Thursday, October 20, 2011

Transferring Facebook usernames

I had a problem this month that appeared to run into Facebook's strict limits on username creation and transfer, and had a bumpy time figuring out whether I could do what I wanted to: transfer a Facebook username from a profile to a Facebook Page owned by the same account. My account, as it happens.

Here's a quick primer, in the hope it'll help someone, somewhere, sometime...

Word of warning: if you're trying to learn how to transfer a Facebook username between Facebook accounts, I can't help. Facebook's docs say quite clearly that it can't be done.


The Problem: transfer a FB username within an account

I've had a personal account (profile) on Facebook for some time now. Along with 800,000,000 others as of this post's timestamp. When Facebook first permitted folks to set a "username" in June 2009 -- a personalized URL to point to my presence on Facebook -- I jumped to claim stevemasover as soon as I could. I figured it beats numeric gibberish hands down.

Then I decided to create a Facebook Page. I'm preparing to have a Facebook presence as an author, for that golden moment when my novel mss. Consequence is published ... or perhaps sooner -- e.g., should I decide to self-publish short fiction in e-book formats, including those of my stories that have appeared in small literary magazines that are now difficult or impossible for readers to find.

It's pretty clear that stevemasover is the best personalized URL for my author page ... it's the name under which I publish, and if a reader were looking for me that's the name she'd seek. It doesn't matter so much what I use for a personal Facebook username: if you're a friend in analog life, it's not hard to find me.

The thing is, I couldn't assign stevemasover to my new Author page because the username was already taken. By me, yes, but username juggling turns out to be more complicated than I hoped.


The Background

Facebook usernames are 'personalized' URLs for your presence on Facebook -- either your personal account, or for Facebook Pages you own/administer. General information in FAQ form can be found in the Facebook Help Center.

There are a number of strict limits on picking usernames, mostly to avoid "username squatting" -- a term that refers to creating a username as a form of digital land grab. Facebook is also careful to preclude development of a secondary market in usernames similar to the market in domain names made possible by "cybersquatting" (domain squatting). Fair enough. Mark Zuckerberg and crew are encouraging good behavior here.

Here are some of the rules:

  • If you don't like your username for your main (personal) account/profile, you can change it ... but only once.
  • You can't ever transfer a username from one account to another.
  • A username is meant to clearly and honestly identify the person or page with which it is associated. If Facebook thinks you're squatting on a username, or using it deceptively, or doing any other bad thing with it, they reserve the right to remove or reclaim it.

I wanted to transfer my username, stevemasover, within my account: the author page I created is owned by the same account I use for my personal profile. I was not able to find explicit statements in the Facebook Help Center that one is permitted to do this, perhaps because the company doesn't want to encourage username juggling.

Hmmmmm....


The solution that didn't seem to work ... until it did

I did find a thread on a Facebook Page run by Custom Fanpage Templates (a business external to Facebook) that described a number of users' experience doing just what I wanted: to transfer a username from a profile to a page within the same account. There was a caveat. Many experienced delays, not all for the same duration; and sometimes, some reported, the transfer doesn't work at all. In general, the users on this thread reported, on attempting to effect the change Facebook initially responds with a message that the username in question is not available for assignment to the page. But after some number of days the transfer is allowed. Usually.

I gave it a shot, and my experience mirrored those of other users. I didn't do a good job of counting, I'm afraid, but it was something on the order of nine to twelve days that I had to wait.

Here's the recipe, using my own username as an example. The assumption here is that you already have a personal account with a username assigned, and want to reassign the username to a Page owned by the same account.

  1. Release the username that you want to transfer by changing it to something else. In my case, I changed my personal profile's username from stevemasover to another variant of my name. Remember, you only get one chance, so be sure you're going to like the 'something else' forever, or until you quit using Facebook -- whichever comes first.
  2. Try to assign the 'released' username to the Page to which you want the username to point. In my case, I tried to assign stevemasover to my newly-created Facebook Page Steve Masover (Author).
  3. Check the availability of the username you want to transfer/assign (there's a button to click). You're going to get a very dissapointing message, something like this: Username stevemasover is not available.
  4. Don't despair. Try again in a couple of days. Then again in a week. Then again a few days later. Etc. As I mentioned, it took 9-12 days after I performed step #1, above, for stevemasover to become available.
  5. When the joyous day comes that your desired username is available to assign to your page, STOP. Make really, really SURE you spelled it right. Once you assign a username to a page, you're stuck with it. If you make a mistake, you're out of luck.
  6. Confirm that you want to assign the username to your page.
  7. VoilĂ !

Why the delay?

I don't know for sure, and neither (it seems to me) does the fellow answering questions on the thread I referenced earlier. His theory is that a periodic purge of old files is performed every 14 days on Facebook's servers.

I suspect something slightly different, but only slightly: Facebook supports a lot of users, and therefore uses a lot of distributed, redundant servers to store and serve data. When a change is made to a large array of servers of this sort, it takes time for the change to replicate across the entire system. In order to avoid problems that arise from storing conflicting data on different parts of its vast array of servers, Facebook may enforce a delay. The delay might be for a fixed period of time, giving changes time to propagate throughout the network before a username is released for reassignment; or there may be a process that tests or tracks completion of propagation throughout the network. Same net result, in either case: if my theory is correct, once all the servers have recorded that the 'old' username is no longer used to point to an account profile, its owner is permitted to reassign the username to a Page.

There's nothing much to see yet on my Facebook author page. But stay tuned ... and feel free to "Like" Steve Masover (Author) in the meantime!

19 comments:

  1. Couldn't you just start a fan page for Steve Masover, writer, with Steve Masover, the dude as the admin? I've decided to publish as Steven M. Long (a benefit of being totally unpublished) so I made a Facebook fan page for that name which I'm the admin of. Of course, part of this whole silliness is that my damned name is too common, but I could get stevenmlong.com, which I did.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sure, Steven, and that's what I did. The thing is, I also wanted to have the 'simple URL' -- http://www.facebook.com/stevemasover -- for that page, because it's the logical URL somebody would look for or expect to see for my public presence on Facebook. Using that FB username was complicated by the fact that I'd already used it for my personal page, Steve Masover the dude as you so eloquently put it.

    Hence the username juggling.

    As a website -- independent of Facebook -- I also have staked out http://www.stevemasover.net and http://www.stevemasover.com. The latter currently just points to the former but I can separate them or reverse the directionality of which points to which, if and when that becomes a useful thing to do (e.g., .net for personal, .com for commercial / author -- when I've got a book to be marketed).

    ReplyDelete
  3. I guess I'm too lazy - my fans will find me! Unuckily stevenmlong at twitter is taken. I've got .com, .net and .org for my crazy nothing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ".org"? That's for the fan club? Or so you can control your own cult?? ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. .org is my obsession with completeness. I can't own .com without owning .net and .org and having them point to .com because I'm crazy.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Steve. Thanks for the tip. I followed your instructions and was pleased to find that Facebook will now release your old username immediately.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Matt Carlisle: Thanks for leaving a comment, and reporting that (at least in your case!) FB released the transferred name promptly. I'm consistently surprised by the traffic this page gets ... I gather that there's a steady stream of people looking to juggle their usernames.

      Delete
  7. I had a situation where an individual in the Philippines had the vanity URL for my business as his name for his personal account. Anyway I persuaded him to delete his account in return for a small fee. I can confirm that exactly 14 days later almost to the very hour I was able to grab the vanity URL that he relinquished and add it to my Fan Page. I'm so happy because I had printed 100K pieces of communication with the vanity URL on :-) Thank God he was willing to cooperate. I think the 14 days is because that's when the Facebook Account is PERMANENTLY deleted. During the 14 days it's still possible to reactivate the account but after 14 days it's definitely gone and the servers must propagate that. I was so surprised at how easy it was and how strange it was literally to the very hour!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi, i have a question.

    I have a fan page and wanted a name, but one guy already have registered,
    I contacted him and asked if he could change, but he is afraid of losing your contacts / timeline / photos / friends, so I wondered if you had any problems like that when withdrew your name/url from your personal profile and passed to a page.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I contacted the page owner that had my trademarked word as username and he released it. I have a registered trademark in USA (federal trademark) and in Europe (community trademark). I was waiting far more than 14 days, but the username was still unavailable so I could not register it. So I contacted Facebook through the form and I was happy that there is an entry: "If applicable, please provide a link (URL) to the Page that you would like to assign the username to."

    But they responded that as the page owner removed the username, then my problem is solved. It was a no-reply email, so I had to fill the form again and specified that I would like to assign that username to my company page. They replied that I should choose another username and their decision is final and they will not respond to additional inquiries. Then WHY they have this entry "If applicable, please provide a link (URL) to the Page that you would like to assign the username to."?!

    It seems that Facebook is big enough so they can afford to be ignorant. When I was dealing with the same issue on Twitter, they were very kind and they communicated with me one-to-one. Yes, I was waiting many days for their first response, but they understood and solved my problem.

    Do you think there is any unspecified time when Facebook usernames are being released?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello "Anonymous." Sounds very painful, I'm sorry...

      Have you been able to confirm that the username (trademarked word) has actually been released, or are you only relying on the (prior) page owner's report? When you say "the form" do you mean the "Reporting a Violation or Infringement of Your Rights" form or some other?

      I do not know what Facebook's current policy is about releasing user names. 14 days -- maximum, one person in this thread reported immediate release -- but 14 days seems to be a general consensus on this thread. That doesn't mean it hasn't been changed, either as a matter of policy, or because it now takes longer for Facebook to purge released names from all locations in its multiple data farms. Facebook doesn't say. I (and others who continue to visit this post when faced with issues like yours) will be grateful if you'd report any further progress here.

      Thanks for leaving a comment.

      Delete
    2. Steve Masover, I suppose the username was released because the page owner changed it. I asked in comments whether they can confirm that it is not used by anyone (some non-public page), but they ignored this question. I reported it as trademark violation as it was the most suitable for my case. The 14 day period has obviously been changed. On Facebook pages, people say that the time is random and some people didn't have success even after months (but now I see they have the username they wanted). I also noticed a case when a Facebook employer replied to someone that he should check the username availability every few days and he cannot tell when it will be available. I think that Facebook staff is reading these blogs and comments and they are trying to do everything to prevent transferring usernames. There are many complaints about this issue on Facebook pages. I think it is only the matter of time when they will understand that their whole concept about usernames is wrong. I think there is nothing wrong about registering, selling and buying usernames like domains as long as they are not trademarked and they are active users. It works so on Twitter and other social networks.

      Andy

      Delete
    3. To prevent misunderstanding: I asked Facebook (in comments in the form I was filing) whether they can confirm that it is not used by anyone (some non-public page), but they ignored this question.

      Andy

      Delete
  10. Andy, I'm sorry that you're having such a frustrating time. While I have no idea what the FB staff is doing, I can imagine that the variability in username release time is associated with technical reasons (e.g., time for changes to propagate across FB's many servers and data centers around the world); or algorithmic ones ... I can imagine (this is only a theory) that FB uses automated decision-making processes (no humans involved in individual cases) that withhold a username for longer if someone has registered any kind of complaint or problem about it. Why would they do such a thing? Not necessarily for malicious reasons: the company has >1.2 billion "monthly active users" (people who log in and do stuff at least once per month), and about 8,400 employees -- only a fraction of whom deal with users directly. You can do the arithmetic as easily as I can ... even if fully half FB's employees have jobs involving direct customer service (which seems an absurdly high and unlikely fraction to me), each would be 'responsible' for issues pertaining to over a quarter of a million people. It's not a model that lends itself to "high touch" customer service.

    I would be very, very interested to know how your case plays out: if you do get your username, I'd like to know how long it ended up taking. I hope you'll come back and let me (and readers of this thread) know.

    Best of luck.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As they say, "usernames are not transferable" (and they point everyone to this statement), they are trying to stick to it as best they can. I think this is the reason they have programmed a delay when usernames become available. It seems to be a random time or they play with it from time to time.
      You also wrote in this article: "Facebook is also careful to preclude development of a secondary market in usernames similar to the market in domain names made possible by "cybersquatting" (domain squatting). Fair enough. Mark Zuckerberg and crew are encouraging good behavior here."

      So they are trying to fight the market of usernames and it leads to more and more regulations (recently, they limited how often you can change your username).

      I understand that they don't have a customer service - it is normal for a "free product". But they responded, understood what I need, but they denied my request. They recommended me to register another username and they didn't tell me to try it after some time. It would be weird to present my company as "Trademark2" because "Trademark" was registered by someone else in the past. :-)

      I will let you know, of course.

      Delete
    2. I can confirm that TODAY I got the username. I was trying to register the username every day for 5-6 months. I was doing it unconsciously every morning. :)

      Andy

      Delete