Friday, June 19, 2009

"Vanity URLs"

At exactly 12:01am EST Saturday, 13/06/09, Facebook offered users a chance to personalise their Facebook page with their own, customized URL, based on a first come first served basis.

Prior to this, only a select few were able to obtain personalized URLs (such as President Barack Obama, Britney Spears and General Electric). The user rules prohibited trademark infringement and other, obvious and offensive terms were blacklisted.

So how many people “stood in line” to grab their customised vanity URL? Users registered 200,000 custom usernames in their first 3 minutes of availability. By later Saturday morning, 3 million usernames had been registered. Through Sunday (14/06/09), 5.75 million usernames had been taken across the site. One user blogged: “I was nervous leading up to the final minute before the usernames were released, but I got the name I was looking for!”.

The nearly 6 million usernames registered so far represent only about 3% of the site’s 200+ million users, however as others see their friends have a vanity URL and less frequent facebook users sign on and begin to pick up on this, it is likely it will only be a matter of time before a majority of users follow this trend.

Facebook is joining the competition:
MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites already let users personalize their home pages. So why has Facebook finally decided to join in? A Facebook designer discussed how this addition will make it easier for friends and family to connect with Facebook users and as he stated “they will have an ‘easy-to-remember’ way to find you.”

What is the significance of this? How does this impact who we are and where we are and our identities?

Quoted from one blogger. “I was not able to get my first choice of vanity URL on Facebook but I’m certainly not surprised. Nevertheless, I now look forward to updating my personal Twitter background so that my Facebook contact information reflects a more inviting vanity URL rather than a cold, prison-like ID code.” - Joe

Once your username goes mainstream, it makes your “home” on the Web easier to remember. And having your “home” on Facebook (which more people are likely to visit than say, a separate website), is priceless. For example, on an advertisement for Vitamin Water, the address flashes across the bottom of the screen. Beyond something like Twitter where you can just follow someone, companies/brands are able to do so much more with a Facebook Fan Page as they can code it however they want.

The URL that a person, company or brand chooses reflects something about one’s online or offline identity. Whatever the choice may be, it is a way of saying ‘Here *I* am!'.

What does this cultural shift say about our future?

Our online identities could move from being just a “silly alias” online to an official identification – a single authentic label for how we identify ourselves from EVERY CORNER of the Web. And people could begin referring to you offline…in your online alias.

Take for example, 25 year old digital media artist and photographer, An Xiao. Recently when having a night out on the town at cocktail parties and gallery openings, Ms. Xiao was referred to throughout the night by her friend as her online name “thatwaszen.” As she states, “Thatwaszen – it has become my name. It’s just like when you hear your name at a cocktail party, you turn your head.”

Web life could start trickling into real life...
As a Dr. John Suler (a professor who studies cyberpsychology) stated: “I think it’s the exception rather than the rule that offline and online identities are ‘disassociated’ with each other. For many people, there is push, consciously or unconsciously, to integrate online and offline identities…to make them synergistic to each other.”

Seema Patel.

Sources reference: 26/06/09; 12/06/09; 15/06/09; 31/05/09

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