Starting at midnight Eastern time on Saturday, Facebook's more than 200 million users will be able to personalize the URLs for their profiles, the company announced Tuesday. By rolling out so-called vanity URLs, the company aims to make it easier to find people and brands on Facebook via search engines, while potentially boosting its own traffic as well.
Until now, a user's URL has just been a randomly assigned string of numbers.
The new usernames for profiles and Facebook Pages will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
"Your new Facebook URL is like your personal destination, or home, on the Web. People can enter a Facebook username as a search term on Facebook or a popular search engine like Google, for example, which will make it much easier for people to find friends with common names," according to a post on the Facebook blog by Blaise DiPersia.
The move is expected to set off a land rush among individuals and businesses for the most desirable URLs. Already, hundreds of vanity URLs have been doled out to celebrities and other prominent people on Facebook such as President Obama (http://www.facebook.com/ barackobama), according to the Inside Facebook blog. Now marketers too can capitalize on the new URLs to drive traffic to their Facebook brand pages.
But the company warns about choosing usernames carefully: "Once it's been selected, you won't be able to change or transfer it. If you signed up for a Facebook Page after May 31 or a user profile after today at 3 p.m. EDT, you may not be able to sign up for a username immediately because of steps we've taken to prevent abuse or "squatting" on names. And only Pages with more than 1,000 fans before May 31 will be able to choose a vanity name.
According to Inside Facebook, the company is also barring brand pages from choosing generic vanity URLs such as "pizza" or "flowers" and allowing rights holders to prevent their trademarks from being registered as usernames.
To that end, it has created a form to request Facebook block use of a trademark in a URL. Not allowing users to change or transfer URLs is to designed to thwart a black market from developing around usernames.