How I Lost My Hacker News Name

I’m not on Hacker News a lot, but occasionally I do comment. When I do, you’ll see me there as sullivandanny. I’m also dannysullivan, but I can’t have that account. Forgot my password, and that’s that, apparently.

When you create a Hacker News account, unlike most places I register with, you’re not required to provide an email address. You enter the name you want, a password, push submit — if the name’s not taken, there you go.

I made my dannysullivan account 1,398 days ago. That’s nearly four years ago. I created the account to make the only comment I’ve ever done with it, on this discussion, about a story I wrote on Search Engine Land over the default search settings in Firefox allowing Bing to be one of the providers.

About two years ago, I got back into participating occasionally on Hacker News. I couldn’t remember my password to get back into my old account. There was no password recovery tool, either. As it turns out, this is because I never provided an email address after the fact. If you don’t add an email address afterward, then there’s no prompt to change your password, as there’s no way to email you a recovery option.

That makes sense, but it’s not explained. If you try to login, and there’s no email address on file, you don’t get told that. You just get told, “Bad login.”

If you’re like me, and have forgotten your password and never provided an email address, that’s why you can’t get back to your account. “Bad login” effectively means, create a new account.

I did finally got advice about all this from someone at Y Combinator last week. I’d also hoped that I could convince them to let me change my account name to dannysullivan, since that’s the name I use in many other places — plus, it’s not like the “other” dannysullivan on Hacker News is using it. But since I can’t authenticate that it’s really me (despite it being pretty bloody obvious that it is), no luck.

Again, makes sense, fair enough. Even if it sucks.


  1. Yonathan says

    Do you have the original computer (or backup) where you made the account? The user cookie seems to last until 2038, so as long as you didn’t clear cookies you should still be able to log in.

  2. says

    Interesting. Well, it was nearly four years ago, but maybe I have the old laptop around without things cleared. Will check. But the other thing is that I’d really like to merge or change the accounts, too.

  3. says

    It’s one of those fun situations where trying to be more usable ends up making the software less so. It should be made painfully and unambiguously clear in a post-signup message that a lost account is lost forever if you don’t add an email address.

  4. says

    I don’t see the point of not requiring an email address, I suppose the site title tells us something about that, however there is no way to validate who you are when you lose your login credentials.

  5. Zach says

    This is a fantastic way to ensure I’ll never look at Hacker News again. *rolls on over to reddit*

  6. Nick says

    I hope they have anti-bot registration nailed down otherwise someone is going to register every phone book name and dictionary word out there just to shut them down. What will they do then?