Twitter, how about liberating some usernames?

TwitterTwitter is growing and evolving, and the service clearly wants plenty of new users to join its folds. However, try registering a new Twitter account, and come up with a username that isn’t already registered. You’ll soon find that there’s some serious username depletion going on.

Things wouldn’t be so bad if the person who had already taken your brilliantly though-out nickname was actually using that Twitter account. But take a look around and you’ll find lots of examples of users who clearly have just created a Twitter account, signed in once or twice, and then never used the service again. And since Twitter accounts never expire, that username is now gone for all time.

And it’s not a small problem. Twitter could have more than 100 million unused accounts. In January, Twitter reported that it had almost 200 million registered users, a number that has surely grown significantly since then. In September, Twitter reported that it had 100 million active users (users who sign in at least once a month). Quite a difference.


Twitter really, really should consider freeing up usernames. Remember, usernames are far more important to Twitter than they are to Facebook or Google+. Arguably, the two latter don’t even have usernames in the traditional sense. In Twitter, you use that @username handle everywhere. It’s a vital part of the service.

An open letter to Twitter

It’s time to start deleting unused accounts. Start liberating usernames so that real, active users (and those elusive new users) can get their hands on them.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. If a Twitter account is completely unused for six months, go ahead and delete it. If you must, send an email to users before you do it and give them a week to sign in to avoid having the account deleted.

Granted, you’ll have fewer “registered users” to boast about if you start deleting unused accounts, but this is the right thing to do. Your users will have a more positive introduction to your service and a better user experience.

Besides, the number of registered users really is an irrelevant figure. Just get on board with the trend Facebook started and consistently talk about “active users,” users that have signed in within the last 30 days. It’s more transparent, and more relevant. From what we can judge, someone at Twitter has already made that decision so it should be a non-issue.

Finally, perhaps we should clarify that in spite of this somewhat critical post, we do love Twitter. (Obviously, we use it a lot, you can find us at @pingdom.)

Thank you for listening.


  1. Agreed! Tried to get a username for an entire year, but the owner had abandoned it. In fact, it’s still abandoned and has been for nearly 3 years now!

    Actually ended up snapping up an even better username when they randomly released some usernames. But still, I think after 9-12 months, usernames not in-use should definitely be freed. There are way too many dormant accounts.

  2. Well, rather than delete the accounts entirely I’d say they should assign inactive users a new name so @accountname123xyz and allow them to pick another if they come back.

    Lets them keep the number of users up and I’d hate to ‘forget’ to sign in for 6 months and have my account history completely deleted.

  3. What would happen to any existing @username handles if the username is reassigned to someone else? BTW, there are a many who don’t tweet but follow others, so the number of tweets should not be considered as a criteria for dormancy.

  4. I’m glad that Twitter didn’t have such a policy in the early days… I got my account in 2007, but it took a few years for Twitter to have enough traction to make me use it on a regular basis. Now that it does have the traction, I think that the laws of supply and demand might need to come into force in terms of a “use it or lose it” policy. But don’t try to take my @digiteyes away from me!

  5. @Gregory Ciotti: Yes. Supposedly a very large percentage of Facebook accounts have been abandoned. But those large figures sound nice, so they don’t want to remove them. Not that I would support their removal, as I believe in the contents of the internet being archived forever.

  6. This request is quite silly. It really matters squat whether there are 100000000 or 200000000 user names in use — either way, poeple with a “good” name will just be a tiny fraction! A few guys might get lucky to hit one of the “good” ones having been just freed up; but it would not change the overall picture at all. (And it would be a rather unfair lottery on top…)

    Reusing existing names doesn’t really help, while on the other hand it would create a lot of confusion.

    Just get over it. Any service that big will have the “good” names taken. There is nothing you can do about it.

  7. Another reason why Twitter should delete inactive accounts is that businesses close down every single day – imagine all of the Twitter Accounts that belong to all of these non-existent businesses.

  8. Not as easy as that. Since they started archiving the entire fire hose and many people are looking forward to using it for research the username points to a specific individual or business reassigning it would create problems of continuity.

    I accidentally abandoned a username a couple of years ago and they will not even let me reuse it now. There will be a problem in the future if they do not come up with a solution, but what if you take an abandoned user name and people have already blocked the previous owner. What of people who are following the unused account, what if it is the account of a child that passed to early, how would the parents feel about the posts from the new user.

    Many, many problems to solve. #firstworldproblems

  9. Ben, the replies are tied with a internal, secret, user unique ID. They follow you whenever you go (if you change your username for example…) so that’s not an issue.

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