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Like Dreamquick said, using names or nicks as the identifier makes it more difficult to choose a name.
Why should I not be able to call myself "John Smith" if thats my name? If most people will only have one "John Smith" in their user list, there's no problem.
I don't think that anyone at AOL ever thought through the possible problems of having millions of users .. all required to have unique names.
I believe it's so everyone can have the Username of their choice as the number is unique...
Doesn't it really mean that no one has the username of their choice, as everyone has an arbitrarily-assigned number? :)
Remember that Compuserve used to use only numbers instead of usernames. Then at one point they began to let existing members choose a custom username, letting most "senior" members choose first before letting new signups begin to have custom names.
I might be wrong, but I'd expect that most users would prefer to be able to choose a username, even though it can be frustrating trying to find one that isn't taken.
If someone whom knows me can search for me then they can find my number (or more likely my nubmer and my current chosen alias) and then seemlessly add me to their buddy list or whatever.
Then at a later date if I decide my username is too childish or whatever I can easily change it and not have to worry about telling all my contacts that I changed - try that on AIM!
[edited by: Dreamquick at 7:26 pm (utc) on Oct. 28, 2002]
If every user of ICQ wanted their Display Name to be Bob, they could. No one would care, and it wouldn't break a thing. (It would just be very confusing!)
The Display Name can be changed at will, and doesn't have to be unique across their network(that's what the UINs are for).
UIN = your ICQ account number
Display Name = the name you want people to see you as
Don't confuse them, they serve completely different purposes.