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Facebook’s user name roll-out

FacebookUser names are pretty important. I’m probably at the extreme end of the spectrum – I’ve bought into the Web 2.0 ‘brand me’ concept with Dextress.com and my handle ‘Dextress’ on just about every network with more than ten users. But even for friends of mine who are less serious about ‘owning’ their digital identity, losing your user name on your favourite service can really dent your motivation to participate.

Back in March, Facebook spoke about introducing user names, specifically with a view to enabling vanity URLs. For the uninitiated, a vanity URL just refers to a tidier web address that links to a profile, article or other piece of content. For example, you might prefer ‘yourfavouritesite.com/yourusername’ to ‘yourfavouritesite.com/profile.php?id=2983’. It’s unclear if Facebook plans to use the new user names for anything  other than vanity URLs, but given profile linking service Facebook Connect is constantly expanding in new directions, it’s a safe bet they will.

What’s interesting – and I think, what’s worth discussing – is the way Facebook chose to open up user name registration. Facebook was in the unique position of having an enormous audience without ever requiring user names (only your real name was necessary). Most services and social networks require a user name when you first sign up for an account, so there’s rarely this sort of digital land grab. Facebook announced that, at a nominated time on the 12th of June, user names would become available on a first come, first serve basis.

In theory, that’s fine – everyone has the same chance at securing their user name – the more dedicated crowd would be the most successful. But actually, that wasn’t quite the case. For a while now, celebrity profiles have been able to register user names, and in the weeks leading up to last weekend’s user name roll-out, Facebook employees, partners and other close affiliates were given the opportunity to register early. The problem with this, aside from the obvious frustration of not being Facebook illuminati and potentially missing out on your user name, ties back to our increasing dependence on the service.

Facebook has become more than just the privately held corporation that it is on paper. It’s played such a key role in connecting people and content online that this kind of behaviour is, I think, pretty off-putting. Of course, Facebook are completely within their rights to do whatever they like – they can paint the site bright pink, redistribute your photos with Photoshopped pirate mustaches and start asking for monthly subscription fees – but given the increasing importance of our Facebook profiles, is playing favourites with something as important as our identities okay? Perhaps this wouldn’t seem so important if you could change your user name at a later date, but Facebook’s confirmed that this won’t be possible. “Think carefully about the user name you choose,” encouraged the note accompanying the user name announcement. “Once it’s been selected, you won’t be able to change or transfer it.” Best to avoid backstreetboys4life, then.

What’s your take? Given the increasing public and professional importance of our Facebook profiles, does the company have a responsibility to ditch the favouritism?

You can find me at facebook.com/dextress – I got lucky.


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