Despite fears of individual users mimicking each other, the risks to server moderation are less clear — and some Discord server admins told The edge they weren’t worried. “I don’t think the change will be a big deal for admins + mods,” said Emily, an admin for major pokemon go meet group on Discord. The server is already asking people to set up server-specific nicknames that match their pokemon go trainer name, so they don’t rely on discriminators to tell people apart.
But Emily isn’t a fan of the change. “It’s a shame that Discord is pandering to the usual social media norms,” they said. “Discriminators were kind of smart… it allows a lot of people [to] share the same name without emphasizing the ‘perfect’ username. Discord is a more personal kind of social media. You don’t post publicly on the air — like Twitter or anything — so a smart, easy-to-remember username doesn’t matter.”
“Sites that use handles and display names, like Twitter, have very different reasons for using those systems.”
SupaIsaiah016, an avid Geometry Dash player who also runs a small Discord server, agrees. “The current username and discriminator system worked perfectly and allowed thousands of people to have the same name on the platform,” writes SupaIsaiah016 to The edge. “Sites that use handles and display names like Twitter have very different reasons for using those systems since they are public social media.”
Part of the problem is simply that Discord is asking millions of established users to massively change their online identities, and there’s no good way to do that without friction. But there’s also a sense that Discord’s old username style turned it into a different, albeit clunky, kind of social network. And for many users, that was part of the appeal.
“We tend to like the freedom of anonymity in Discord.”
“Discord was originally conceived as a messaging app, allowing many content creators to separate their online lives from their real, personal lives,” writes ZestyLemons. Forget reader SpookyMulder said otherwise in the comments section of our original news story. “Discord has a sort of pseudo-identity culture,” SpookyMulder writes. “We tend to like the freedom of anonymity in Discord over your usual social media @username identities.”
Whether you’re a Discord user who wants to maintain a sense of anonymity or someone who’s all in for a more shareable and easily identifiable system, the race to get the username that’s right for you is on. But you’ll have to wait and see where the starting line is.