Twitter From @A to @Z

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Ever since the AOL days, few things have been as lame as a username that's too long. A name like Staggerlee9778 or DucksFan3 has long been a sign of late adoption. It's much better to have something simple like, alexismadrigal, say. Today, The Wall Street Journal looks at people who want to be a first-name basis with their social networks.

"Single-name sign-ins are cool because they're hard to come by. They are the first handles to be nabbed at a start-up, often by employees, their friends and family, sometimes by venture capitalists, angel investors, engineers and executives," writes Katherine Rosman. "Being @you, especially on a social-media site that becomes a mass-market success, proves you are an early adopter, in on the ground floor of the next big thing."

But there's an even more elite group of names out there, at least on Twitter: the single letters. Because Twitter limits the number of characters for each message to 140, @J has a decided advantage over @alexismadrigal. Beyond that, there is some real status in being one of the 26 people who go by a single character. It's like the nanocelebrity version of going just by Ronaldo or Nico or Dr. J.

So, we compiled this gallery of the single letters of Twitter. Unsurprisingly, nearly all the accounts are used heavily. The average single-letter Twitterer has Tweeted 3,266 times, follows 302 people, and is followed by 2,896. That might seem like a lot relative to the average user, but none are celebrities or power users like a Tim O'Reilly and his 1.4 million followers. @T aka Tantek Çelik, a developer, has the largest number of followers in the group with his 13,005. @L, a protected account with a bio of "Do Not Disturb," has 0. 

I still remember the first time I met @j, Juliette Melton, at a party in San Francisco. I was unduly impressed and don't think I called her by her real name for months. But it wasn't her first name on the service.

"It was, I think 2007 or early 2008," Melton, who now works for IDEO, recalled. "My name before that had been @LineoleumJet and people were complaining to me, 'Oh, we can't spell it.' Like, [Digg founder] Kevin Rose complained to me. So I thought it would make it easier for people."

At the time, the name had been long abandoned and Melton was able to successfully grab a hold of it. It might be cool to nerds like me, but she said that it hasn't ever really gotten her much tangible.

She, did, however, learn "about Justin Bieber the phenomenon before anyone else did." That's because the downside of the one-letter Twitter handle is that her @-replies can be overwhelmed by people Tweeting at @J&M or @J-Bieber or @j.cole. Any @J____ not followed by more letters is directed to her account, so as the Justin Bieber phenomeon -- and its many spellings -- took off, it became laborious to sort the replies to her from the replies to various Bieber online alteregos.

Nonetheless, she and the 25 others soldier on, including @C and @K @G who are dating (aww!). Update: Actually, @C and @K are married (double aww!). Here are few more stats about the group:

Number of protected accounts: 3
Number of people who don't use their full name: 7
Number of women: 4
Number of members of the Arkansas House of Representatives: 1
Number of Twitter developers: 1
Number who use complete sentences in their bios: 5
Number of default avatar users: 2
Number with over 4,000 followers: 7
Number of mustaches: 1
Number following less than 10 people: 6
Number of people who've Tweeted more than 10,000 times: 2

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Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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