Exclusive: The Future of Facebook Usernames

The whole world A small number of super-geeky obsessives is abuzz over the upcoming launch of Facebook Usernames, an exciting new feature that will let you put some parts of your name into a web address.


Since its announcement yesterday, there's been a lot of excited discussion of the feature, but in a dashes.com exclusive I can exclusively report this exclusive look at the future of the feature. We'll also cover how the feature's rollout will be covered by the technology trade press and the mainstream press.

June 13, 12:01am: Facebook launches Facebook Usernames. The gold rush is on!

June 13, 12:01:45am: The first completely irrational, highly unlikely theory about how Google indexes Facebook Usernames is emitted from the ass-end of the SEO industry.

June 13, 12:02am: An enterprising and mischevious nerd who is definitely not me squats on the username of a notable tech trade reporter like Michael Arrington.

June 13, 12:06am: The Facebook username system starts getting overloaded with new registrations, but their tech team clears it up in 20 or 30 minutes, for a total period of slowness of about 35 minutes.

June 13, 12:15am: A first wave of "It's alive! Go get your name!" posts go up on various technology blogs, noting that the service is running a little bit slow. None of these posts mention that you can also register a real domain name that you can own, instead of just having another URL on Facebook.

June 13, 12:45am: TechCrunch discovers that one of its writers can't get his preferred spelling for his name, and notices that registrations in the system are running a bit slow. A Twitter search reveals four other people discussing the same problems, and one person that can't get to the feature at all. The phrase "The Facebook Username debacle" is first used, and becomes the preferred sobriquet for the feature forevermore. 70% of commenters mention that "Facebook Username" can be abbreviated "FU", and each thinks he is the first to think of it.

June 13, 1:00am: #FUFacebook becomes a Trending Topic on Twitter. People who are presently whining about how expensive it is to buy a new iPhone because they bought a new iPhone last year will have the chance to see how obnoxious and overprivileged they look, but will not take the opportunity.

June 13, 9:00am: The first mainstream coverage of the feature happens in the New York Times, which includes a one-line mention of the launch in a lengthy feature about Twitter's Verified Accounts. The story includes a colorful illustration of Kanye West, but omits any mention that you can also register a real domain name that you can own, instead of just having another URL on Facebook.

June 13, 12:01pm: Twelve hours after launch, a passionate and vitriol-filled flame war erupts amongst web protocol nazis about exacly which 300-series HTTP header should be used to redirect from the old /profile.php?id=500012896 URLs to the new system. Mark Pilgrim writes an overwrought essay on the topic, and 300 Ubuntu users on netbooks use their free hand to Digg the post. For these nerds, "The Facebook Debacle" refers to the improper headers used on the redirects, instead of the few minutes of difficulty in registering names.

June 13, 12:01pm: Within twelve hours of launch, the OpenID community will quietly reach out to Facebook, asking about their plans to have Facebook Usernames become an OpenID provider. Facebook will decline to comment, Simon Willison will write a thoughtful and persuasive essay about the benefits to Facebook if they were to embrace such a thing, and Andy Baio will politely link to it on Waxy Links. Months later, Facebook will actually implement the feature. For this community, this cordial and fruitful exchange will be referred to "The Facebook Debacle".

June 13, 3:00pm: I tweet a link to my post about owning your identity online. The few folks who read it seven years ago nod in agreement, and everyone else considers reading the short bit.ly URL to be equivalent to reading the post.

June 13, 4:04pm: A white guy named David discovers every variation of his name on Facebook is already taken, and finally reconsiders the condescending contempt he's always had for black people who give their kids unique names. This tiny bit of racial reconsideration is the only unequivocally good news to come out of the Facebook Usernames launch.

June 15, 8:00am: A short and punchy Monday morning story about Facebook Usernames appears on USA Today's website, omitting any mention of the word "debacle", but dwelling heavily on the preponderance of URLs with "Hussein" in them. This vestige of the Presidential elections, which briefly convinced college kids that changing their middle name on a website was a form of political activism, is promptly interpreted as an Al Qaeda sleeper cell movement by most of the paper's print readers.

June 15, 9:00am: In its opening weekend, between four and five million people (or between two and three percent of Facebook's ostensible population) will have registered Usernames for themselves. Tech pundits will say "everyone has a Facebook Username now" and refer to that assertion as an article of faith in future posts about identity. It will not be until 2012 that Facebook supports the full range of diacritical marks and international characters that let the other 5.5 billion residents of Earth use their name as a username, but this fact will go unreported.

June 15, 11:00am: In response to the growing buzz on TechMeme about "The Facebook Debacle", Mark Zuckerberg posts on Facebook's blog with the news that the company has created the Facebook Username Dispute Resolution Community. This group is tasked with creating a policy for arbitrating who can get what names, how conflicts between different people's usernames are resolved, and how to report squatting of usernames. The post omits any mention that you can also register a real domain name that you can own, instead of just having another URL on Facebook. Over the course of its 18-month existence, the FUDR Community will attract thousands of comments, 80% of which ask for The Old News Feed back, and 85% of which contain one or more typos or deviations from standard spellings of English words.

June 15, 1:00pm: LinkedIn posts a thinly-veiled but very smart update on their company blog that happens to mention in passing that they've had friendly usernames as an option for URLs for years, and that it's more likely you want to show your professional profile to the world as the first Google result for your name. The post omits any mention that you can also register a real domain name that you can own, instead of just having another URL on LinkedIn.

June 15, 1:30pm: The Google Profiles team will write a post that features a bad pun in the headline, ostensibly serving to announce some minor recent feature update, but in reality just trying to remind people that hey, you can get a Google URL. The post omits any mention that you can also register a real domain name that you can own, instead of just having another URL on Google.

June 15, 2:00pm: An enterprising young web hacker will realize that there are 24 items in this list, which means that if you add in a free space, you can very easily turn this post into a 5×5 Facebook Username Bingo Card. Combined with the Creative Commons license on this blog, it makes for a fun idea and a Flickr Pool pops up for people to show the FU Bingo cards they've generated.

June 15, 4:00pm: The first web-savvy celebrity in Hollywood will hold a meeting with their marketing team about what it will take to get their preferred username. During this meeting, the smartest person in the room will try to explain the difference between a profile page and a fan page, why there are different processes for getting vanity URLs for each, and why a person or brand doesn't have control over all the fan pages that can be created about them. That person will be ignored by everyone else for the duration of the meeting. The issue will be ignored by Facebook for nearly a year.

June 16, 10:00pm: The Domai.nr guys release a service that lets you sign in with your Facebook Connect account and automatically find what variations of your name are available as real domain names. While the feature is cool and works well, the team struggles to get press coverage for the launch, since it's predicated on the idea that you can register a real domain name that you can own, instead of just having another URL on Facebook.

June 19, 9:00am: The Bureau of Labor Statistics will announce the unemployment numbers for May, showing a loss of 660,000 jobs, with 1/3 of them being white-collar jobs. Coincidentally, 220,000 unemployed professionals will realize to their horror that their Facebook profile now ranks above their LinkedIn profile if a prospective employer googles them, and that they have no idea how to use Facebook's privacy settings.

July 31, 2009: MySpace announces MyAddress, a feature for providing more control over the URL where your MySpace profile appears. Instead of constraining users to a few choices as Facebook does, MySpace gives users very broad control over what kind of address they can have. As a result, users pick web addresses that exactly match their obscure handles on the service, instead of using their real names.

February 15, 2010: Microsoft launches a similar URL service for usernames, providing friendly URLs for millions of people on Windows Live and XBox Live, and providing the feature to more people in one day than Facebook has succeeded in delivering usernames to in eight months. Because the announcement goes out on President's day, and because it's Microsoft, nobody really notices except for a two-line mention on Mashable, half of which is a joke about Bing. Both Microsoft's own announcement and the Mashable post omit any mention that you can also register a real domain name that you can own, instead of just having another URL on Live.com.

October 31, 2010: AOL has an internal meeting about providing friendly URLs to users of AIM and Bebo, and make a bold decision to put it on their 18-month roadmap.

I hope you find this overview of the future timeline of Facebook Usernames useful to understand where this exciting feature is going in the future, how our industry will adapt and respond to this sort of innovation, and how our tech trade press will hold the powerful company's feet to the fire as this sort of capability becomes mainstream in the years to come.

And oh hey, add me as a friend on Facebook! Or become a fan of mine! Or something.

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