Thinking about naming conventions for a life-long email address

A topic that comes up fairly consistently when I speak with customers is the aim of providing an institutional email address for life. Something that will forever relate an individual to a school…first of all as students, then as alumni, and sometimes even as students again if they are a bona-fide lifelong learner, loyal to their alma mater to a fault 🙂

Anyone that works in education that has tried to deal with this knows the challenge of large numbers and an ever changing student population only too well…there can be sometimes be upwards of many tens of thousands of students enrolled at any given time, a new intake of several thousand each year, and a similar number graduating at the other end of the production line and leaving.  Names are not unique, so you can always expect repetition, if not in the same enrollment, almost certainly over time.

I have talked to colleges that deal with this in a number of ways, and I wanted to share these with you here for your consideration.  There is no one ‘best way’ but there are certainly some ideas here you may want to consider.

Name Examples Considerations
use a student number
  • some colleges do not like students sharing their numbers.
  • not easily remembered, even by student that owns it.
  • not very personal.
use a combination of student name and entry year
  • can be tricky to implement this correctly in user creation scripts.
  • If a student keep on returning to the institution over the years to take new classes, the naming convention may be a bit redundant.
append numbers to the end of name for uniqueness
  • some very common names will mean email addresses with high numbers, and it can be difficult to determine which ‘John Smith’ is which.
Allow students to make up their own aliases AKA
  • might lead to abuse of the facility by some students.

Some schools that do not have a strategy around an email address for life have asked me about simply reusing email addresses as they become free…so for example the John Smith that is currently using graduates, freeing the name up for a future John Smith.  This is fine, but there are some considerations that need to be made here.  First of all, the LiveID service does not allow the deactivation and reactivation of an account more than 4 times…try to do more, and you will get blocked.  You can reset this counter back to zero, but to do this, you need to go further and actually evict the account which can sometimes be an extended process.

So I hope this all helps…your comments are invited if any of you have ideas that are not implied here and that work for you.



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