Who’s Who? How to keep things simple for users known by nicknames

One of our overriding objectives in designing our 360 feedback software is to keep things as easy-to-use as possible. This can result in some features that are fantastically clever but no-one ever notices them because they just work.

One key example of this is the way people log in to MyTalent, our online software. Every user has a unique login, and the intention is that if someone is using the system for multiple different purposes (e.g. entering someone’s objectives, setting up their own 360 feedback, giving feedback to 3 other people), then they should just have one login which gives them access to everything in one place.

The problem is that people usually first get added in to our system by someone else – the most common situation is that a person who’s receiving 360 feedback (the ‘focus’) enters in the details of someone they want feedback from (the rater).

The challenge is that people don’t always go by the same name – one man’s Chris is another man’s Christopher, or perhaps even a Christine! And you can’t rely on using email address as some systems do – some people don’t know each others’ email addresses, don’t realise that they have multiple different email accounts (people often like to use home accounts for some situations), and a few people even have shared email accounts where there are multiple different users for a single email address.

The most common nicknames in MyTalent. Bubble size = No. of people with that name in our database. Click to open larger in a new window.

So we decided to build our nickname checker. When a new person’s details are added by a user (usually a focus entering in a rater’s details), the system also checks for a heap of variations on that name.

We’ve built up a database of over 200 common nicknames (Henry or Harry? Robert or Bob? Gene or Eugene?) and spelling confusions (Elizabeth or Elisabeth? Laurence or Lawrence?) If it finds any that match then the person adding this new rater is given the opportunity to ‘re-use’ one of the existing users rather than create a new one.

(A good illustration of the need for this is that in one of our clients’ projects there are 12 Chris Smiths, 3 Christopher Smiths and 5 Christine Smiths! If you searched for ‘Chris’ and your chosen colleague was in the database as ‘Christopher’ you’d end up creating a duplicate login if the system couldn’t check for nicknames this up.)

To give you a feeling for the most tricksy name variations, I’ve created the chart to the right. This shows the most common 30ish nicknames in our database. These are the name combinations that are both popular (i.e. there are a lot of people with one or other variation) and not too obscure (ie. the least common name variation is also pretty widespread).

I’ve highlighted in purple the nicknames  that could be for a male or a female name – both Chris and Pat could go either way, and this is also true of Sam and Alex (not shown on the diagram).

What this means is that our users get a simple ‘joined-up’ user experience using our system. It also makes for an easier life for the people administering the project who would otherwise have people phoning up complaining that they have multiple different logins. But most people will never notice – and that’s how it should be.


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