Facebook Kicks Off Vanity URL Rush Tonight

Frenzy for personalized Facebook pages expected to start at midnight.

June 11, 2009, 4:44 PM

June 12, 2009— -- Amy Belmonte is bracing for a late night.

At exactly 12:01 a.m. ET Saturday, Belmonte plans to be online, at the ready to personalize her Facebook page the moment the company gives users the green light.

"It's just a matter of me staying up late enough to do it," said the 30-year-old office manager from Meriden, Conn.

For the first time, the mammoth social-networking site is letting users personalize their Facebook pages in what some people have been calling a virtual land rush.

On a first-come, first-served basis, Facebook users will have the option to claim variations of their names or other nicknames of their choosing.

For example, instead of a Facebook URL littered with numbers and random letters, Belmont could get www.facebook.com/amybelmonte or a similar Web address with the nickname of her choice.

MySpace, Twitter and other social-networking sites already let users personalize their pages. This change brings Facebook into line with its competitors.

"We're planning to offer Facebook usernames to make it easier for people to find and connect with you," Facebook designer Blaise DiPersia wrote on the company's blog. "When your friends, family members or co-workers visit your profile or Pages on Facebook, they will be able to enter your username as part of the URL in their browser. This way people will have an easy-to-remember way to find you."

Although it doesn't know what the participation level will be, the company said it's prepared for a spike in activity.

"We did quite a bit of testing before launching the feature and we've taken several steps to account for an increased traffic load," said Larry Yu, a spokesman for Facebook.

Some personalities and businesses, such as President Barack Obama and General Electric, already have personalized Facebook URLs. But this change will make everyone with a personalized Web address more searchable on Google and Facebook.

Members of the technorati and early adopters are expected to scramble for their names the moment the appointed time arrives. But Adam Ostrow, an editor at the popular social media blog Mashable, thinks regular old Facebook users might take a bit more time to customize their pages.

To Prevent Squatting, Users Can't Change or Transfer Chosen URLs

"I think users of other sites are certainly used to having one and Facebook is promoting the fact that they're going to enable this," he said.

While people accustomed to MySpace and Twitter might not spend their Friday nights camped out at their computers, as they see their friends migrating to personalized pages, they'll likely follow suit, he said.

Noah Perabo, a 30-year-old New Yorker who works in the music industry, doesn't intend to sideline his Friday night plans, but as soon as it's convenient, he plans to snag his user name of choice.

Since January, he has been keeping a blog on the New York music scene. But now that he's trying to reach a bigger audience, he'd like a destination that's easier to find.

He has been trying to change his blog's Web address from blackraptor.wordpress.com to blackraptor.com but "now that the opportunity to get the name on Facebook is here, I want to try to take advantage of it," he said.

Instead of his name, he hopes to grab "Blackraptor," but he added, "It's kind of a hobby, so it's not like I'll be heartbroken if someone else gets to it first."

But if you do plan to join the rush, in all your excitement, don't be too hasty. Designer DiPersia's blog post cautions users to think carefully about the names they choose because once it has been selected, it can't be changed or transferred.

Even if in your fatigue you misspell the username of your choice, Facebook won't change it. Also, once an account is removed from the site, the user name will not be made available to others for security reasons, the company's Web site says.

To prevent people from squatting on names, the company says you might not be able to sign up for a personalized page if you signed up for a Facebook page after May 31 or a user profile after 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Generic Key Words Off Limits

Although users can claim personalized Facebook pages without any charge, Ostrow of Mashable speculates that the company may be able to profit off vanity URLs in the future.

Noting that the company has said that generic words like "pizza" and "flowers" will not be up for grabs Saturday, Ostrow said Facebook could potentially sell those URLs for a decent price. "Sports," for example, could be sold to ESPN, he said.

"It's certainly something Facebook is keeping open," he said.

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