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Yahoo will give you your name back

Yahoo is giving you a shot at reclaiming your good name. It’s shutting down accounts that have been dormant for more than a year, meaning a pile of usernames will soon be available for the taking in mid-July. If the move persuades new users to migrate to Yahoo in search of coveted e-mail addresses, it could help the company boost revenues, by bringing in more active users it can serve ads to.

Users with especially common names, or just late adopters, often get stuck with e-mail addresses larded down with numbers, like johnsmith3141592@yahoo.com. That’s the plight of Steve Jones, communications professor at University of Illinois at Chicago. Outside of his university e-mail address, he’s generally been beaten to his own name.

“To get a Steve Jones or an sjones at most services is almost impossible,” he laments. “Those names are snatched up within nanoseconds.”

His name is so ubiquitous, he’s not even the only professor Steve Jones in town studying digital media. He’s often mixed up with another Steve Jones up the road at Loyola University Chicago.

The UIC Steve Jones has a Yahoo account already. Faced with a potential shot at something as simple as steve.jones@yahoo.com, he’s thinking about going for it, if only to see how the company handles the transition.

Yahoo’s is betting opening up some prime usernames will entice new users to their services.

“I can see a lot of people, if they happen to have some obscure, hard to remember e-mail address, because all the other ones are taken, at say, Gmail, then it might be quite appealing for them to get a much simpler or much cooler name,” says psychologist Sam Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.

Gosling’s research includes looking at how people’s online accounts express their personality. An e-mail address can send a powerful message. If the shot at a choice username inspires people to choose Yahoo, that could mean more eyeballs on more ads. And for the company, that is what’s in a name.

Mark Garrison: If you have a common name, you have to add all these numbers to get an e-mail address, like johnsmith3141592@yahoo.com. That’s the plight of Steve Jones, communications professor at University of Illinois, Chicago.

Steve Jones: To get a Steve Jones or an sjones at most services is almost impossible. I mean, those names are snatched up within nanoseconds.

He’s not even the only professor Steve Jones in town. He’s often mixed up with another Steve Jones up the road at Loyola. Now, he may have a crack at steve.jones@yahoo.com and he’s thinking about going for it. Yahoo’s bet is others will too and it’ll rack up some new users.

Sam Gosling: I can see a lot of people, if they happen to have some obscure, hard to remember e-mail address, because all the other ones are taken, at say, gmail, then it might be quite appealing for them.

That’s psychologist Sam Gosling, who looks at how people express themselves online. If they switch to Yahoo for choice usernames, that’s more eyeballs on more ads. And for the company, that is what’s in a name. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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