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The internet isn’t kind to those of us with common names.

Good luck ranking on Google, John Smith. Good luck finding a personal domain name, Ms. Jones. Good luck registering a Twitter account, Mr. Brown. You could add some numbers or punctuation, but it just doesn’t look clean.

So we’re forced to be creative. Or maybe just more keen to seize an opportunity. When I saw that the .info top-level domain (TLD) was available for my name, I jumped on it. Meanwhile, I still append 3 extra Ls in my social media profiles.

How do you make your online presence unique?

For those hoping to be discovered in search engines, a generic name can be both a blessing – if your name matches popular keywords – and a curse – if other entities have already laid claim to those.

Since web addresses serve only as a gateway for your presence, more emphasis should be placed on quality content. For a cohesive identity however, you’ll want to choose usernames and addresses that are immediately recognizable, memorable, and on-brand.  Your mileage will vary, but some techniques include

  • substitution of letters for similar numerals
  • use of other brand symbols, slogans, or assets
  • personalization with a brand ambassador’s name
  • creative domain hacking

With the growing adoption of the internet around the world, this trend is not expected to abate. Especially in countries with large populations, usernames are a valuable commodity – rather like domain names in the early days of the web. Opening up new TLDs has helped to create further variety and personalization, and creative uses of uncommon domains are still in vogue. Domain hacks – such as .ly – have proven that the global web has little regard for national signifiers. I suspect relatively few people outside the internet community or Libya realize that .ly is actually the country code for Libya. Popular with tech startups, .io was originally intended for the British Indian Ocean Territory.

There’s actually some controversy around .io, since the proceeds of domain registrations don’t benefit Indian Ocean nationals

While .tv brings in millions of dollars each year for the tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, and .me benefits Montenegro, the people of the British Indian Ocean Territory, or the Chagos Islands, have no such luck. Indeed, profits from the sale of each .io domain flow to the very force that expelled the Chagossian or Ilois people from their equatorial land just a generation or two ago: the British government.

The dark side of .io: How the U.K. is making web domain profits from a shady Cold War land deal


Some registration processes allow users to choose a display name separate from their unique username. Gaming giants Blizzard and Steam make effective use of this concept in member profiles. Both require users to register a unique username, but they don’t force this to be displayed in-game. This has proven to be a popular choice for those who would otherwise be forced into settling for a less-desirable name. Here’s hoping this becomes a common best practice beyond the sphere of gaming.