This past Friday, Facebook started issuing vanity URLs to its 200 million-plus community. It was a big change for the social-networking company that has so far used unique numerical identifications to identify its members.
Not anymore — now you can go to Facebook.com/OmMalik and friend me. It was such a major event that, even on the weekend, it was the talk of Twitter, Facebook’s rival social network.
Some have viewed this move towards vanity URLs as a way for Facebook to get more search engine juice. In reality, it might be Facebook’s next attack on Twitter. Facebook earlier this year launched status updates. With vanity URLs, it’s now getting into the name space business, something Twitter really excels at.
It makes sense for Facebook to do this — it is set up as a multi-purpose communication platform that lacks the ease of use of a Twitter. So why not offer the same things? By making it easy for people to identify themselves on Facebook using their real (or almost real) IDs, the company can get people to start using their Facebook handles.
A friend of mine today speculated that it is only a matter of time before Facebook starts offering an @replies service. I totally agree, and it would be the most obvious thing for Facebook to do. Just like you can point a comment to me by typing @om on Twitter, it is a safe bet you’ll be able to do the same on Facebook. It will increase the utility of Facebook as a communications platform. It will also increase the number of times one has to use Facebook, which means boosting page views and more advertising revenue. Of course, in the process, if Facebook can take a big bite out of Twitter’s growth, I am sure Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t going to complain.