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Cancel your weekend plans. At 12:01 am EDT on Saturday, June 13, Facebook will open the floodgates on a long-awaited landrush.
At that time, all Facebook users will be able to select a vanity URL (eg. www.facebook.com/username/).
According to the announcement on the Facebook blog:
Facebook usernames will be available in basic text forms, and you can only choose a single username for your profile and for each of the Pages that you administer. Your username must be at least five characters in length and only include alphanumeric characters (A-Z, 0-9), or a period or full stop (".").
Once a username is selected, it cannot be changed or transferred.
Despite the prohibition on transfers, and that Facebook's terms technically forbid the transfer of Facebook accounts without Facebook's permission, there will surely be a rush to snap up generic vanity URLs and it goes beyond regular users seeking bragging rights or a domainer-like payday. Some of the rush will be caused by those looking at Facebook's vanity URLs as an SEO asset.
Facebook has provided vanity URLs for certain Facebook Pages, and searches based on some of these demonstrate that Facebook Pages sporting these can rank pretty well. This can sometimes also be true with vanity URLs on other popular Web 2.0 services such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Scribd, all of which, incidentally, have spam accounts because of it.
Unfortunately, Facebook's vanity URLs may be the juiciest targets for spammers and although Facebook has put in place a number of measures to prevent abuse and to give rights holders the ability to protect their brands, I think there is a good chance this will end up being a headache for a lot of people. As I've mentioned before, an associate of mine has been trying unsuccessfully for more than a month to help a high-profile client win back an unauthorized Facebook Page; the next step: the client's $500/hour lawyers.
Of course, the appeal of vanity URLs to spammers and squatters isn't really Facebook's fault. At some point, the search engines (namely Google) will need to come up with a better way to rank pages on social networks that have vanity URLs. I've seen some evidence that this is taking place but don't have any hard evidence to back it up so for now I'll say nothing more.
In the meantime, if you have a Facebook account and are itching for a vanity URL, you know where you need to be at 12:01 am EDT this Saturday.
Photo credit: Jacob Bøtter via Flickr.