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Online Identity Land Grab On Across All Social Media



Snowman Hold UpAs with most things, the news about social media is not news to those who have been around for a while. The reality is that the largest proportion of social media users are relatively new to the party. While this makes social media veterans groan and cry into their energy drinks it’s just the facts. While most veterans of Twitter and other social media outlets get the idea of “social media identity theft” most mortals don’t equate identity theft with anything other than their finances.

The New York Times ran an article about this problem of maintaining your online identity and what it can entail. When it hits the mainstream press then we know that there is a real issue (not because it is breaking the news but more so because it has finally caught up to the news). The Times says

Since Facebook started giving out customized Web addresses like facebook.com/yourname last Friday, some 9.5 million people have rushed to grab their top choice.

On Twitter, public fights have broken out over so-called impostor accounts, like those that should probably be in the hands of Kanye West or Bank of America.

And somewhere out there on the Web, another new service or social network is on the rise, threatening to start yet another online land grab.

Many companies and individuals who are just getting acquainted with the online new world order are experiencing frustration with the process. A great example is that of RCN. While not a household name nationwide the company did generate $188 million in revenue in Q4 of ’08. Not bad by most standards. In an attempt to get their vanity URL for their Facebook fan page they were stopped by the Facebook rules and regs.

RCN, a cable and telephone service based in Herndon, Va., submitted a request last week to Facebook to secure facebook.com/rcn. But then Facebook said companies would need to have more than 1,000 fans on their pages to be eligible for the custom address program. RCN’s recently created page had 527 fans as of Wednesday.

RCN executives say they are frustrated with Facebook’s rules and are worried that they could lose what they suspect could be valuable real estate. Possible competitors for the address include people and organizations with those initials, along with the dreaded squatters.

This is not uncommon these days as the small to medium enterprise level companies just start to understand what is happening in the social media world whether they want to get involved or not.

Individuals have the same issues. On a personal note, I was done in by a short family vacation and didn’t get to Facebook in time to get my vanity URL without the use of my middle initial. No big deal but evidence that unless you are at the ready anyone can stake a claim to anything in the modern day land grab that is social media identities.

Even social media success stories like Dell Computer have their own troubles.

Digital squatters are still trying, creating potential headaches for companies. For example, Dell grabbed facebook.com/dell, but Jeremy Fancher, a student at Washington University in St. Louis, registered facebook.com/dellcomputer and plans to try to sell it. A Dell spokesman declined to comment.

“I think it would be sort of funny if another computer company buys it,” Mr. Fancher said. “It all illustrates how murky the water is when signing up for these accounts.”

Of course, the biggest problem may be the attitude of people like Mr. Fancher who have plenty of online experience but no business experience. They are opportunists. Since that’s a hallmark of capitalism it’s hard to get completely upset but what seems to easily get shelved in this environment are basic moral and ethical tenets all in the name of making a quick buck. Sure, Facebook, says these ID’s are not transferrable but how will they stop a purchase outside of their system (i.e Fancher to Dell) that is simply an agreement to turn the account and all the access data to Dell without even touching Facebook’s system?

These are murky waters for sure. It’s up to each entity to protect itself because I doubt that people in general will suddenly turn altruistic and respect others implied ownership of trademarks etc. Not gonna happen. In fact, it’s more likely that as new opportunities outside of just Twitter and Facebook emerge as the next greatest social media outlets (niche communities maybe?) this game will escalate and it is likely to benefit one group greatly: lawyers.

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