A very long time ago (the summer of 1997, which is basically the Paleozoic era by Internet standards), I opened up an account on this thing called Hotmail. It was great, since at the time I was living in the Middle East and my Sloth-Reclining-On-A-Glacier-Speed Internet connection came with a very unwieldy e-mail address, something like sfjkahyku22@the-Qatari-government-Teleco.qa. With Hotmail, I could pick the e-mail address of my choice, which was just brilliant, even though the service itself at the time was still riddled with security holes and had a maximum size limit of about thirteen bits.
Turns out the name I chose -- a random Arabic word, no numbers or hyphens or any of that nonsense -- became, in the years that followed, an extremely popular choice, partially because I think it doubles as a proper name in some part of Southeast Asia. It's now one of those words people tack 400 numbers at the end of just to get an available version of it. I began receiving all kinds of misdirected mail, some of it pretty sensitive stuff. I also began receiving what today has grown to about 1000 pieces of junk mail a day. But most interestingly, I began receiving offers to buy my Hotmail name -- and not just for a couple of bucks, this was big money on the table, more than anyone should be spending on an e-mail account totally flooded in Viagra knockoff ads.
From the size of your ICQ number to the date you set up your Twitter account, the Internet has absolutely revolutionized the art of getting in on meaningless ground floors. And now, it seems, another such opportunity is opening up. This time, it's on Facebook.
The good folks at TechCrunch report that on midnight Friday night/Saturday morning, Facebook will open the floodgates and allow users to pick their "vanity URLs." This basically means that your Facbook page can have a web address such as "Facebook.com/Captain.Awesome" instead of the usual, ugly, "profile.php?id=123456" suffix we've come to associate with the site.
It's going to be first-come, first-served, though, so you can be sure that by 12:03, pretty much every first name in the world will be taken. If you want something good, be prepared to spend the night with a computer and an atomic clock, furiously hitting "Refresh."
Exclusivity has always been a form of currency on the Internet. On this front, one of the more popular vehicles has been the "Invite" model -- you start up some service, and while it's still getting off the ground, you only allow a certain number of invited users to try it out. Probably the most famous example of this is Gmail. For those of you who don't remember, you used to need an invite to set up a Gmail account. There was a great geeky thrill to be had from being one of the first invited. Today, everybody has a Gmail account. Even my Gmail account has its own Gmail account.
And so the next big rush for inconsequential Internet status begins Friday night. Be forewarned, though: whatever Facebook URL you choose is final, so proceed with caution.