The social media category’s grown up. User names are more than just anonymizing handles that let us thread a unique user’s statements together. They represent real people and real companies, in much the way a top level domain had in the 1990’s. The only trouble is that unlike domains, there’s no system in place to agree upon how these names should be doled out. Case in point, Twitter just shut down a bunch of Steve Poland’s Twitter accounts. I’ve commented more broadly on the story on SocialMedia’s blog, but wanted to be more direct here.
Twitter needs authenticated accounts.
Now you may not feel sympathetic for Steve. He grabbed a bunch of well known names a couple months back, with the intention of building useful informational services on top of them. Names like “Stanford”, “Celtics”, and “BostonCollege” were on his roll. But so far he hasn’t made a dime off them.
Twitter’s reason for shutting down the accounts is loosely based around impersonating the entities named. This begs several questions. Is merely possessing the name enough reason to seize the name? If he changed the content of the stream, would Twitter not have a problem? Instead Twitter made the change without notifying Steve.
This clearly isn’t about the content or the user. It’s about the commercial entities that value the names. Facebook could have tried to shut down Watercooler’s fan applications on Facebook, but instead has let them flourished (Watercooler can start fan applications without permission, but can only use logos, etc. with official word).
The reason it’s become a bigger problem for Twitter is because URLs are not as important for FB applications. You can have two apps with the same name, but different URLs. In Twitter the URL and name are inseparable. That’s why Twitter has had to step in so directly.
Twitter is like a mini top level domain and needs to have a fairer way of distribute their usernames. My suggestion is that they add a layer of “authenticated” accounts. Twttter can fairly dole these accounts to whomever they like because they wouldn’t have to break any implied agreement with users. The Celtics could be at http://www.twitter.com/a/Celtics.
The addition of these accounts would not only make it easier for Twitter to avoid a massive land grab, but also provide users with an extra layer of trust. They would know that these accounts were real, legitimate accounts and not impersonators.
So, Twitter, c’mon, it’s time for authenticated accounts.