Friday, June 12, 2009

Now Facebook to offer personalized Web addresses

SAN FRANCISCO — Like concert goers lining up for a coveted ticket, Facebook users are queuing up to claim their digital turf.

Late Friday and early Saturday, the world's largest social-networking site was to begin offering its 200 million users the chance to claim a personalized Web address on a first-come, first-served basis.

The move will allow them to create a distinct online address for their personal profile with a name of their choosing, such as It would also let them use their Facebook page like a personal home page, as a vast majority of members of rival MySpace already do.

The late-night change (12:01 a.m. Saturday ET) had some anxious Facebook members changing their Friday night plans to grab their name before someone else did.

"As a sole proprietor, it is very important to me," says Scott Roewer, a professional organizer in Washington, D.C., who uses Facebook and Twitter to promote his business. "I have no choice but to sign up at midnight."

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Facebook member Bryan Christmas, 27, wanted to be sure he had Internet access at 9:01 p.m. in San Francisco, altering his weekend plans for a few precious minutes.

The intent of so-called "vanity URLs" is to make it easier to find profiles through Web searches, says Facebook. Currently, Facebook profiles contain a sequence of numbers.

But the change could lead to a virtual land grab. Once someone snags a name, for example, no one else can use it. And after that name is confirmed, it cannot be changed.

The lure of "vanity URLs" might lead, in some cases, to courtroom disputes over trademark rights, say legal experts.

One possible scenario is a third-party improperly registering the name of a celebrity or brand name.

"It could be a quagmire," says Howard Weller, a trademark attorney in New York who represents celebrities. "We could have another case of cybersquatting," when squatters claimed domain names during the early years of the Internet in an attempt to sell them at a profit.

Last week, baseball manager Tony La Russa sued social-networking site Twitter, claiming an authorized profile used his name.

Facebook says it has taken steps to prevent cybersquatting. Tens of thousands of names have been restricted, including those of well-known companies and brand terms, celebrities, politicians and profanity.

In addition, for several days Facebook members were also able to submit requests for terms they didn't want used, spokesman Larry Yu says.

Facebook users won't be able to transfer their names to others, and Facebook will only allow users to claim a name if they had an account before the feature was announced June 9. That restriction lifts June 28.

Facebook says it's unclear how many people will sign up. It has, however, taken steps to ensure the site's service isn't adversely affected, Yu says.

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