A Twitter Name Conflict Resolved in Record Time

December 28th, 2008

Steve Poland’s open letter to Evan Williams last week hit Techmeme and apparently got widely read.  Another Twitter user name “dispute” sparked, caught fire and went out all in one Saturday- yesterday- on what is probably one of the slowest weekends of the year.

The Dispute
A school teacher named Colin adopted the user name @room214, which also happens to be the name of a social media agency.

I think the episode started with this tweet from the agency, using the name @room_214:  room_214

Colin responded that he likes the name and uses it in other places as well, so no.  From what I can tell the agency did not file a complaint with Twitter itself, though it sounds like someone might have sent Colin a nastygram threatening to do so.

The Speedy Resolution
The episode ended about 12 hours later when the co-founder of the agency posted a note saying that the note came from an overeager employee, and that the agency itself had no desire to push Colin off the name.

The name itself is totally banal- @room214.  There is no practical way for anyone to know that it is also the name of a business, and there is nothing famous or proprietary about it.  Twitter’s terms of service have two sections that might allow them to change a user name (“You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users”; and “We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames”) and Colin violated neither as far as I can tell, so by my reading the agency would be out of luck.

The Conclusion
This episode ended up a whole lot of nothing.  It does show that people get attached to their names and are starting to wonder how much to rely on them.  Steve’s suggestion is to create paid Twitter premium accounts that “protect” user names like telephone numbers or domain names.

Twitter is the biggest network that uses unique user names to identify users (I think) rather than email addresses or Facebook-style numerical identifiers, but the issue goes beyond just Twitter.  I probably have accounts as @park3 on 20 different services.  I would not pay money for that name on most of them, but I might pay a very small amount on 3-5 or so- probably not more than $10/year or so since I don’t make money from any of them (and i’m cheap!).  Would I use fewer services if I knew I had to pay to be guaranteed my preferred name?  Would I search harder to find a really “unique” name?  Probably not on both counts.  Do I just need to start a user name-reservation-and-arbitration business?   Hmm.

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