What’s in a name?

At 5:01am on Saturday morning I was up and logged into Facebook. That might not be unsual for many people but last weekend Facebook launched usernames – the ability to give your profile or page a vanity URL – an easy to remember name – rather than a long number.

I was trying to bag myself “mikenolan” to match my accounts on Twitter, Delicious, Friendfeed and several other services, and I’m happy to say I was quick enough to do so. I was also registering a username for the Edge Hill University Fan Page. After much discussion we decided on facebook.com/edgehilluniversity.

Aside: with 1004 “fans” as of 31st May 2009, we were only just eligible to register a vanity URL for the Edge Hill fan page.  This restriction doesn’t apply to regular profile pages.

At first glance the fuss over usernames is a little over the top, but for Facebook this is deadly serious. Usernames are all about Facebook’s attempts to become your online identity of choice and a random number means nothing to most people. While there have been few announcements about what they’ll be used for, we can have a few guesses:

  • OpenID Provider: Facebook are being forced to become more open, and one way which gives the illusion of openness is OpenID.  It’s similar to Facebook Connect and an easy thing for them to offer while still forcing you to log in with them.
  • Jabber/XMPP: They’ve already announced that they were going to open up Facebook chat to connect with third party services such as Google Talk.  It will be based on XMPP which uses email-like addresses to reference accounts.  A username is almost essential for this to be easy to use.
  • Email: Many – especially younger people – already use Facebook mail considerably more than regular email accounts so I  imagine they’ll allow you to use your username@facebook.com as an email address.  I just hope they’ve got good spam filters!

What other uses can you think of?

With Google’s public profiles, and Twitter recently launching Verified Accounts, the battle for your online identity is well under way.

3 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the prompt. I’ve just registered http://www.facebook.com/mariekeguy – I didn’t have to get up at 5am on Saturday (one of the benefits of having an unusual name!)

    I’m still not entirely sure why I’ve gone for a vanity url but I suppose it’s better to have bagged a name than be fighting for one later down the line. It takes me back to all the fuss way back when people everyone was registering domain names here, there and everywhere.

    As you say the real uses will become clearer later on. An interesting one to watch.


  2. @steveellwood: this is a nice idea, and I’d add that running your own OpenID provider is potentially a sensible thing to do in future so that you’ve got control over your own SSO service.

    @mariekeguy: I still think that registering a domain is essential if you’re blogging in a personal capacity. Sure, I use Twitter and my photos go on Flickr but I know that michaelnolan.co.uk will always point at me and from there you can derive where else I am.

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