From usernames to profiles: the development of pseudonymity in Internet communication

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30 Citations (Scopus)


This article traces the development of Internet communication by examining online names and pseudonyms. I argue that choosing a username, as the first interaction a person has with a platform, sets the tone for how communication and content flows through platforms. By focusing on pseudonymity as an enduring, if contested, affordance of online communication, I consider the sociocultural conventions of naming in early computer terminals and operating systems, email, bulletin boards, chatrooms, chat programs and social networking. In doing so, I demonstrate that pseudonymity remains a way to deliberately compartmentalise identities, and therefore audiences. I map two broad shifts in online communication: from people who belonged to institutions reaching each other in the 1970s and 1980s, to usernames and channels on bulletin boards and chatrooms in the 1990s, and networked profiles on social media in the 2000s. While recognising cultural and socioeconomic factors influence engagement in online communication, I argue that we are moving towards increasing use of multiple accounts and platforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-331
Number of pages20
JournalInternet Histories
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • affordances
  • bulletin boards
  • chatrooms
  • email
  • Internet history
  • online communication
  • platform studies
  • platforms
  • pseudonymity
  • social media
  • usernames

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