denise: Image: Me, facing away from camera, on top of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome (Default)
Denise ([staff profile] denise) wrote in [site community profile] dw_biz2012-04-11 06:02 pm

RFC: username squatting: how should we handle it?

So, one of the things that has come up repeatedly recently is the question of username hoarding and account trading/selling. We've been trying very hard to work out a policy to manage the problem (and how to handle it when it happens) that will be fair to everyone and will only affect people who are honestly abusing open account registration, not people who are using the site legitimately.

People have reported some of the most egregious squatting/hoarding and trading, and we've been holding off on taking any definite actions because we've been having trouble formulating a policy that's fair to everyone and working out what consequences there should be.

We have an idea of what we think we should do, but we also know that this has the potential to negatively affect people who are using the site in a performative/creative style (roleplay, fiction projects, collaborative performance art) instead of a personal journaling style. We don't want to interfere with that legitimate use, so we'd like to hear feedback. To keep the discussion away from "pick holes in a specific proposal", I'm not going to share the full range of what I'm thinking yet; instead I'm going to lay out the problem and let everybody brainstorm.

The goal here is:

* To formulate a policy regarding username squatting that prevents squatting, without placing undue restraint on the many and varied ways people use Dreamwidth for performative/creative work;

* To prevent rewarding people for bad behavior and encourage fair play and community responsibility;

* To prevent username trading and selling (which is not only a violation of the Terms of Service but is a very bad idea because a traded account will never and can never be secured);

* To take away the advantages of username squatting/hoarding with minimal administrative overhead and in a way that returns desireable squatted usernames to the pool of available usernames.

1. The Problem

Open account registration means that people can create accounts easily, which is great for activity and ease-of-use but has also led to multiple people creating hundreds of accounts in order to sit on usernames they think will be useful or valuable later.

This is a problem for multiple reasons:

* It leads to people trading or selling usernames that have some kind of value to the community. (A side note: Trading or selling an account is against the Terms of Service, because a traded account will never again be secure or secureable. We have asked and asked and asked people to stop doing it, and it's still happening. We're likely going to start cracking down more on account trading and selling, whether it happens on or off Dreamwidth. If you have an account you don't want to use anymore, set its status to 'deleted', and the username will be available for renaming to after it's fully purged from the system; the rename process is deliberately set up to both move the old contents of the account out of the way and to prevent security problems in the future.)

* It leads to people registering accounts and usernames they have no intention of ever using, because those usernames have value and can be used in those trades. This prevents people who would actually use the account (and the username) from having access to those usernames, and encourages people who would not otherwise want to violate the Terms of Service to participate in account trading because they want those usernames.

* It rewards people who are behaving badly and penalizes people who are not behaving badly, encouraging a "land grab" mentality where people who would not otherwise behave badly feel that they have to act now or lose out. (In short, it's a textbook example of the tragedy of the commons.)

* It results in hundreds of accounts with usernames that are desireable to the community sitting around empty and unused.

* It requires us to spend dozens of person-hours adjuticating disputes, handling complaints, and researching situations of username hoarding and account trading, which is time that could best be spent elsewhere.

(One note I should also add: for all of this, I'm only discussing personal accounts -- not communities. Communities can be passed from admin to admin without the same security risk.)

2. Additional Considerations

Putting any kind of numbers on what constitutes "legitimate" use, and addressing any question of how many accounts one person can have, quickly runs into a problem. There are legitimate reasons to have and use multiple journals, and any time you try to quantify the question, you quickly run into the problem of separating abusive account registration from legitimate account registration. There is simply no easy way to put one set of numbers down and say "this is the limit", because Situation A can wind up being abusive account registration despite not hitting the numbers (if the person registering the accounts has no intention of ever using them, or is registering them because there's a very slim chance they might want to use them someday but it isn't likely) and Situation B can wind up being legitimate account registration despite exceeding the numbers (if the person is using those accounts, has used those accounts, or honestly intends to use those accounts relatively soon).

(Not to mention, someone with malicious or self-centered intent could always say that they do intend to use the accounts very soon, when in reality they don't intend to use the accounts for anything other than trading, selling, or hoarding.)

We definitely know there are multiple reasons to want to have multiple accounts, and on the surface, it is often impossible to separate abusive account registration from legitimate account registration. It's a spectrum, and it's wickedly hard to develop any kind of objective metric: there is an inherent amount of subjectivity, and intent plays a huge part. (And, of course, we can't know what someone's intent is, not for sure; all we can look at is behavior.)

We do need to do something, though, because there are few definite cases of what we consider abusive account registration going on: not only is it unfair to the community as a whole, but if we don't do something about it soon, the problem will only get worse as others see that there is an advantage to behaving badly and no incentive to not behaving badly.

3. Some Examples

Using some examples from roleplaying that people bring up a lot whenever this sort of discussion arises, I'll give some examples, in order to properly calibrate what I'm talking about.

You'll note that in each of these, instead of giving numbers, I'm saying "a high number of accounts" or "an extremely high number of accounts" -- I don't want to get into giving numbers, because that makes people immediately focus on the numbers and start thinking of ways that they can imagine needing X number of accounts instead of thinking about the underlying questions. Whatever numbers we go with, if we do go with a number-based policy, will almost certainly be set by looking at the actual patterns of registration and use; instead of saying "500 accounts" or "1000 accounts", we will instead say "registration at one standard deviation" or "registration at the 99th percentile" or something like that. (We also won't ever go looking for instances. I'm talking, here, about what we should do when they're reported to us.)

I'm also not defining "activity" (or 'light activity', 'regularly used', yadda) based on concrete numbers -- number of posts, number of comments, etc -- because if we say something like "any account with fewer than 5 posts and 10 comments made by 2 weeks after creation" or whatever, then people who are looking to hoard usernames will create an account, make 5 posts and 10 comments within the first 2 weeks, and continue onward. (Not to mention, people who want to make trouble for other people will hover over accounts that have been created by people who already have a lot of accounts, and on that 14th day will report them to us and say "look, this is being squatted!")

With those caveats in mind, examples of what I would consider all the way over on the "this is probably abusive account registration" side:

* the person who registers an extremely high number of accounts within a very short period, with multiple usernames for every single character they can think of all at once, without any plans to start using those accounts in the near future but just to have the names;

* the person who registers every possible variant of every possible username that they can think of for a particular character in order to try to keep anyone else from being able to play that character without coming to them to trade/sell the account;

* the person who sees that a particular fandom is getting popular and goes to register every variant of every username they can think of for every character in that fandom so that they have a lock on the fandom;

* the person who registers every username they can think of for a character or fandom, then immediately lists them for sale/trade.

All the way over on the "this is probably legitimate account registration" side:

* the person who has a high number of accounts, but regularly logs into each account to make posts or comments with the account;

* the person who's been playing heavily on DW for a long time, so has a high number of inactive accounts that still have content in them (because each account was active once and was retired when the game ended/they dropped the character/etc) who wants to keep the old content for posterity's sake or in order to keep a game's archives preserved;

* the person who plays the same few characters in a number of different games that each require a unique journal, so they have multiple accounts/username variants for each character but each one is regularly (or semi-regularly) used;

* the person who has a high number of regularly-used (or previously-used-but-archived) accounts, but also has a handful of accounts that aren't being used yet, for characters they're developing.

In the middle, and not at all as clear-cut -- things that could be perfectly legitimate if done by Person A but, if done by Person B, could be an attempt to circumvent any policy we wrote by looking like legitimate account registration while really being a cover for abusive account registration:

* the person who has an extremely high number of accounts, a small number of which are heavily used, the larger part of which are very lightly used (one or two posts, the occasional comment), and a large part of which are being held in reserve (any/all of: a placeholder post, a filled-out profile, a lightly-customized style, but no real activity past the initial creation and placeholder setup);

* the person who has an extremely high number of accounts, each of which was very lightly used for a very short period of time and then allowed to fall inactive;

* the person who has an established pattern of registering a large number of accounts for characters they might want to play someday, but who has a pattern of not doing anything with those accounts for a very long time (if at all).

4. The problems of putting that into policy

So: how do we write a policy that allows us to distinguish "almost certainly abusive account registration" from "almost certainly legitimate account registration", is sensitive to the grey areas in between, and can't be easily gamed by people who are trying to look like they're creating legitimate accounts but are really just abusing the system?

One thing that is not helpful in cases like this is looking purely at numbers of accounts registered. Whenever this comes up, some people immediately ask, "Well, what do you need all those accounts for?" There are perfectly legit reasons to have a large number of accounts, though: that is absolutely not in doubt and we don't ever want to get to a place where we put absolute hard limits on usage. People who are using the site heavily are awesome! People who are doing great creative things on Dreamwidth are awesome! We love seeing it!

We just don't want to reward the people who are trying to capitalize on open account registration, and we want to strongly encourage people against registering accounts "just in case". In an ideal world, people would only register an account when they're ready to start actively using it very, very soon. (Barring a margin of error for "I made this account and then my life exploded and I had to put everything on hold for a few months", of course, which is a major problem with any time-based guidelines.)

Another problem: given that there are all these grey areas and all these huge whopping questions of intent, any time something like this is reported to us, it requires a ton of research. We don't want to spend hours of our time looking into every single last case of "this person has a lot of usernames registered" that's reported to us in order to figure out where on the sliding scale of legit vs abusive that particular situation falls. We've got very limited resources for investigating that kind of thing: DW has two full-time employees, three part-time employees, and a bunch of volunteers, but most of those people are technical (and everybody who handles ToS stuff also does tons of other work) and we flat-out don't have the resources to spend much time on this kind of thing.

Any answer has to take all this into account.

5. Disincentives

There are a few disincentives we can apply to prevent username hoarding and trading/selling. There's advantages and disadvantages to each; I won't get too far into them, just list them off and hit the highlights.

The solution can also be a combination of some or all of these, and when we start talking about "eminent domain" type solutions of confiscating squatted usernames, I'm definitely not talking about unilaterially taking all the accounts away from somebody we think is username squatting without contacting them first and talking over each particular, unique situation, arriving at an agreement about what constitutes reasonable usage in that situation, and letting people decide which accounts they want to voluntarily relinquish. I'm also, again, not talking about us going out and actively looking for possible squatting scenarios: I'm talking about what to do when people report potential squatting to us, and we think there's a really good chance that at least some squatting is involved.

That having been said, here are some of the possibilities:

* We can manually rename accounts that have been squatted. We've done this before, in the early days when people were trying to "land grab" popular usernames: the account still belongs to the person who registered it, it just gets renamed from "username" to "ex_username123", just like a rename token does. Big advantage to this one is that it preserves anything that might have been in the account, just under a different username. This makes the system think "username" has never been registered, so it can be created from the account creation page as though it never existed in the first place. Disadvantage is that it is work: we have to write a custom script for each instance.

* We can scramble the password so it can't be logged into, force the account status to deleted, and purge it from the system. This preserves any comments that were made elsewhere (in communities and in other journals) -- they show up with the account username crossed out -- and frees the username up for being renamed to. It can't be registered from the account creation page, but it can be renamed to using a rename token. Disadvantage is that it doesn't preserve any content that was in the account itself, and (like the other option) it's a lot of work.

* We can put in some kind of technical restrictions on account creation, trying to limit how many accounts someone can register per week/month/whatever. (We already do this with communities, in order to prevent landgrabs there: the restriction is set at a level where few people ever run into it during the course of legit use, and those people who do run into it with legit use can just spread out their comm creation over time. Anything we did to similarly restrict personal account creation would be set at a point where we thought people wouldn't run into it regularly unless they were deliberately trying to namesquat, and then be adjustable over time if it gets tripped too often by legit use.) I'm really on the fence about this: I think it would be too likely to interfere with legit use. We could always implement this and then set the limit to something we think is really high, though.

* We can implement some kind of technical restriction on account creation that kicks in after you have a certain number of accounts registered somehow -- either a blanket "after you have X accounts registered, you can only make Y accounts per week/month/whatever", or something that we can enable for specific people who we think are abusing open account registration. The advantage to this (and to the previous bullet point) is that they're relatively hands-off and don't need much attention from us; the disadvantage is that it might start an "arms race" of people trying to work around the restrictions, and it doesn't do anything to handle cases where someone already has an extremely high number of accounts registered.

* We can say that we don't care at all about how many accounts people have registered or whether they're using them at all, but if/when any kind of account trading gets reported to us, we can "confiscate" the account (whether it's already changed hands or whether it's just been listed for trade). The advantage there is that it would keep us from having to do any kind of judgement call about squatting, and it would definitely address the trading/selling problem. Disadvantage is that it would just drive trading/selling even further underground than it already is, and we'd have more problems verifying whether the trade/sale offer was actually made by the person who controls the account -- it would tempt people to try to "frame" holders of popular usernames (post somewhere saying the account is for trade even though they don't control it, screenshot the post, report it to us) in order to get a popular username. It also wouldn't address the case of someone squatting on hundreds of usernames for the "ooh shiny" factor rather than future trading/selling.

* Or, of course, we can officially say that we don't care about any of this, let the situation stay exactly as it is, and not do anything if people are squatting on a ton of usernames. We're kind of on the fence. I mean, this is all a lot of work to handle what is, right now, not very many instances of truly egregious cases. The only thing that makes me a little nervous about picking this is that this sort of thing spirals: what's a relatively minor problem right now could become a major problem as people feel like they have to grab everything they might want someday as fast as they can, leading to squatting as defense against squatting. Still, we could always officially Not Care as a service, and leave it up to the community as a whole to enforce whatever social norms they felt was appropriate by methods of expressing disapproval, community shunning, etc.

I'm sure there are other possibilities I'm not thinking of, so that's why I'm posting -- to see what ideas y'all come up with!

There are a ton of other things I can think of, but this is long enough already and I don't want to make it too overwhelming. I'll turn the discussion over to the floor and see what everybody comes up with.

Parameters for discussion: you don't need to give more examples of legitimate use or reasons why people might want to have multiple accounts. Likewise, please don't offer up specific situations (either hypothetical or actual) and ask "is this squatting?" We know there's tons of reasons why people would want to have lots of accounts (and we want to encourage the creative use of DW and avoid having any kind of "chilling effect" as much as possible), and we're not ready to talk specifics yet.

As always in discussions such as these, please remember there are many different ways to use Dreamwidth, and a) any solution we put into place has to work for the benefit of the service as a whole; b) we're looking for solutions that will, at best, only slightly inconvenience legitimate good-faith usage, while stopping things that are negatively affecting the entire community; c) however, it may not be possible to completely avoid affecting legitimate good-faith usage completely and this is a trade we may have to make.

With that, I'll turn it over to the floor for discussion!
mark: A photo of Mark kneeling on top of the Taal Volcano in the Philippines. It was a long hike. (Default)

[staff profile] mark 2012-04-11 10:05 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for taking point on this!

To the community: this is something tough and hard for any site to handle. Coming up with a solution that makes everybody happy is probably impossible, but I hope that we can come up with something that works well for the community as a whole.

Thanks for your input. I look forward to reading it!
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[personal profile] phagocytosis 2012-04-11 10:57 pm (UTC)(link)
I personally don't really care about username squatting, but I can definitely see how it would be annoying!

The only thing I'd like to point out is that it does seem somewhat unfair to me to create a rule and implement it after the fact. The feeling of unfairness sort of lies in punishing those who do have a lot of usernames that were created before there was ever 1) a voiced problem with it particularly enough to warrant DW's attention or 2) basic guidelines for them to follow. If that makes sense?

However, total respect for you guys even having the discussion in the first place!

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[personal profile] cerebel 2012-04-11 11:04 pm (UTC)(link)
I really appreciate you guys taking the time to outline a lot of different issues involved with this. You're right; it's the kind of thing that's relatively easy to point at and say "yup, that's hoarding" but difficult to define in words.

I do have one suggestion that might be helpful: you could tie it to icons. Someone who registers a hundred usernames for a particular character, or who's sitting on three hundred various usernames for no particular character, probably hasn't uploaded any icons to those accounts. They're looking to grab as many usernames as possible, not set up as many character journals as possible -- obviously, this would let the minor hoarding slide, but would be a good sign of major hoarding.

Again, thanks for taking the time to discuss this!
cerebel: (Default)

[personal profile] cerebel 2012-04-11 11:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Also, further question (and I believe both answers are valid): Are you looking for wording/guidelines that allow you to act how you believe you should, or are you looking for guidelines that mean you don't have to spend as much time on research to investigate hoarding accounts?
brighthearted: (Default)

[personal profile] brighthearted 2012-04-11 11:04 pm (UTC)(link)
* We can implement some kind of technical restriction on account creation that kicks in after you have a certain number of accounts registered somehow -- either a blanket "after you have X accounts registered, you can only make Y accounts per week/month/whatever", or something that we can enable for specific people who we think are abusing open account registration. The advantage to this (and to the previous bullet point) is that they're relatively hands-off and don't need much attention from us; the disadvantage is that it might start an "arms race" of people trying to work around the restrictions, and it doesn't do anything to handle cases where someone already has an extremely high number of accounts registered.

i think i like this best - sets a limit without too many invasive restrictions. course, people could just make multiple dummy email accounts, but you can't stop everything.

i am still concerned about the (literally) hundreds of names that have already been taken and are being squatted on as is though. but that's so much harder to come up with a fair solution for.

[personal profile] spoofmaster 2012-04-24 03:01 am (UTC)(link)
I also think that's a fair going-forward policy. Another thought might be to have the system raise a red flag if one email registers a bunch of accounts with similar names - like, say, if someone was eating up names for a fairytale wolf character and reserved all the iterations of huffpuff, huff_and_puff, puff_and_huff, etc. That might be too difficult to code for, though.

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thekidsare0kay: (2mile)

[personal profile] thekidsare0kay 2012-04-11 11:23 pm (UTC)(link)
What if you implemented a system whereby it automatically locks you out after signing up for a certain number of accounts (possibly a relatively low number) within a certain period of time, but that you have the option of requesting a special invite code that would permit you to do another bunch.

This would allow people who are registering a tonne of them for a particular project to just let you know what they want it for, and get clearance, but doesn't prevent people from slowly accumulating lots of accounts over a long period of time.

And people who consistently request a lot of them but then squat could be redflagged as people who are probably squatting.

I also wonder if there's any way to redflag a transfer of a username automatically, in order to catch people who are username trading? Probably it would be tied to a change of email, which probably happens a lot more than it would be feasible to investigate, but I just thought I'd ask.
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[personal profile] stephaniecain 2012-04-12 09:21 pm (UTC)(link)
What if you implemented a system whereby it automatically locks you out after signing up for a certain number of accounts (possibly a relatively low number) within a certain period of time, but that you have the option of requesting a special invite code that would permit you to do another bunch.

I think this sounds like a good idea. Off the top of my head I can't think of any downside.

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[personal profile] lollobrigida 2012-04-11 11:24 pm (UTC)(link)
While I do appreciate that you are looking into it, and I do agree that there are certain individuals that I'm sure have far too many names - this is all coming up after all the other comments that have been made about how DW would never revoke an account.

Granted, I'm sure notifications would be put into place so someone wouldn't have a username snaked out from under them, but it still seems like an issue that is far too complex to just set a standard rule down.

Requesting that people trim their username lists down, possibly approaching those with large lists and asking them to set some accounts to delete so that you can purge those, with their permission, and open up the names to others without a fee, or even limiting people after a certain # of accounts are created seems a far better option than trying to figure out who is using what for what and how often.

I know that there are accounts that don't seem active that don't even have validated email addresses, since I have tried to PM the owner of some of them asking if they would be willing to delete the account so that I could rename one of mine, but you can't PM anyone without a validated email.

I also know that for a lot of RPers your username is what identifies you. There are cases where you can have your username and then someone takes the same name but places an underscore into it. It's a very tricky situation and our usernames and ownership of them is something a lot of us really pride ourselves on. Creating a name and then creating the variation with the underscore could also be seen as "hoarding" but for us, it's a matter of not wanting to be mis-identified as someone else.

I have created back-ups for archiving and for claiming OpenID accounts so that imported comments match up. I have taken names that I had wanted but were too long for LJ standards, and I try to utilize what I have before I make more, but there is always going to be an instance - especially in RP circles - where you're just going to want to play someone new.

Putting limits on how long an account is active, how active it is - that's where the trouble comes in.

Considering how supportive DW is of the RP community and how much we all talk about how great you guys are and how much we appreciate all you do, I would have thought just asking those people with lots of accounts if they could stop making them or to delete X number of them or something -- that they wouldn't deceive you and try to claim they plan on using them. That's possibly wishful thinking, too, but it still stands that we ask you guys all the time for things - so why not ask those users to help you guys out?

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[personal profile] wehappyfew 2012-04-11 11:32 pm (UTC)(link)
I will fully admit to having a lot of usernames/journals made within the short time I've been on dw (and this post is making me think about going through and deleting some so they can be used without the issue of trading) I just have a lot of characters that I want to play someday and think of awesome usernames that are available.

That said, my biggest issue with username hoarding is when someone creates 5+ usernames for one character and isn't planning on using them. Like you said in the post: it's one thing if they play that character in a couple different places and have to use different journals for each place. It's another thing if they just wanted to create that many so they could take all of the possibly awesome usernames for one character in a Highlandering type of mindset.

It definitely is a tricky situation, especially since people can use variations of e-mail addresses (which most people do in order to do labeling via gmail, myself included) because - as far as I know - you guys can't really keep track of e-mails attached to accounts if they have the +username thing added to them.

BASICALLY I have no idea how to fix this, am guilty of it myself to an extent, and hope that you guys can find a solution for this because it can be really frustrating. And I'm glad you're trying to tackle it.

And now I'm going to go through my usernames and see which ones I can free up for others to snag.
myownbestfriend: (I might just have figured something out.)

[personal profile] myownbestfriend 2012-04-11 11:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Adding a rule that says "ignore anything between + and @" wouldn't be too hard. I could do it and I suck at programming.

Anyway, I think getting the word out to the RP community that account trading violates the TOS would help. A lot of people don't realize it, and are offering up accounts they made during the Great R88 Exodus in good faith.

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[personal profile] mugler 2012-04-11 11:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you guys for taking the time to discuss this with us or try to find a solution. There are a handful of people I've seen with over hundreds of usernames, sitting unused and it's really not fair to those of us who would be putting them to use.

I'm not sure what the best way prevent it from in the future is, but one thing I wanted to comment on is where the squatted names would go. I really don't think it's fair to just purge them and throw them up for renaming since most of them weren't even being used in the first place. $15 might not sound like a lot, but for a username I know to a lot of people it is. I've bought maybe three renames in all my years previously using LJ, 2 as gifts and the biggest/most significant one was for my personal journal after years of the same name and serious consideration.

These usernames don't really have the same status, if that makes sense. And I think for most RPers, spending $15 on a bunch of great names that were hogged by squatters unfairly is almost like punishing or putting part of that penalty on them in a monetary sense. Most of us love DW and how great you guys are--I'm always willing to buy paids and will be interested in legitimate renames if and when the time comes. But to make a username that really has nothing in it and doesn't technically "belong" to anyone because it isn't being used and is just part of a hoarded collection more than half the price of a premium account seems drastic.

My two cents is that squatters with public lists should continue to be reported, maybe some sort of limit for the number of usernames registered in a week or month period for everyone (I'm not sure if you are able to do that by IP address rather than email since people might just make multiples). Those who have been reported and clearly have hundreds of names with no use could have them taken away and reopened for registration by others. I feel like having the names taken away is a punishment in and of itself for the squatters, but perhaps some sort of temporary ban on their registering usernames could be an added restriction as well.

I'm not sure how the nuts and bolts of some of this stuff works or if it's even possible but I thought I'd just offer another opinion since it's a somewhat relevant topic to me as an RPer.

As always thank you guys for being so wonderful and responsive. :)
insanityprelude: (somewhere out there)

[personal profile] insanityprelude 2012-04-12 12:56 am (UTC)(link)
You took the words right out of my mouth re: having to pay for the freed usernames. At least on LJ, that's why people frequently just gave away accounts they didn't use anymore.

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littlefingering: (Default)

[personal profile] littlefingering 2012-04-11 11:38 pm (UTC)(link)
i will preface this with the fact that my entire opinion comes from the roleplay side of this so it might not reflect the overall opinion of all (especially those who don't generally need but one or two sns) and my primary concern is the purging aspect, as i don't really know what exactly i agree with myself with what you've listed as options here. so here it is!

i think one problem i have with force purging or making purging the only option is that if a majority of usernames get set to being $15 a pop, they'll be just as long gone as if they were squatted. i know isn't that much in the long run but for me, i guess the way i think about it is that's like 10 bucks away for 6 months of a premium account. does that make sense? the reason i've seen people trading names between each other is because it's free.

in essence, i think you're locking down those screenames just as much as squatters have by forcing them pay-to-have. and i use forcing only because that seems to be the only viable option as you guys aren't for trading (though i recognize your reasons for this are completely valid).

now, if you were to drop the cost of renames or go back to an invite code only system (where essentially if you bought a paid account for 3 dollars, you got your sn), i'd be more for that myself. otherwise i just really feel like people won't feel inclined to pay.

i want to end this by saying i'm in no way suggesting you guys shouldn't get compensation, i'm more than happy and do support you guys whenever the opportunity comes up but those accounts could be used regularly and could be upgraded to paid accounts just as regularly which in my opinion would benefit you more than sitting on a lot of purged sns. as far as a pricing suggestion would go-- insanejournal has renames for $5, which i thought was crazy cheap but incredibly reasonable (though i know they also have less traffic than you guys so that might be why they can get away with that) but i'd even go so far as to say $10, which i feel less apprehension about dropping for just an sn alone.

maybe you can do a package deal where if you rename, 2 months of paid time are added in or something like that-- something to sweeten the pot and make renaming seem a little more worth it as far as the purged stuff goes.
mark: A photo of Mark kneeling on top of the Taal Volcano in the Philippines. It was a long hike. (Default)

[staff profile] mark 2012-04-11 11:53 pm (UTC)(link)
We probably wouldn't force-purge the names. We'd rename them to something else so that the user still has the account, they're just named something like "ex_23748234" or whatever. I don't want to force purge because they might have some content in some of these situations.

If we did force-rename them, the old name would be immediately available for free.

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blue_rampion: Arnold Rimmer in a gingham dress, with Mr Flibble, the evil penguin puppet (Mr Flibble)

[personal profile] blue_rampion 2012-04-11 11:39 pm (UTC)(link)
This is definitely a really tricky issue. I know I would personally like to see less name squatting (it happened more so on LJ, but the number of times I've thought up a great username only to find that someone registered it years ago, and never did anything at all with it...), but how to actually stop it...that's a tricky one.

I do like the idea of making a number of restrictions per week/month/whatever. Even for rpers with our large numbers of accounts, I don't think it's too restrictive. You can easily just wait until you can make new journals again, and plan around that. The only trick there would be people moving over from LJ or somewhere else, or in the case of new games starting up that need a number of NPC accounts. For that though, having it kick in after you have a set number already might work better. Although the question for all of this is also how do you track how many accounts people have? If it goes by email, people can easily get around that by using an alternate. And I know all of my accounts have my email set as myaddress+username@gmail.com, so I can use gmail's filtering. Whether or not the system can pick up that they're all actually going to the same email, I don't know.

Something else to consider might also be making it easier to give up an account and then make it freely available. Like, you have to pay for any deleted usernames, which kind of acts as a disincentive if you have a username a friend would like, and you'd be happy to give it to them. The only way to actually do so without making them pay money is by handing over the account's password. It also takes a while for purging to happen (I'm don't know how long exactly), so that also adds to the disincentive. Perhaps having some kind of system that could allow people to legitimately transfer usernames securely - and would allow Dreamwidth to properly regulate it and make sure that no one is asking for money - might help. Either that or remove the cost of taking up a deleted username (although I imagine there must be some reason why a cost is needed for that?)
blue_rampion: A man with a duck on his head shares an ipod with said duck (iDuckman)

[personal profile] blue_rampion 2012-04-11 11:44 pm (UTC)(link)
...Although now it occurs to me that some kind of legitimate system probably wouldn't do anything to stop the mass-squatters, sooooooo maybe that one's not such a good idea.

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nicki: (Default)

[personal profile] nicki 2012-04-11 11:49 pm (UTC)(link)
I have a few possible suggestions, though I don't know how workable they might be, as they would take some admin time.

1)(variation on idea 3 or 4) a randomized and changeable account/account creation limit that pops a message that says something like "Hi. You've reached the account creation limit for today/this week/this month/all time. Please contact (whomever) to have your number reset if you need to create more accounts." This would give you a way to take a look at people who exceed their limit(possibly several times) and a way for a legitimate account creator to continue using the site.

2)(variation on 1 and 4) When you get a complaint, freeze the accounts with a notice to contact an admin to discuss unfreezing (Hi, we've noticed that you have 150 unused accounts under the names of popular fandom characters, please contact the administration to unfreeze the accounts, we would love to hear your secret for living your life and still having time to play 150 characters) and then rename if there isn't contact in a certain amount of time.

3)One free rename to rename an account to account_archive (or similar). This could free up popular Role-play account names for use by someone else once a game is done or simply allow someone who is no longer using the site, but doesn't want to delete their account either (or spend extra money on a rename token) to still free up the name for someone else.
dreamatdrew: An orange leopard gecko half hiding behind the leaf of a 'lucky bamboo' plant, looking directly at you. (Default)

RE: Account_Archive

[personal profile] dreamatdrew 2012-04-12 01:43 am (UTC)(link)
I actually really like the archive-account rename idea. A lot. It does create a few issues (enforcing the _archive naming restriction, what happens on the second time someone wants to do that, etc), and while it does not solve the squatting problem, it seems like something which could make a lot of sense to offer, and not just for the RP community.

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stungun: (Default)

[personal profile] stungun 2012-04-12 12:08 am (UTC)(link)
Ah, this might not be completely related, but I was curious - what about giving journals that you thought you'd use (but didn't) to someone you know? They could use a rename after that even, but is a "giveaway" something we could get in trouble for? I don't mind either way, but since I've done it before I want to make sure we won't get in trouble in the future haha.

On topic - I hope you can come to a solution, and it's really nice to see you guys even worrying about this. As a roleplayer it's nice to see you're not just going to think we all hoard accounts for no reason. Thanks!

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mezzanotte: james jean (Default)

[personal profile] mezzanotte 2012-04-12 01:41 am (UTC)(link)
Shot in the dark entirely, but it's no way possible to have another delete option that just makes the account available in the system when it's deleted? I mean following the 'manual' renames, but like maybe a script where the name gets renamed to example have an underscore before it? like mezzanotte becomes _mezzanotte and thus leaves the name mezzanotte up for grabs? The flipside of this is basically it renders the need to purchase renames absolutely useless.

But so far [personal profile] littlefingering's suggestions seem pretty solid. I think a lot of the reluctance to pay for renames is in the fact it costs as much as paid time. So between shelling out cash for some paid and just simply making a new journal and getting two months for the same price.
yvonne: (Default)

[personal profile] yvonne 2012-04-12 08:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I support this idea. I'd delete that way some names I have unused.

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shadytail: (Default)

[personal profile] shadytail 2012-04-12 01:52 am (UTC)(link)
When a community moves over, DW will often generate a special invite code which the community and all its members can use. Would something similar work for mass individual account creation? That is, when an account creator would have to apply for a mass-creation token when they hits some threshold of scrutiny (according to any of the criteria mentioned in the post: number of accounts created, proportion with similar usernames, usage patterns, previous squatting, all of the above, etc.).

It might take some effort to implement, but when the threshold is reached, the account creation page sends you to a mass-creation request form, which you'd have to fill out with the reason for all of the accounts. Submitting the form would alert Support to a possible problem. This way Support and/or Abuse gets a feel for legitimate vs. squatting patterns and can fine-tune the scrutiny criteria accordingly. Also they'll know usage patterns change enough to justify updating the criteria (for example, when they get annoyed at having to review a bunch of perfectly legit applications.)

Hopefully the scrutiny criteria could be set so that they don't affect most RPers, but some would definitely be affected. So to offset the hassle, maybe mass-creation tokens could be requested directly through a form which would make it easier to create a bunch of accounts at once. You'd have to ask what features it'd need: usernames, basic setup info per account, and an explanation of the purpose of the accounts. The form would get routed to Support, who can review it (hopefully most of them could be rubber-stamped). Then the system could just use that form to automatically create and set up all the accounts. Since I'm not an RPer, I'm open to feedback about whether this would make life easier or not and what should be on it.

The idea is to put a small barrier to problematic levels of account creation. The gray area gets monitored but not prohibited, and ideally the legit users get something to reduce the added inconvenience.

---

About scrutiny criteria: my first thought is control charts. Not that you'd necessarily want to set up control charts for account creation, but the idea of a control chart is to let you know when a process starts misbehaving. For instance, the concept of upper and lower control limits and warning zones might be useful. I think a lot of the setup could come in handy in deciding when to start looking more closely. The NIST handbook has a nice chapter on control charts.

Over the years people have developed lots of rules for detecting an out of control process (that is, one that's not behaving like itself), which I think would be a good source of ideas on when it's worth taking a closer look at account creation. I'm pretty sure I learned a subset of the Western Electric rules in quality control class. The Wikipedia article has better pictures.

Dreamwidth isn't so much trying to detect changes in the account creation process as filtering out abuses in account creation, so using control charts directly isn't appropriate. I gather they can lead you astray if you're not careful. But both problems involve figuring out what's normal variation and what's signaling a problem early on so you can deal with it.
amber: ⌠ ART ⊹ Panda&Girl ⌡ (Default)

[personal profile] amber 2012-04-12 07:05 am (UTC)(link)
You'd have to ask what features it'd need: usernames, basic setup info per account, and an explanation of the purpose of the accounts.

But what if people lie? I mean, I could sure say "oh I'm planning on starting a new game with lots of NPCs and I need these usernames: pink, green, harrypotter, dracomalfoy, curses, cursed, cursing, happydays, gents, twins, dragon, dragons, alohamora, incendio, casting, wands, wander, wandering, hagrid" etc etc

Obviously they all seem legit for a Harry Potter themed game and that would probably get rubberstamped. But they're all also desirable usernames and the person may have no intention of using them for an RP at all. Do the rubberstampers then need to follow that up? What if the journals are created but the game is being put on hold due to a holiday so they look like they're not being used? There's only so much investigating that can be expected of Support, especially when it comes to the mores and habits of a community they may not be actively a part of.

I know plenty of RPers who create a lot of journal names, upload one or more icons, fill out the profile from a pre-coded template with a graphic from tumblr, make a post with a link to the player/their musebox... and then they will never touch the journal again. I'm not willing to say "that's squatting" or "that's not squatting" but it's the kind of grey area activity that makes it difficult to use activity or purpose as a category for scrutiny without degenerating into everything being handled on an intricate case by case basis (though it's a good idea, if DW can build the volunteer base required to be able to handle that!)
0jack: Closeup of Boba Fett's helmet, angular orange stripe surrounding a narrow window on a greenish metallic field. (Default)

[personal profile] 0jack 2012-04-12 02:02 am (UTC)(link)
I completely understand about the spiral concern. I do think that a limited number of account creations/usernames is ideal. I just don't know when ONE person would need to make even 20 accounts... I guess if you have one account holder for all the accounts in a game? Do people do that?

Username squatting drives me batty, even though over on LJ you will pry my original (mostly unused) name out of my cold, dead hands (the email address still works and goes to me after all these years). It's not "hoarding a couple names" that bothers me, though. It's the monetizing or just plain being a dick. It's antisocial and this is a community. I think that's a big reason to do whatever needs to be done to stop it from becoming an issue.
blue_rampion: Princess Celestia standing in her room (Princess Celestia)

[personal profile] blue_rampion 2012-04-12 02:11 am (UTC)(link)
People will have one account for each character they have. There would be very few people who are playing 20 characters at the same time, but over time people change the characters they play (and some people will pick up characters more often than others). And sometimes you might even have more than one account for the same character, because you're playing them at different ages or something.

I actually have about 20ish accounts, including all of my characters plus my personal journal, graphics journal, etc etc. But I'd hazard a guess that I'm at the mid to lower end of the spectrum in terms of RPers. They are definitely people who'd have way more, and it's just because they've played more characters.

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ursula: (Default)

[personal profile] ursula 2012-04-12 02:03 am (UTC)(link)
Is there a reason you haven't suggested charging for multiple accounts? This wouldn't stop trolls from creating a gmail address for every account they want, but it does seem like people who have legitimate reasons to want tons of accounts might be invested enough in the site to pay for the privilege.
paon: (Default)

[personal profile] paon 2012-04-12 02:15 am (UTC)(link)
I'd think that would just encourage more trading/giving accounts away, which is free. Also, if something like that was announced you can be sure the account creation would be rushed in the days before it was implemented, thus making the squatting even worse.
jerico_cacaw: A chinese serpent of earth, water, fire and air (Default)

[personal profile] jerico_cacaw 2012-04-12 02:19 am (UTC)(link)
I remember once upon a time there being talk about a future ability to link multiple accounts under one sole user -- useful for RPing mostly, but also for other uses where posting from your main account or creating communities linked to said main account was not desireable. It would require to be able to choose keeping this relationship between accounts private, but being able to easily change the account you're posting from instead of manually changing it would be a plus.

On the other hand, what about people that claim an account,not tu use it or to later sell it, but to avoid other people using them, because of their personal beliefs? For example, [profile] dalai_lama. Would that be considered squating/hoarding? (we're talking about 1, 2 accounts per person, here).
jerico_cacaw: A chinese serpent of earth, water, fire and air (Default)

[personal profile] jerico_cacaw 2012-04-12 02:21 am (UTC)(link)
*crosses her fingers and hopes nobody registers the [profile] dalai_lama account and uses it for nefarious jokes, etc*

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literacy: (That so? [Hagaren])

[personal profile] literacy 2012-04-12 02:39 am (UTC)(link)
This is a tough one. I do agree that some sort of limit with creating accounts say per day/week or whatever might work but I am not sure that would do anything about the people currently sitting on so many usernames that could be put to use if others had access to them, which is a shame. I don't think it would be entirely fair for those wanting these names to have to pay for it either but I'm not sure it would be entirely right to just take the accounts away from people either, especially if they might actually have plans for some of the accounts later and just have not gotten around to setting it all up. But I do see such hoarders as taking up usernames other users might want which could discourage them and thus potentially lose you guys what they would have contributed.
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)

[personal profile] silveradept 2012-04-12 05:55 am (UTC)(link)
A possible solution that seems technological would be to run a sweep of registered user names and build a report based on most recent activity - perhaps after a particular threshold of inactivity, an e-mail gets sent to the registered e-mail asking about possible plans or uses for the accounts registered. That, if nothing else, gets a human response to work with. That might be staff-intensive, but if you start getting the same responses to the same accounts, it makes it easier to distinguish a squatter from an RPer?

As for the threshold, I have no idea, but I am assuming that the pattern of usage (profile completeness, test posts, community joining?) between an RPer interrupted or getting set for a game and someone squatting on the username to trade/sell would be different and analyzable/spottable. If that's possible, then it might be possible to semi-automate the process of flagging accounts for squatting review, if that's the way we want to go.

Coupled, perhaps, with a limit of some sort on account creation per $TIME_UNIT with the ability to still use community invite codes so that all the players for a particular game can get all registered together as a "group".

Actually, maybe that can be one of the mechanisms? Any amount of registration that goes outside the normal site patterns (one/many standard deviation above "normal") that doesn't have an accompanying invite code gets flagged for scrutiny and has the human-check e-mail sent?

Couple of spitball ideas - these are probably too staff-intensive to be implemented, but it's a thought.
redwolf: (Default)

[personal profile] redwolf 2012-04-12 09:06 am (UTC)(link)
Nice! I've run across this on free webmail and newsgroup services. You don't use the service, you get an automated email to remind you.

If you login to the account, the clock is reset.

If you don't login within a nominated time period the account could be quarantined -- removed from view, but not yet deleted -- for a further period of time. Hiding the account is a pretty good method of getting the attention of someone who ignores email and it gives DW a buffer to restore the account if the owner finally does respond.

I would hope it's possible to automate this kind of thing so it doesn't drain resources.

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amber: ⌠ ART ⊹ Panda&Girl ⌡ (Default)

[personal profile] amber 2012-04-12 06:49 am (UTC)(link)
Would you consider creating a volunteer group to handle some of the manpower required for the more intensive solutions? I am sure there are a lot of RPers who would love to give back to the community since DW has done so much for us. They're also more likely to understand the fine lines between legitimate and illegitimate usage. If you can manage to create a template of dos/don'ts and a (inclusive!) set policy, you could then form a jury of users who are aware of the issues/intricacies and more focussed on the "customer service" than the codemouse things and ask them to help you?
redwolf: (Default)

[personal profile] redwolf 2012-04-12 08:55 am (UTC)(link)
I can give you another case of username squatting, certainly not as malicious as the land grabs you're seeing, but just as annoying if the name you want isn't available.

There will be a crapload of accounts kicking around DW from early adopters. People who jumped in from other communities to secure a username they use elsewhere, but who never ended up using the site.

Is it worth auto-flagging accounts for potential recycling if they've never had any activity beyond creation after a set period of time? I know LJ do this every so often, but it took them ten years to recycle one username I know of. That's a really long period of non-use prior to recycling, so possibly not a good lead to follow.

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puzzlement: (Default)

[personal profile] puzzlement 2012-04-12 10:48 am (UTC)(link)
These are a bit more way out there, and not technically easy, but for the spaghetti-against-the-wall record:

Could you create and sell additional namespaces? if a game could register/buy the gamename namespace, and their characters get user names within that namespace, then there's less concern over user name collisions in general.

This has the downside of pushing the problem up a level: people might squat namespaces (this is, after all, roughly the problem with domain names themselves). But it does roughly square the availability of names.

This might or might not be combined with being unable to comment/interact outside your own namespace: some RPing journals break the fourth wall and want to comment on real journals and vice versa, but quite a lot don't.

Exactly how the namespace+username combo shows up on the website is, um… left as an exercise for the reader, yeah.

De-jargoning for folks that need it: at present, for any given username, you can only have it once on Dreamwidth. But you (or someone else) can also have that same username on Livejournal, or IJ or etc. That's because they are separate namespaces: the use of puzzlement on LJ doesn't affect my ability to register it on DW. What I'm asking about is some way of doing this inside DW: that is, I register the puzzlementgame namespace, and I can register puzzlementgame:denise as a username or puzzlementgame:puzzlement username, even though those are taken in the main DW namespace. (Whether the name would display as puzzlementgame:puzzlement, or as something completely different, is entirely up to the implementation.)

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slakemoths: blank screen with the text "NO IMAGE" (Default)

[personal profile] slakemoths 2012-04-12 11:57 am (UTC)(link)
As someone who is, regrettably, sitting on more than two or three (RP, mostly, but I've had terrible luck with community upkeep as well) journals to her credited email that she just hasn't gotten up and running yet (but wants to, it's a matter of time commitment), I just want to say I love this post and everything said in it. Thanks for making this such a wonderful, thoughtful place to invest myself - and this post has given me a few things to think about on how to go about fixing those dead spaces in my online life that I no longer know how to handle so they're not taking up room someone else could use better than me. That's been a dead albatross I'll be glad to have off my back - I honestly didn't have a good solution to that, but then I read this post and was like god, it's so easy and obvious, why didn't I see that.

Personally I am all for the technical restriction on "you can only create so many accounts per period of time when you pass X line", but I haven't yet read the whole post, so there may be legit complaints there I can't think of - I'm just noting that's my preference for now, so it's here! It seems the most ... balanced, in terms of concerns and time/effort/headache and inconveniencing squatters without doing the same to legitimate users.
green_knight: (Kaffeeklatsch)

[personal profile] green_knight 2012-04-12 12:19 pm (UTC)(link)
If having many - as in high tens or low hundreds of accounts is a Thing... might creating a [paid} gamer account solve this for genuine people?

That way, I could register GK_Harry and GK_Hermione and GK_Ron (or Harry_GK)... - each an individual account, I'd not be squatting on anybody else's name, I'd not feel a need to register the name quickly lest it vanishes...

And in that case, people who register large numbers of personal accounts to squat on the names would stand out more.
immolate: (Default)

[personal profile] immolate 2012-04-12 12:54 pm (UTC)(link)
For a lot of RPers having usernames that are aesthetically pleasing to them is pretty important (for example I don't use underscores); that sort of thing would probably annoy people, or they'd just ignore it and use the personal accounts anyway because they don't need to attach any sort of prefix or suffix to them.

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lorax: Meelo is being the leaf (A:TLoK - Meelo Be the Leaf)

[personal profile] lorax 2012-04-12 12:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm not tech savvy, but I do RP, and have a few journals saved for those purposes that are not currently active, just for the record.

I always thought the main "umbrella" account with multiple sub accounts would be a wonderful thing for RP. Not only because of the ability to link/control from a central place, but also because from the initial brainstorming, it seemed like it might allow for multiple uses of the same name. Like johndoe (main), with sub accounts janedoe, and littletommy. If the umbrella "janedoe" was linked to the main johndoe account, then my impression from the initial reading when it was discussed was that the system would consider that a different account than janedoe as a master account? It's highly possible I read that wrong and am talking out of my ass though.

However, as someone coming from IJ, where they force-purged a lot of journals WITH content lately, and where username trading is a BIG THING, I would like to see it more controlled here, because it's kind of maddening to have popular journal name and be barraged for it frequently.

I have no real solid contributions to HOW to judge squatting and to control it, but my first thought was - you're talking about disincentives to doing it, but what about actual incentives for deleting usernames to put them back in the pool? Nothing huge, but deleting user names (after a certain period of time, to avoid people making a name JUST to delete it), could possibly somehow toss a few DW points into another account owned by the same email?

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