Social networks are here to stay…

…and so is your Twitter name. While it's too early to say how social media is going to evolve, I am betting that Twitter names will become most people's key public identity for many years to come, if not forever. That's one reason I try to use "Shoq" wherever I can. It's short, memorable, and easy to type.

The latter is crucial. Microblogging messages (a.k.a. Tweets) are, by design, very brief, so every character counts. When your name is too long, it denies space to people trying to retweet your messages, or include you as some kind of "cc" in @mentions.  And short names are getting harder and harder to come by, so if you have a name over about 8 characters,  I strongly advise that you just bite the bullet now, and go find something short and sweet.

Relax, it's not a huge life change.

Fortunately, Twitter makes this less painful than many services, because when you change your user name, you're not actually changing the account; just the name. Thus, you don't lose your followers. They will all still see your tweets. You will have to make it clear to them that you changed the name, however,  so they remember to type it correctly when addressing you manually, and not via some client interface button.  This is a matter of blasting a few tweets for a few days and you're done.

While finding short names can be challenging, it's made easier if you remember that what your name is, is less important than that it be memorable. The days of screen names that reflect your personality died with AOL. Sure, you might feel you're "JustASunflower1982," but does anyone else think so, or care? No, they do not. They'd just as soon you be JSun82, so they can easily  remember,  type, and spot it among those tiny 9 point Tweetdeck typefaces.

How to find a new Twitter name

Just open the Twitter settings and start testing name availability until you find something that you like.  Just don't press "Save" until you're fairly happy with it.

Remember, it's not irreversible, so you don't have to be too neurotic or anal about this process. Remember, it just doesn't much matter. You are not your name, but only what you type. The quality of your output, and the name always get associated in people's heads fairly quickly. If you really get stuck, just Tweet me. I can usually come up with something for you, using whatever tortured renaming logic jumps into my head at that moment.  I'm sure I can convince you it's a good one. It's my only real skill. 

How to safely switch your account & followers to a new Twitter name

This video will tell you how to do that relatively safely, if you like spoken video tutorials. But don't be sloppy or slow, as the process can go awry if you mess up.  

I hate spoken tutorials, so here's a written one. Basically, to switch your existing name and followers to your new name, do this: 

  • Log in to the new (already existing name) in one browser (e.g.. Chrome or Internet Explorer).
  • Log in to your old name in another browser (e.g., Firefox)
  • Change the new account name to  newname_old. Press save. Then without delay…
  • Change your old account name ot the newname. Press save. Done. Your entire account and followers will be tied to the new user name. 
  • I advise that you keep your old name around to prevent others from stealing it. 
  • Note: You don't have to use two browsers, but you'll have to log in and out of them to switch, and this increases the time it takes, and someone could conceivably grab your names while in transition.