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The Vanity of Vanity URLs

Jan 6, 2010 In Web Culture By Karsten Januszewski

Wikipedia defines vanity URLs as follows:

"a URL or domain name, created to point to something to which it is related and indicated in the name of the URL. In many cases this is done by a company to point to a specific product or advertising campaign microsite. In theory, vanity URLs are creatively linked to something, making them easier to remember than a more random link."

Narcissus

The article goes on to point out one of the most common implementations of vanity URLs: social networking sites, where your username becomes the vanity URL.

Social Media and Vanity URLs

These days, a social networking site that doesn’t support Vanity URLs is considered out of the loop. Can you imagine your Twitter URL being http://twitter.com?userid=2035? Um, no.

You have to give props to MySpace on the vanity URL front: they were the vanguard in this arena and really established the idea before anyone else.

Facebook is an interesting one, because unlike the other top social networking sites (MySpace, Twitter, YouTube), creating a Facebook profile doesn’t generate a vanity URL by default; you have to claim it.

Taking Control of Your Brand

How aware are you of the various social networking sites where your vanity URL appears, whether it’s your company’s brand or perhaps just your own “personal” brand? Have you done a proper land grab on Facebook,MySpace,YouTube, and Twitter?

If not, it turns out that Incarnate, a new MIX Online lab, allows you to quickly see how pervasive and consistent your username is across these sites. Incarnate uses microformats to pull avatars from profile pages based on usernames that are keyed off of vanity URLs. So you can research your brand to make sure you’ve claimed the available real estate and see who’s camping out with your username if you haven’t. In watching people use Incarnate, it is interesting to see the reaction of people as they type in their handle and discover someone else’s profile picture appearing.

An entrepreneurial person could use Incarnate to research and claim vanity URLs that haven’t been taken (just like in the days of URL land grabs), and even sell them. It’s not unheard of for a company to pay to acquire a vanity URL on a social networking site. Never let it be said that MIX Online labs don’t offer money making opportunities!

What are your thoughts on vanity URLs? Do you claim them for yourself or for your company? Would you pay to get a vanity URL that someone else has camped out on? How important are vanity URLs to a brand?

Follow the Conversation

8 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

Mike said on Jan 6, 2010

It''s not a matter of control, more a matter of basic SEO.

Dave Ward Dave Ward said on Jan 6, 2010

Interesting. I just used Incarnate to find that someone else has my "brand" on MySpace. Doh.

Lance Fisher Lance Fisher said on Jan 6, 2010

Flickr has had the "claim your vanity URL" model since it started. Facebook just added it at the end of last year.

Incarnate looks cool!

Kevin Holesh Kevin Holesh said on Jan 7, 2010

I love the idea behind this article, but I think the value of vanity URLs is overstated.

The good part about social media is that the posers are quickly sifted out and the real folks behind the name rise to the top. Take for example John Mayer:

http://twitter.com/johnmayer (the natural choice for him) is taken by a poser and has 10,000 followers.

http://twitter.com/johncmayer is the real deal and has 2.9 million followers. It is inconvenient at worst to have that name conflict and a squatter take your vanity URL, but it obviously does not severely effect his personal brand.

Incarnate is an excellent little tool. Thanks for making it :-)

Kandy Kandy said on Jan 7, 2010

Its not only a matter of ease but also better approach to claim more hits on your page. Now with IIS 7 vanity url is so easy to manage.

Mark said on Jan 7, 2010

To say that myspace established the idea of putting usernames in URLs is ridiculous. Back when the web was young and dial-up accounts came with "shell access", it was quite common to have some portion of your home directory show up as http://your.isp.here/users/~username

Myspace just did what a lot of sites FAILED to do: continue doing what had been done before and had been proven to work well.

Karsten Januszewski Karsten Januszewski said on Jan 8, 2010

@Mark - Good point, although I gotta say that I always hated that Unix tilde ~ convention, so if nothing else, props to MySpace for canning that.

@Kevin Holesh - Also good point. Seems that people are smart enough to find the "official" page.

@Lance Fisher - Been thinking about adding Flickr as a provider to Incarnate. Should we?

Jessica said on Dec 23, 2010

I had no idea what is a vanity url before coming to this page, so I''m happy that I did get the chance to learn new information. I also have to say that I liked the picture of Narcissuss. Moreover",":http://beepollenbenefits.net/ I was a bit surprised to find out that Incarnate (another thing that is new to me) allows you to see how consistent your username is across these social bookmarking sites - which would definitely be useful for me.