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What does it mean if a user is unregistered?

I'm interested in the questions and answers of a particular user, let's say "SAM". I clearly see questions that SAM has asked, but when I search for "SAM" under Users, nothing comes up. When I click on the username under one of SAM's questions, I see that SAM has a user number, over 2k in reputation, a page that aggregates SAM's questions and answers, but SAM is Unregistered. Is that why I can't find SAM's page when I search for "SAM"?

Would love to figure out what's going on.

It's probably not a bug, but it feels like one; hence the tag.

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    $\begingroup$ Dear Anna, unregitered users have severely limited abilities. If you know SAM, you can ask him/her to register their account. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Dec 20 '13 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ Another interesting thing, unregistered accounts can recover their cookie automatically by visiting this page if they remember the email address they used - if you ever need to guide someone on how to do that. $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Dec 20 '13 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ What does it mean when someone's an Unregistered User?, How do unregistered accounts work?. It's sad that many users with thousands of reputation never bothered to register $\endgroup$ – phuclv Aug 30 '18 at 8:39
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In brief it means they never signed-up (using an OpenID).

When visiting the page for the first time (or just without being logged in in some way) one is at some places, in particular for answering and for asking question, also given the option to 'post as a guest' requiring a displayname and an email address.

If one does this an unregistered account is created and one gets a cookie as to stay logged 'for some time' so that one can possibly edit (ones own contribution), accept an answer, be responsive to comments, and so on.

By the design idea it is (as far as I understand) some one-time/short-term guest account.

Yet preserving the cookie one can also continue to use the site with the same unregistered account (also for a long time). I am not certain how it works in detail as I do not/did not use the site in this way, and if one can recover the cookie/the account via the email, but I do not think so. See this meta.SO question What does it mean when someone's an Unregistered User? for some information/confirmation of the above.

Unregistered accounts however are also different in other ways.

As you remarked they do not show up in the list of (registered) users and thus also cannot be found via searching there. Typically, though, you can find their userpage using a general search engine.

Also, they cannot vote (even if they have the points), they also have some more restrictions regarding deletion and possibly other things.

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  • $\begingroup$ By restrictions regarding deletion at the end I mean self-deletion of posts. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Dec 19 '13 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty much it. With only a few exceptions, you can ask or answer a question on our sites without registering at all, this was a corner stone design decision because other Q&A sites at the time not only wanted you to sign up, they wanted you to pay to get the answer you thought you found in your search results. We do encourage folks to register within the UI, but we're not too forceful about it. $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Dec 20 '13 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ In the meta.SO question you reference, it says that an unregistered user must be using the same computer if they want to build up reputation over months or years (unless they're clever about carrying around a cookie in the text file -- I'm not sure what that means). Is this still true? Can an unregistered user become registered and carry over their questions, reputation, etc.? $\endgroup$ – Anna M. Dec 20 '13 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, @AnnaM. All the questions/answers/reputation carries over after registration and you get all the benefits of being a full community member. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Dec 20 '13 at 16:43

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