Coming up for air after the Facebook vanity URL deluge

Well I guess it’s all done except for the whining and crying from those that couldn’t jump on the next great SEO bandwagon by getting the vanity URL they wanted last night when Facebook through open the doors. From what the folks over at Bloomberg.com are saying members of Facebook were registering new user names at a rate of 550 plus a second. Within the first seven minutes 345,000 people had managed to grab the vanity URL of their picking.

Some of the talk immediately following the Great URL Grab of 2009 was about the silliness of some of names that were grabbed as well as one post that requested that Facebook setup a vanity URL marketplace which he argues could be a good money maker for Facebook. Of course this whole thing was prefaced by some excellent posts, both humorous and serious – sometimes both at the same time, questioning why we needed this option in the first place.

Primary among these post was the one written by Anil Dash who gave us all a timeline of what would happen following this mad dash for our URLs

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.

Funnily enough this happened but at the same time there were some serious points being raised about what Facebook was doing and really who would benefit in the long run. One such person was Chris Messina who echoed Tim O’Reilly when he wrote

So, this is happening, and companies are racing to achieve namespace dominance over your online profile. This is what Tim O’Reilly warned about in his definition of Web 2.0. He said that one of the new kinds of lock-in in the era of [cloud computing] will be owning a namespace. There you have it — who are you going to trust to own yours?

The thing is that this chase for a vanity URL has to be looked at on two levels. The first one is what effect, or importance, vanity URL have for the mainstream users – whether they be coming online for the first time or are just a happy surfer with now interest in building a business on the web.

For these folks something like a Facebook vanity URL is probably a perfect thing to get. It’s much easier to pass around to all their friends. It makes them searchable as far as Google is concerned. So any real concerns as raised by some in the tech blogosphere doesn’t really apply to this groups of users.

It does however apply to people like myself, fellow bloggers and just about anyone who wants to create a brand, or business identity on the web. The biggest point that most of the bloggers I read on this are trying to make is that if you really want to make a strong presence on the web then you need to go the route of getting your own domain. Once you do that then you have created a sound foundation for your own namespace on the web.

As Chris Messina quoted Brian Oberkirch in his post your namespace is key

It’s ridonk. Own your namespace. Get a domain, pivot from there. If your domain is your name, so much the better. Please don’t come crying to me when the Goog owns your ‘@’ and that whole namespace gets deprecated.

Paul O’Flaherty puts it this way

If you really want to carve out your place on the web you have to secure your own domain and preferably your real name (not some made up name that you may not want, or may not fit 5 or 10 years down the road).

With your own domain you can have your own space on the web, where you are in control and you own everything. Nobody can take it away, nobody can change the rules, it’s your identity and your place.

Allen Stern adds to the conversation about this in his post prior to the URL Rush

My take is (and has always been) that you should brand yourself and/or your business and never brand another company in an attempt to backdoor your brand. Whether it’s Twitter, MySpace, Yahoo Pages, Geocities, GoDaddy or now Facebook, you need to always do what you can to control the flow. Controlling the flow is very, very easy and here’s how it’s done. And the control I am talking about is from your customer’s perspective.

You see, that’s the big deal here for services like Facebook and Twitter. If they can get your namespace within theirs it increases their pageviews but nothing for you. Typically for every post you might make to your own blog you probably will make countless updates to Facebook, Twitter or Friendfeed. In terms of SEO and search your Facebook or Twitter profile stands a better chance of being at the top of search results than your own domain.

In this case the beneficiaries of your name isn’t you but rather services like Facebook as people will click on the first link containing your name. Now Facebook and other vanity URL based services have basically stolen what Google juice you might have for themselves.

You could almost say that with every claimed vanity URL made on Facebook last night Zuckerberg and company laughed a little louder on the way to the bank.