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My name is Bob Moore and I have one of the most generic names on the planet. I get strip searched at the airport because some other guy named Robert Moore is on a watchlist. When I applied for my mortgage, I had to initial over 500 documents individually to certify that I wasn’t some other like-named person (like that Rob Moore who defaulted on a farm equipment loan or that Bobby Moore who didn’t pay his taxes in 1971). I’ve done my best to add some uniqueness to my name, usually by adding a middle initial and going by “Robert J. Moore.” However, it isn’t always enough.
Case in point: this Facebook URL fiasco. This week, I worked more than a few 14+ hour days, and when I closed down my computer at 11PM on Friday night, I couldn’t wait to sleep. And boy did I sleep. I got to the office on Saturday Morning and Jake said, “Hey, did you get your Facebook URL?” Crap! I already knew it was too late. (Jake actually set his alarm clock for 11:55PM so he could wake up and go register www.facebook.com/jakestein at the first possible second.)
I headed over to Facebook and, lo and behold, the vanity URL I wanted (robertjmoore) was taken. So was robertmoore, robertj.moore, robert.j.moore, bobmoore, bob.moore, robmoore (my professional theif name), bjmoore (my adult film star name), bmoore (my motivational speaker name), etc etc. As evidenced below, they were ALL gone:
Generic Names Have Their Downsides
This is a disaster. You see, I have robertjmoore for everything. Name the extremely popular online service and I’ve got the account name robertjmoore. You can tweet me at @robertjmoore. I even own www.robertjmoore.com! So, for the first time in my life, I find myself in a position where I would be willing to part with real cash for a piece of Facebook functionality: a vanity URL marketplace. I would pay $100 cash right now for facebook.com/robertjmoore. I don’t know who got the facebook URL (some guy in MD), but I have a feeling he might be willing to part with it for even less. The difference is a revenue opportunity for Facebook. As fans of our Web 2.0 rap video know, they could use it.
As of right now, me getting my hands on the URL I want (even with cash in hand) is literally impossible. Facebook’s current policy is that once you claim a vanity URL it’s yours forever and there is no changing it, trading it, selling it, etc. Someone else has facebook.com/robertjmoore and they’re going to have it forever. But, this puts Facebook in a fantastic strategic position: with exclusive control over vanity URL transfers, it could have a monopoly on the vanity URL aftermarket and be the sole facilitator of vanity URL bids, offers, and sales. And, I’d bet they could take as high as a 25% commission and still end up with a thriving marketplace. And, they could do it all without alienating their membership, since members don’t have to pay for a vanity URL, they just might have to pay for the one they really want. Moreover, some lucky Facebookers might actually earn some unexpected cash by selling off their URLs.
In fairness to Facebook, however, if I was planning to open up a marketplace like this, I would be acting just like they are now: Give people the impression that they’re stuck with their URL forever so that squatters don’t waste their one shot by grabbing embarrassing (but potentially high resale value) names likewww.facebook.com/mesothelioma (taken), www.facebook.com/hairremoval (taken), and the like. After everyone has had a chance to get their own name, lock up any potentially high-value names that are left and sell them yourself, while simultaneously facilitating an aftermarket that can be forced to only exist within your (commission-collecting) system. It’s brilliant.
So, Facebook, I hope you’re listening: please let me buy my URL (and feel free to keep a big chunk of my purchase price)! In the meantime, you can befriend me here (let’s hope high-value keywords pay off):http://www.facebook.com/BusinessIntelligence.