Facebook Vanity URLs and Inequality

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Ok, so maybe I'm a little miffed that I wasn't one of the chosen few who got to register a Facebook username before everyone else did. I'm not a journalist and nor am I a Facebook employee. Nor am I personally an advertiser on Facebook so maybe I don't deserve to have been given the opportunity to register a username before anyone else. Still I think there's something wrong with this process.

Facebook isn't just any old company anymore. Sure it is privately owned and privately run. And yes, it has every right to do what it likes. But what Facebook doesn't realize is that it is its users who make Facebook a success. Facebook has an obligation to be fair and equal to them. The social network contains our social graphs and our content. Facebook is uniquely positioned to be more than just another web publisher with audiences. It wants to be the social utility for the whole web. Those are great aspirations and in many ways they're done a lot of good to get on that path. But it cannot simply met out favors to whomever it may please. Imagine if Network Solutions started giving its employees first dibs at vanity urls? How absurd that would be! 

Facebook is launching vanity urls for users and companies starting at 12:01am EDT, Saturday, June 13th 2009. However, select journalists, companies and employees have been given an opportunity to register names beforehand. Sorry Facebook, but to me that smacks of inequality and as a long time user of Facebook I believe that is not in the ethos of the service. It reminds me of the net neutrality debate and how certain cable companies want their preferred content to run at a faster pace than other content on the internet.

If Facebook is about preferential treatment, then maybe their tag line should be changed from, " Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life" too "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life and if we like you we'll help you a little more than the others."

Here's the Wall Street Journal coverage and the Techcrunch post which got a lot of comments too. As Silicon Alley Insider pointed out, Facebook could have charged for these vanity urls or even auctioned them off. Both those options would have been better than this.

Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.


Syamant said:

This service seems like a lottery and the need to launch it on a specific date and time is curious .

Is there a specific goal that one has somehow not been able to grasp ?

Ideally, the service should have been announced and launched on the same day. They could have built in measures to protect identity.

There is a need to question the reason for creating this so called celebrity culture. Transparently telling most of their customers that they are somehow "second class citizens of this so called Facebook country" is surely a misstep.

Could they also not have simply provided domain registration and mapping of profile to this domain?

Thanks for the post.

Mike Barrett Author Profile Page said:

At the same time, as an early adopter from when it was college-only, I feel like I should have some kind of higher priority in the event someone wants the username I'd choose. The FAQ didn't mention anything w/ a lottery or anything, so I'd assume 1st coem 1st serve.

Also that form better work on the iphone safari (I doubt the app was updated to accomodate this feature), because I'm going to try to hit it at midnight from whereever I am.

praneeth said:

They even goofed up on FB fan page policies.How come intel with just 103 fans create a vanity url?


sharisax Author Profile Page said:

Perhaps my response is colored by the fact that of the 22 "Shari Weiss" FB-ers out there, I got my name -- but this "game" or "lottery" or whatever doesn't seem too different from email addresses, etc.
Maybe I'm missing something?
The Facebook decision/move doesn't seem to be worth squabbling about.
Actually, I heard from one of my same-namers, and now maybe we can be friends.
To me, that's what Social Media is all about: if one "way," doesn't work, there are lots of others - especially for creative people.

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Facebook allowed a few select people to choose their usernames before they allowed anyone else to. That's the problem with it. Companies do give employees and media sneak peaks at new products but rarely do they give them the equivalent of exclusive rights over something - in this case the ability to choose a username. That's an interesting idea - mapping the domain name to the usernames or at least for the fan pages. I wonder if that was even considered.

Thanks for pointing out the Intel scenario - it looks like their rules certainly aren't equally applicable to everyone. I'm a big Facebook fan but they've disappointed me this time.


Interesting post. I'm here because of your recent interview with Susan Bratton, specifically your discussions around social influence marketing.

I'm surprised that Facebook who should live this everyday doesn't apply these techniques to identify individuals with influence (such as yourself) and market to them.

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