Within reason, users are free to choose their usernames freely. There are restrictions where names are potentially offensive, and 'we' have tended to avoid allowing those which might be misleading (notably 'moderator', 'LaTeX', etc.: a few very general terms). On the chat, the question arose about having promotional 'information' in user names.

General network policy allows for advertising in usernames, with the proviso that these might be blocked in some jurisdictions if they are for example political in nature.

Here, I'd like seek views on to what extent 'promotional' elements in usernames are welcome. This might be for example the name of a user's website, the name of another technical website or even a completely unrelated website/product.

  • 1
    Answers may wish to cover the separate cases of 'promotion appended to username' and 'entire username is promotion', length of the promotional material, etc.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jul 17, 2020 at 13:02
  • Just like Joseph, I seek opinions and add my own one. It's not about rules: we are interested in desired local Netiquette.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 23:06
  • 1
    My previous name Wissen Macht Frei (Knowledge will set you free) has been changed to the current cryptic one. It is just an additional piece of information that is important to consider. It is fine to me. :-) Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 11:58

6 Answers 6


I normally speak names in my mind when writing, and addressing furniture, numbers, random letters, long sentences, political statements, names written in scripts I don't understand, names containing too much "z" or the umpteenth "Guest" or "Anonymous" is odd. So I have a clear preference for names that are not too long, pronounceable, recognizable, and feel like real names of real people.

But I don't see a need to make a rule out of my preferences. If other people can bear with occasionally duck or bear outbreaks, then I can bear odd names. If someone wants to be known as an url address it's their choice. I would only put a line at clearly offensive names.

Btw: I know that my first name is a bit of a challenge to pronounce for non-german ;-)

  • Names are for talking and addressing. To name the elephant in the rooom: "pronounceable, recognizable, and feel like real names of real people" I think that doesn't apply to names such as @samcarter_is_at_topanswers.xyz, @Skillmonlikestopanswers.xyz, @jack-says-try-topanswers-xyz, @tom-v-try-topanswers-xyz. Besides looking awkward it's intentionally pointing to another website by abusing the name feature for massive URL copying to every name appearance. I'd like to address @Skillmon without URL because I appreciate chatting with normal name.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 0:20
  • 2
    @StefanKottwitz well in their cases I mentally cut up the name, as I do for Stefan, David, Joseph and so on. It would be easier, if the names had spaces, but it is manageable. Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 6:18
  • Same for me, full names are common. Just being compelled to mentally cutting whole sentences with URLs each time, to focus on actual speech without repetitive URLs, is a bit cumbersume. See my added screenshot in my updated post.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 8:44
  • I think distinguishing "names written in scripts I don't understand" from "real names of real people" is probably not what you meant to do.
    – LSpice
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 15:09
  • 2
    @LSpice I wrote about names that I "feel to be real names", not about real names in a objective sense. And I put the foreign names in the list as an example why it wouldn't be good if my preferences were made to a rule, it is obviously not okay to ask peoples to mishandle their names only so that I feel better and have less trouble to say them. Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 15:21
  • Right, and I had meant to say that I hoped it wasn't true that you didn't feel like names written in scripts you didn't understand weren't real names—in other words, stripped of the negatives, I hoped you felt that names written in scripts you don't understand are still real names.
    – LSpice
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 15:23

I'm the lead developer of TopAnswers, and I'm responding here as my name has come up in the comments, and because I want you to know that it makes a difference to me that you, and/or one other another moderator here would rather my name did not advertise TopAnswers.

I'm not saying I agree with your reasons, or the method of trying to shape (or gauge) opinion here, but I was a moderator for many years on dba.se so I know that it's a tough job. I have no wish to make yours any tougher, without a very good reason. So I've changed my name here (and on SE generally) back to "Jack Douglas" and will keep it that way. I gently encourage others to do the same, though of course they may do as they please, I have no position here or indeed anywhere else, to tell anyone what to do.

I have to admit I am impressed/surprised that the advertising bothers anyone at all, but I suspect that is less down to the TopAnswers 'name' in particular, and more down to the prolific and brilliant contributions of certain users active on both sites (of course on SE there are many other great contributors I do not mean to suggest otherwise — and I imagine that now this has become an issue, they would prefer not to have this friction ongoing, so I write this post out of respect for them too).

Best of luck with tex.se for the future — and I hope you continue to get full support from the SE network. If that ever changes…

  • 5
    Thank you! Also I think that content links are fine, links and statements in profiles too, all those common sense things making a useful interlinked Internet. For me, there was a specific trigger here, the degraded chat experience over time. That's a possibly unforeseen effect because the @statement names are visual handles for addressing chat users and are automatically repeated in chat replies. So besides feeling weird sometimes an excessive amount piles up. I agree the promotion was started in good faith. Thanks for understanding and for helping improving it now, and good luck with TA!
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 8:50
  • Hi Jack! I withheld myself from answering to 6 points in your answer that I see as misleading. Still, daily, we see topanswers name spam in our main chat room, but that's not on you, formally. In other news, personally, just for me, your site image changed from spam site to being malicious, because of other things that happened in the meantime (also to other users). Nothing that couldn't be fixed, perhaps talk with your users.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Oct 16, 2020 at 23:58
  • 1
    @StefanKottwitz maybe some of your answers got downvoted by people who aren't on topanswers because they just don't agree with you or think that your answers include onesided and unjust argumentation? Did that cross your mind? It did cross mine (please note that I didn't downvote any of your meta-SE answers).
    – Skillmon
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 6:42
  • @Skillmon It crossed my mind first! Downvotes because of content disagreement are fine. Now, three months later, having learned more, I also consider that there may be targeted downvoting, intentional feedback voting distortion. I'm giving Jack this feedback here.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 10:32
  • 2
    Can you explain in simple terms why you receiving downvotes here on SE changes your opinion of TopAnswers in any way? You are a moderator here and if there have been malicious downvotes, do you not have the tools and escalation procedure within SE to deal with that? If you have specific evidence to share that someone active on TA is maliciously downvoting you I'd be interested in knowing that (privately), but if you don't know who is downvoting you I don't understand why you are contacting me about it or connecting it to TA in any way, please explain. Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 11:10
  • @StefanKottwitz Maybe check if arrows are symmetric and the indention is correct? A trustworthy source explained last year that such things are valid reasons for downvotes. Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 11:23
  • That said, what is the benefit of spaming the meta front page with answers about posts that have been reopened for half a year without your participation? If anything one of the involved users would be better suited to write an answer. Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 11:34
  • @JackDouglas I had let you know here since in my eyes your text looks like it's missing some insight. And it may affect you as TA site maintainer in a way, that it's one of your most active users and promoters who I approached yesterday in your chat with the suggestion to start fixing things.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 12:15
  • @JackDouglas Simply: I can escalate in SE and let the CMs verify and handle it. Given there's a very long history, that may go very bad. I'm fine if there comes an understanding that certain historic events should not be blamed to me and "revenged". Better is Rethinking, asking all other moderators and me personally if there's doubt. I rather take an understanding and a small apology than an escalation.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 12:17
  • 1
    @Stefan btw I did not get your message on TA and did not know you had posted it. You need to ping me in a room I'm active for that just like here. I only happened to chance on your message here because I logged in to SE after a long absence. Only now do I realise that you are talking about downvotes on Meta rather than tex.se (right?). However I'm left completely flumoxed about what the actual problem is, and who you think is targetting you. I appreciate that you are trying to fix a problem constructively, but I think you'd be much better off just ignoring it. Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 15:08
  • @JackDouglas Yes, meta only. No points affected. Only meta voting results are shaped. (Example: after getting 9 downvotes for deleting a bad answer, I now see as a new policy that bad answers shall not be deleted, even if they are multiply flagged. Unexpected.) Mod participation is affected, how can I dare to post when the first thing I will see is a routine -1 ? I ignored it for 3 months. At some point I noticed that it's probably not just me who is targeted on meta. Seen all this, I also feel a duty, to not stay silent, to either approach SE/CM or letting that TA team know it's serious.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 15:24
  • @JackDouglas Anyway, I tried to get into contact (see my messages on the TA chat, also before I tried pinging you, later I added some responses in our chat), and I didn't conceal it, and I can put it into other's hands.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 15:30
  • 1
    I don't think it is your duty to worry about anonymous votes at all, they are anonymous for a reason. If, as a mod, you suspect malicious, targetted downvotes, then (1) the automatic downvote reversal tools should kick in so you generally don't even need to worry, or (2) you should, in my opinion, ask SE to investigate and take action if appropriate… Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 19:52
  • …I actually think making the whole thing public is far worse than either (1) or (2). Why not link my comment here into the TL and solicit the opinion of other network mods? If they agree with me it's a win for everyone, but if they agree with you then you can safely ignore my opinion, as I'm only one ex-mod myself. Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 19:52
  • @JackDouglas Sure! (1) did not kick in, so I will take (2) and see what happens.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Oct 17, 2020 at 19:59

There are two issues here:

  1. Advertisement in usernames
  2. Length of usernames in the chat

Note that if I choose a username @yoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo, it has the same appearance problems as any long name. This clearly shows that the two issues are perpendicular to each other and they should be discussed separately and policies made separately.

For the first issue, the answer by animuson at https://meta.stackoverflow.com/a/349167/1161631 that Joseph mentions seems to cover this with saying that it's allowed to be promotional in the username.

For the second issue, there's ---either a missing limit on the username length, or--- an UI issue with the username being displayed in its fullness and without any visual clue when you @-mention someone, both in chat and in post comments. update: its was pointed out in the comments that there is a 30-char limit; still there might be the UI issue.

  • 2
    The length limit is 30 chars Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:46
  • Thanks! I think, long names are intended to support long names but not long statements. A statement is a non-handy handle for addressing in chat, see the chat screenshots in my answer.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:46
  • 2
    @StefanKottwitz Fine. Let's discuss statements in names then. Start with anyone having "reinstate Monica" in their name. Or "TRiG is Timothy Richard Green".
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:49
  • @samcarter_is_at_topanswers.xyz Thanks, I didn't know that.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 22:06
  • @yo' I'm fine with reasonable statements (with common sense) in profiles. And statement in a name did not bother me before. Also the topanswers.xyz statements did not bother me in the last 5 or 6 months we have them. I did not care as they were not in the way of normal usage.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 22:09
  • @yo' Once the promotion appeared much in chat messages and then unsolicitedly in my own messages, that was the occasion to start a discussion here about pro and con. Thank you for adding, pro, I guess.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 22:11
  • @yo' We may consider that it's actually an annoying technical chat feature to have 30 chars statement names in chat handles in replies.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 22:13

Let's do some examples.

The nickname is [email protected].

awondefullink.com is a site that sells something --> no good, it is spam.

awondefullink.com is a site of porn, violence, racism --> no good, we do not want to advertise it.

awondefullink.com is a site about TeX/LaTeX, totally no profit --> why not?

Sincerely, I can't understand where the problem is, it is enough to use common sense.

  • 3
    Thanks! I like most that you say it is enough to use common sense. That's the best summary. Is it common sense to use a full URL in a name? Does it happen in real life? It's rather a tool on the Internet to abuse a name to copy (by a simple setting) that URL in thousands of multiple copies to our eyes. My common sense calls it spam.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 0:03
  • @StefanKottwitz As you can see, I don't have an URL in my name, because I think it isn't aesthetically beautiful, but if a user likes it, why should I forbid it? Sorry but I think the question is that you don't like that URL, if I had put [email protected] you would have had nothing to object. However, you are a moderator, you got the power, if you don't like it, forbid it and solve the problem.
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 5:06
  • The better way is, we mods ask on meta for opinions and let the TeX.SE community decide, if something should be clarified in the Netiquette. That's what we did here.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 8:39
  • @StefanKottwitz It seems to me that suggestions by the Community were rarely put into practice, in the sense that I don't remember any Meta post which led to a change of the rules. However, the Community's opinion seems clear to me, for what it's worth.
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 9:19
  • Suggestions by the community lead to improved local Netiquette (not to rules, that's rather the StackExchange Inc. part). For example the many text building blocks help the community to easier explain our netiquette to new users, such as not downvoting below -1 that's ignored here. But free will and common sense and netiquette are good points.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 9:44
  • The community opinion doesn't seem clear to me yet after 1 day. Very interested parties are fast, a voting by the community can take time, so people can notice sometimes and vote. Sure, I see 7 fast downvotes onto my reply, but nobody said why mass copying URL statements would be good . Here, for me some possible outcomes are seeing understanding, or me looking around "Seriously?" shrug shoulders and continuing other things. The world is hard enough these days.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 9:51
  • It seems to me that a problem with this is that the acceptability or not of a user's name over time. That is, a patient advertiser could link their name to a site under their control with innocuous-seeming content, then change it to spam content when attention had moved on.
    – LSpice
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 15:11
  • 1
    @StefanKottwitz I deleted the comment.
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 21:22
  • 2
    @LSpice Yes, this could be a problem (not for the peculiar case of TA, though)
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 21:22
  • 1
    Joseph, you seem to ask whether this happens in real life; for one example, there was a political party Helax - Ostrava se baví, where Helax is a local radio station in the Ostrava region in my country. The title means "Helax - Ostrava is amused". So while controversial in essence, this does happen :-)
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:56
  • @yo' I think Joseph isn't pinged for your message here
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 22:04
  • 1
    @CarLaTeX Personally I disagree with your reasoning. About your first point: I think that being spam and selling something are mostly independent. While people who try to sell something are more likely to spam, I would see a totally non profit organizing employing the same methods still as spammers. Actually, for lots of spam I receive over any medium I never interact enough to even know if they are trying to sell something.(They most likely do, but that's not what's making it spam) Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 22:22
  • Also a username linking to a for-profit site can actually be a reasonable thing, especially when using it to disclose some official relationship to them in an easily visible way. Also given that many people use their account on more than one network site, being TeX/LaTeX related seems pretty irrelevant. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 22:23
  • @MarcelKrüger Yes, mine were only examples
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 5:29

My sincerest apologies: Sometimes(?) I lag behind when it comes to looking through internet communication practices that are new to me.

Before reading this question and the answers to it, I thought that these usernames, which included phrases like "Likes Topanswers.xyz", were subtle messages, requesting high quality answers in good spelling, and probably were more or less subtly conveying the account-holder's impression of the general quality of answer-posts in this forum. I thought this might be a little extravagant and did not care much about it.

It's a good thing that I finally know that these usernames are meant differently - namely as an advertisement for some website.

These statements do not answer the question.

They are intended to draw attention towards the circumstance that messages conveyed in terms of rather short usernames can be misunderstood.


Thanks @JosephWright for posting! I add my opinion. Quite frankly :-) other opinions welcome.

It's about abusing the name feature for transporting an advertisement, by a single setting that's creating many (thousands) ad copies.

Longer text follows.

Free speech is most important.

Simple promotional (spam) posts though are usually flagged and deleted. That's ok.

We are free in choosing our user name. Using that freedom for web site promotion is a danger for that freedom. Once users such as @user_likes_viagra.com or @user_is_at_bitcoin.cc (fictional addresses) appear visibly, our free choice of user names may be questioned.

Just take a look at the chat of today and see if it's good for conversation to have full URLs in user names in each of their messages and the replies to them, running since some months that way.

So I suggest not to exploit that loophole of putting a web site URL into a user name to reference it in any question, answer, comment, and chat message the user participates. It's like using a tool for automatically adding a URL to any (actual) speech done.

edit: For better understanding, this is, how the TeX.SE chat looks theses days, taken from the discussion that led us here, I highlighted the URL in Firefox to make visible how speech space is taken and what my brain has to skip each time, while living with the awkward grammar/sentences as result of combining with _is_at_longURL and likeslongURL:

chat sample

An irony is, that the URL is rarely shown on the names in the left side, but those longish statements are automatically inserted when I reply to people, that's why you see me involuntarily repeating the web site name here.

Sorry I don't have other web site promotion in name examples as this is the only one I know as currently happening. And I want to show how the actual effect in chat looks like. I would like to show something like kind of a @user_likes_viagra.com example but that spam doesn't happen. I show this to explain my point about web site statements in names and chat handles in general, as in the beginning of my answer.

It's a 5 months ago planned promotion. Now, see my screenshot above, it affects the TeX.SE chat experience too much for me. Not only that promotion text copies are there sometimes piling up.

It may be commercial promotion, political promotion, religious promotion, or yelling about persons or communities one does or doesn't like.

That technical way of unsolicitedly putting promotional statements via the reply user handle into my speech, is affecting my free speech. Yes, I click on reply and that promotional statement with web site name is inserted at the beginning of my speech. And I can't shorten that statement with the backspace key.

It's not the intended us of the name feature. This and the sample depiction is just my opinion as contribution to the views.

edit: Advertisement is ongoing, and more than a month later, our TeX.SE chatroom still looks like this (color highlighting by me):


(No) thanks for using your freedom to continuously put your advertisement straight into our face.

  • tl;dr "free speech and please no URL spam affecting free speech".
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 17, 2020 at 22:40
  • 9
    The image is a bit misleading it's not as if firefox does that normally: you presumably searched for that string? The URL part of the name isn't separated from the rest of the name by white space so I doubt any system even those that try to "auto link" URLs would treat this as a URL or a link, so calling them URLs and spam links seems over stating the argument. Personally I don't like them that much but they aren't URL and they aren't spam, Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 20:40
  • 1
    @DavidCarlisle Thanks, I edited to make it clear that of course I highlighted the scattered URLs with the Firefox search feature! I call topanswers.xyz a URL even though it doesn't have a protocol specifier (https:) since todays browsers add it implicitly. URL is the shortest term it comes to my mind for web site address. I guess that's ok among Internet-savvy users. There's no hyperlink, but that's irrelevant for my human eye. In this issue here, links don't matter to me, the frequent text-spamming and others (even if they silently ignore) does matter.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 21:29
  • @DavidCarlisle The spam term: I agree with defining it for example by "sending unsolicited messages to large numbers of recipients for the purpose of advertising". Happens here in chat. Why possibly living with overstating? Because my biggest wish is that our fellow users causing such mass copies understand, and relieve it, because they have good intentions and don't want to be spammers, I'm sure.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 21:45
  • 7
    it fails that definition on all counts really spam mail is unsolicited and sent to you. If you go into chat and chat to someone then you opted in to that , it isn't sent to you. The purpose wasn't advertising, the conversations with the two users with that string in their names are usually about other things. we all mention other sites from time to time, but usually as links people can click on, a non-url in a non-link as part of a user name is just not an issue. Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 21:50
  • @DavidCarlisle The purpose was advertising. The users have been explicitly stimulated to use exactly those phrases for advertising topanswers.xyz, and the sheer amount lets me call it spam (I did not say spam mail, spam is a common phrase for mass pushing unsolicited messages in Usenet, messengers, forums, social media etc. like here). I understand the motivation, and the site was young and a conflict with SE ongoing, these days it may just be enough.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 21:56
  • 11
    advertising is not spam (necessarily) but I'm stopping here. Commented Jul 18, 2020 at 21:59
  • 1
    Why is this getting down voted? Is not this whole thread about opinions? Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 19:04
  • @AaronHendrickson Maybe some people are seriously interested in advertising, see the 10 upvotes on the advertising is not spam comment. (while I think the comment poster is having a right point, it just happens that it's getting highly promoted by others) Like upvoting image is misleading and it's not spam mail, voting is transporting a point. And it's a known strategy to to hide other comments (in a longer threads) because favorited/upvoted comments are shown and the others hidden, requiring a click to expand them.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:39
  • 5
    I downvoted this post for mixing the two issues I mention in my answer, supporting a policy for one of the issues by arguments to the other one. This is false reasoning. Even more, the author of the answer supports their claim by highlighting the contents of their own chat messages; this is manupulative.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:44
  • @yo' It's the promotion that is manipulative. My opinion and answer is because that promotion is actually affecting my own messages. How else can I show that? That's my main point at the end of my answer.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:50
  • 5
    Well, it's affecting your discussion over this issue. It's not affecting the usage of the chat when you don't discuss the issue itself. The screenshot you added is not representative at all because of this.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:51
  • @yo' The sample is a sample for any chat usage when I reply to a user with a promotion in the name. It's a sample for the generic issue with promotion-name-handles. It would be similar if a user_make_america_great_again (30 chars name) appears and I would talk to them.
    – Stefan Kottwitz Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 22:03
  • 4
    Stefan, I assume you are aware that you can ping someone in chat without their whole name? eg just @Stefan or @Skillmon would suffice? Sure, it requires use of the backspace key, but with "…is affecting my free speech…" you seem to be implying this is a 'forced speech' issue, which it is not. I would agree with you wholeheartedly if it was. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 6:56
  • 1
    No way to avoid that (except by not using the reply feature of course), apart from the case when SE chat auto-threads pings that are not replies. I can't remember the specific algorithm for that but I think it depends on the message immediately following one from the person you are pinging. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 10:27

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