professional reflections

HEIs Get Facebook Fever (again)

LandRun.jpeg Facebook rolled out its ' usernames' function today. This is a new feature at Facebook which allows a user to claim their little bit of the Facebook namespace, along the lines of:[preferred_name]/

The process started at 05:00 am UK local time - on a Saturday morning - yet several people in my social and professional networks got up early to claim their personalised Facebook URL. Not all were successful despite this determination, and some ended up having to settle for some variation on their preferred username.

As for me, I enjoyed a rare lie-in :-)

So, why do people think this is important - and worth getting up at 05:00 for? And why am I not 'bovvered'? From the various commentaries I've seen so far - blog posts and Twitter discussion primarily, here are some aspects & motives I've identified so far, and some of the issues I have with them.

Fear of someone else registering your preferred username

This seems to be the main reason for the 05:00 land-grab. The motivation for registering a username appears to be, primarily, a defensive one. I guess there's a sense that this might become important. The majority of people, from my very limited straw-poll, seem to fall into this category. While I don't personally feel the need, I understand this reasoning.

Wanting to be able to offer a neat & personalised Facebook URL for you or your organisation

This is covered by Brian Kelly - he describes the decision to register a Facebook URL for an organisational Facebook page as a 'no-brainer', and lists a few higher-education institutions (HEIs) which have rushed to register a URL.

In his post, Brian asks:

So tell me, what is the logic in having a personal or institutional Facebook account and keeping the long form for its address? Or are the tweets I’ve been seeing simply a minority view from the ideological purists….?

For some people, the personalised URL is immediately important as they intend to use it as a personal 'identifier'. The motivations here are convenience - such a URL can be much more memorable, and 'vanity' - a personalised URL is undoubtedly more satisfying and attractive. (Note, I use the term 'vanity' here as it has been used by others in this context and I don't intend any pejorative sense that this term might convey).

So, why was I lounging in bed rather than rushing to claim my Facebook ID, and why would I hesitate ('ideological purity' aside!) before registering and publicising a URL for my HEI?

  1. I have a personal namespace, having registered the domain ''. This is also my OpenID, through the use of delegation (I have already changed OpenID identity provider twice without changing my OpenID). I realise that maintaining a personal domain is not yet a mainstream activity - yet I'm frequently surprised by the fact that many of those generally very tech-savvy people in my professional/social networks do not bother to do this, instead investing a major part of their online identities with companies such as or Facebook.
  2. Do you trust Facebook? How much? Because, by registering a Facebook URL and publicising it, you just tied a potentially major part of your online identity with the fortunes and behaviour of this company. As an individual, this risk might be worth the convenience perhaps. But as an HEI - why would you want to introduce this risk when you already own and manage your own namespace?
  3. As an HEI, you will have, no doubt, invested considerably in establishing a strong URL-based online brand, being careful with search engine optimisation and the like. Why then would you introduce a competing URL which will tend to dilute your primary Web address's prominence? It may be that some HEIs have, after careful deliberation, decided to base their online identity and the marketing of their organisation on the Facebook platform - but I'd be amazed if this were true. So what exactly is the point in establishing a public Facebook URL for your organisation?

An expectation that Facebook will become an OpenID identity provider in the future

More tech-savvy users recognise that the Facebook URL they claim could soon become an OpenID. If they are a regular user of Facebook, this could offer a measure of convenience in the sense that their identity provider will be also a service provider which they use frequently. But as the usability issues with OpenID (and there are several) are gradually ironed out, we can expect to see OpenID's importance as an 'identifying system' rather than an authenticating mechanism come to the fore. Using Facebook (or any equivalent service provider) as an identity provider will make less and less sense.

Time will tell

It may be that I am wrong about these issues. However, I have challenged the HEI sector's desire to jump on the Facebook bandwagon in the past, and I have not seen much evidence to convince me that Facebook is a significant platform for engagment with students. As part of a marketing strategy, it probably makes sense to maintain some sort of presence in Facebook - just as it might make sense to establish a presence in various other systems. But on the public Web, an HEI's identity must surely be kept independent of any private commercial concern. The mechanisms for ensuring this are well established. And, increasingly, we can begin to apply these mechanisms to our individual identities.


I agree. The term openid for addnig a email/password combo doesn't make sense. It should say 'Change credentials'. Even after reading the above it took me a while because I knew I didn't want an openid, so I clicked 'edit' which didn't have the correct options. In the end I set up another account from scratch on another SO site and used the copy credentials option. Aug 13 '11 at 9:34

Here's a definition of Google Juice

This is an interesting topic… I was one of the people who chose to get my name on facebook…. but what is goole juice that you talk about?

Andy, you're probably right regarding the individual and their use of this new Facebook service. Still not sure about the wisdom of organisations (e.g. HEIs) jumping into this though….

Nicole, good point about Twitter's verified accounts service.I agree with you about the domain giving context - although I think that the personal domain gives context - it's saying quite strongly that this is my personal domain. It could be argued that a Facebook domain for an online identity is much like, say, a hotmail email address was for many people for many years. BUt I think it goes beyond this, because of the much richer potential for identity projection from a Facebook account.

I didn't get up at 5am but I did grab my preferred username when I first logged into Fb and noticed other people doing it. I'm pretty much in agreement with John (above). Having the shortform will be handy in some situations and it's hard to see it doing any significant harm (e.g. to Google-juice) over and above simply having a Fb page. I will continue using my own domain name as preferred point of contact.

I agree with you that to focus on Fb as a primary point of contact/identity would be a mistake - but as an alternative presence on the Web it is quite useful (for me I mean - I'm not speaking for anyone else) and, as such, grabbing a personalised URL seems sensible but not overly important.

[…] content which is replicated on Facebook pages diminish institutional ‘Google juice’ as my colleague Paul Walk has suggested? Or, alternatively, might content held in popular services such as Facebook and Wikipedia (and […]

I'm not so fussed about having a Facebook unique identifier, although I am pleased that they now have these and don't rely on identifiers from other domains through e-mail (as I mention here:

Generally, I like domain-based identifiers - works for me as it says something not only about myself as an identity but the context in which I am expressing that identity (my affiliation) - personal domain being the ultimate non-affiliation I suppose!

Concerned that claiming a username in facebook would somehow express some kind of authenticity….I could have claimed any sort of username and there is no check on the relevance. As with any sort of domain name - if you don't grab it, someone else will.

This is facebook catching up with twitter in terms of well expressed identities - but will they go as far as taking on assurance duties, as Twitter has with the 'verified accounts' beta: ?

John, thanks for the comment. Your point about LinkedIn (for example) is well taken - I think people need to be careful about how much their public Fb ID might come to identify them online.

To further make my point about personal domains, I have just minted my own friendly Facebook URL:


My preferred username was still available at midday! As were all the variations on my real name. So I took my preferred username (not based on my real name) on the basis that it might be handy if I ever want to publish links to my Facebook account. I'm moving city soon, so perhaps I'll want to publicise it to newly-made friends. Then again, maybe not.

But I agree that using your own domain is better. And someone else made the point that on a professional level, if someone searches on your name, you'd probably prefer your LinkedIn page to appear rather than your Facebook page.

The only point of it that I can see for companies or organisations is that it makes it harder for someone else to set up a fake FB page to try and get people to visit a fake website, which might then be used for phishing attacks.

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