Facebook vanity

Perhaps you were one of the 500 000 people to register your Facebook vanity username within the first 15 minutes that the social networking site opened this option to users. What is the big fuss about you might ask? Why has there been such a buzz around Facebook’s vanity usernames?

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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  June 15, 2009

Perhaps you were one of the 500 000 people to register your Facebook vanity username within the first 15 minutes that the social networking site opened this option to users. What is the big fuss about you might ask? Why has there been such a buzz around Facebook’s vanity usernames?

Well, what Facebook developers refer to as ‘vanity usernames’ are actually just friendly URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) or more simplified web addresses. Before, your Facebook ‘web-address’ would have looked something like www.facebook.com/profile.php? id=592952074; but you can now have something like www.facebook.com/yourname.

There’s nothing new with friendly URLs as they’ve been around for ages and other popular social networking sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn have been using friendly URLs for a long time. (It is actually quite strange that Facebook has come so late to the party in this regard.)

The result of Facebook making its big-switch to friendly URLs is that its 200 million users have to get their unique usernames on a first-come-first-serve basis. So, if you happen to have a common name such as John Smith (and unless you got your username soon enough) chances are that you would have missed out on getting your own unique space on Facebook.

There would, however, be other options for Mr. John Smith because Facebook can generate a number of options such as john.smth or jhn.smith, but this isn’t quite the same as having your Facebook username replicate your full-name.

Most people wouldn’t be too bothered with having their name affiliated with their Facebook profile, but for a small number of people, this is important, especially seeing as we live in the age of the individual brand.

Associating one’s personal brand with the Facebook brand is obviously a boost in terms of marketing one’s self, in addition to blogging and using other networking services such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

Friendly URLs are also good for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), a form of online marketing where the aim is to get a site or blog to rank highly on search engines when users search for certain information. If you had to look at Google’s advice for bumping a website or blog up the search rankings, then you’ll see that friendly URLs are a key facet to achieving this feat.

A result of getting a Facebook vanity username is that when somebody searches for you on Google, your Facebook profile could appear high in the search rankings (as long as you allow your Facebook profile to be indexed by search engines).

Despite the seriousness that some have taken these friendly URLs with, there has also been a slightly lighter side to this whole affair. Some people have jokingly taken others’ names or hijacked others’ popular brand names. Somebody, for example, took Hollywood celebrity Ashton Kutcher’s popular Twitter URL ‘aplusk’. (The thing with Facebook URLs is that, at this stage, you can’t change your username.)

This does raise the issue of intellectual property rights as well though. According to Facebook, it reserves the right to all usernames, meaning that if the site’s administrators have an issue with your username, then they can revoke it. So, I wonder whether it is us individuals who are taking ownership of our online brands, or the social networking websites who are taking ownership of our online brands?

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