Usernames and user id numbers September 6, 2001 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Recently I've found myself passing the mouse cursor over usernames only to see their ID number. I was thinking for a bit as to why (Is it number envy? Is it newbie-spotting?) What if the user IDs were somewhat to completely hidden? What would be the pros or cons?
posted by samsara to Feature Requests at 2:16 PM (18 comments total)

This is a reasonable proposal that would certainly eliminate some of the knee-jerk response one feels when reading a post by a user and then mousing over their username for their user number. Since Matt already has a user lookup page that uses username, why not point to that instead. Date joined would be available on that page, but how many people would click through to find out whether to blast the user for being a dumb newbie or for being a codgy old A-lister? Enough fewer that we could stop having so many discussions about user numbers, I bet.
posted by daveadams at 3:27 PM on September 6, 2001

I do think the first 674 users that signed up should have a gold star by their username, though.
posted by daveadams at 3:28 PM on September 6, 2001

I like to think about this in a more positive manner. I like to hover over the username to find out their number in order to cut slack to people who might have just typed their first post. It's about constructive criticism.
posted by machaus at 4:06 PM on September 6, 2001

matt would probably have to answer questions about how the metafilter database is really implemented, but...

if the database is stored as a straight table, it seems to me that our user IDs are the actual indices to our user information in the table. regarding the efficiency of looking up our user information, you can't ask for anything better than that. i'm not sure how often user information is looked up, so it's impossible for me to predict how much the server might be worn down by indirect lookups such as would be needed if we were to index by our usernames.

assuming the database IS stored as a straight table, of course, adding users would be a pain in the ass. assuming matt's DB implementation reserves more memory than is currently needed for the database, adding enough entries will eventually require a re-allocation of memory in order to ensure a large enough chunk to be used to store information. that's no good either.

if i had to reimplement matt's table, i think what i would do is rather than use a straight table -- where the user ID is iterative, counting from 1 (or 0) on up -- i would use a hash table. in a hash table, numeric indices into the table are still used, but are deduced by some other bit of information -- our user names, for example. hash tables are not QUITE as efficient as what matt may be using right now, but they would be very close. the efficiency of the hash table would also depend a great deal on how well the deduction algorithm is written. the index to our information would not make much sense to the naked eye (necessarily), and thus elitism based on index would virtually disappear.

this almost sounds like an issue for the open-source metafilter movement a while back. whatever happened to that, by the way?
posted by moz at 5:04 PM on September 6, 2001

I'll just bet that 8 would be insanely thrilled about that idea.
posted by lucien at 5:34 PM on September 6, 2001

Moz, I believe Matt uses Microsoft SQL Server for the back end of Metafilter.

I can't imagine looking up user info by name in a 10000 record table is anything compared to sorting the 10000 threads by most comments or most recent comments or by my comments, but I'd bet both features get used roughly equally.

As far as the hash-table functionality, yes that's an efficient way to look up non-ordered, non-numeric data. But SQL Server (and most other relational DBs) provides such a feature and you don't even have to re-implement the database. Just create an index on the column in question, namely username.

But when have we ever worried about the load we're putting on Matt's hardware?
posted by daveadams at 9:08 PM on September 6, 2001

Good point lucien, that was one of the main cons to it I've seen so far. As most profiles go, each one has an ID and date-stamp. For some of the older accounts, a sign-up date isn't available. For those it would be hard to distinguish who was in the circle of trust first.

Actually, what I was getting at is what I also perceive to be happening for other users as well. When I browse the posts, or even browse the comments, I sometimes find myself looking at the user number first before I read what's above it (it doesn't cause me to read or not read the comments however). I began to think what it was like when I was a newb here...and I constantly felt self conscious about posting because of it. I'd bet that some of the new users who have grouped as having lack of respect for the board, probably do so because they don't sense equality among members. Although, I'm not worried about that in particular because it's probably not the case. But I do think, that if user numbers were hidden from sight atleast on the comments page, some of us wouldn't have those knee-jerk reactions, and some of us wouldn't be able to get away with really silly crap that only happens because the lower ID deserves more respect (now being a lower ID, I demand respect! j/k). So, I'm just wondering if I'm on to something, or it's just me.

I think if I were to impliment something like this, I would keep the user IDs in the profiles, yet have a way that the first impression is what a person has to say, not what their ranking is.
posted by samsara at 6:32 AM on September 7, 2001

some of us wouldn't be able to get away with really silly crap that only happens because the lower ID deserves more respect

I don't think the ability to "get away" with something has anything to do with the user number of the poster. I think it has everything to do with the amount of respect that user has built in this community. If user number 32 came in and started posting silly crap, he wouldn't be able to get away with it. Who's socketboy? we would ask.

I think familiarity with particular users is more the reason we as a community allow them to "get away" with acting silly when we would not tolerate it from someone we didn't recognize. In fact, I think this is why some relatively new people might come in, get offended or upset about something posted by a member who is familiar to most of the older users, but unfamiliar to the offended new user. Then when the older users come to the defense of the offender (because they know he didn't really mean it that way... they've known him for a long time), it seems (to the new user anyway) like The Cabal (There is no cabal™) is bashing a newbie.

Have I gone totally off the topic yet?
posted by daveadams at 8:30 AM on September 7, 2001

Woah, timeslip. Dave posted the above while I was writing this, and I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who may have possibly gone totally off topic...

probably do so because they don't sense equality among members.

But there isn't equality among members.

I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. There are people here that I see posting regularily, and over the time we've been here I begin to learn their style a little better, and I can judge where they're coming from a little better, if they're debating for the sake of debating, if they're debating with passion, if they're just joking around or whatever.

It's not that old members don't respect or don't like new users, I'm reasonably certain that most of us realise how important new users are to the continued existance of the site. It's that we don't know new users, plain and simple.

I can say quite honestly that I mouse over someone's name only when I don't recognize them, solely because I want to know if I _should_ know that person. Once I start recognising people their user IDs are irrelevant.

For instance, because of the topic of conversation, I ended up mousing over your nick, samsara, and was quite literally shocked to find out that you had an ID in the 3000 block.

You joined almost a year after I did, and I had no idea of that until just now because I recognize you. User IDs are mostly irrelevant, recognition is important.
posted by cCranium at 8:37 AM on September 7, 2001

I'll just bet that 8 would be insanely thrilled about that idea.

Actually, I don't really care either way. In fact, I think we'd be better off if they were hidden.
posted by OneBallJay at 10:35 AM on September 7, 2001

By the way, Matt, it's September. *grumbles jokingly*
posted by accountingboy at 10:40 AM on September 7, 2001

Damn cookies, why won't you die!!!
posted by OneBallJay at 10:54 AM on September 7, 2001

This actually makes up for a very small portion of my overall experience on MeFi (cookies however, major portion :). You're absolutely right about the respect for a user because of recognition. What I'm talking about, however, is just the subtle first impression can be formed because of a user ID, and I think I did take an extreme end of the context in my last comment. As for letting things slide, I just imagine that it could be tough because the first thing that you know about another user is what they said and then their user number. For me, if the number is pre-6000, I'll also look in the profile to see what other things this person has said, just to become more familiar as well. And having them visible on the front page and comments pages is not a bad thing necessarily, yet it does spark conversations on MeTa about all those "new posters" which I think, unfortunately, is a bit more tied into the IDs themselves. I had to change my habits when I started to guess what ID range unfamiliar users were in, and end up totally off. I suppose that hiding IDs would mainly benefit a new member to where he/she also sees other members as just other members. But also, I would see benefits overall...where recognition plays more of a role for long time members, and where new members don't often feel confused that they're being singled out because they're new (they're being singled out cause they're "breaking the rules").
posted by samsara at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2001

However, it would be nice to have a little smiley put next IDs lower than 3203.
posted by samsara at 10:02 AM on September 8, 2001

In my shoddy weblog software I spent a few hours trialing userID vs Username. Although Username is a fraction slower (less than .1 second) it removes the need to lookup username by userID (and the hassle of caching usernames, or further username queries). How does metafilter get usernames? Does it build up a list of usernames then get them in one go, or what?
posted by holloway at 3:53 PM on September 17, 2001

However, it would be nice to have a little smiley put next IDs lower than 3203.
Wait. Lower than?
posted by holloway at 3:55 PM on September 17, 2001

Well, between 675 and 3202 at least :)
posted by samsara at 9:02 AM on September 19, 2001

i don't think it's fair to be "penalized" b/c of your ID number. i read the rules, i respect others, i try to have an open mind, i ALWAYS use the search feature for keywords and URL's before posting, i try not to flame and i try to enjoy metafliter and make decent contributions that i think others would enjoy. i've been using bbs's/newsgroups/mailing lists/ and the internet for a long time as well as having a technical backgroud. just b/c i didn't find out about metafilter until later doesn't mean i'm a "newbie" or don't have somethign valid to contribute to the metafilter community. i love mefi. won't you just give me a little lovin back? how 'bout just a smack on the ass? =)

oh! more to the point...i think hiding the ID could be good and bad. good in the sense that i'll see user names and pay more attention to them when they post(why can i get steven den beste's user name out of my head?) rather than just looking at the ID.
posted by suprfli at 9:13 PM on September 19, 2001

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