With the announcement of the upcoming launch of Facebook usernames today, Facebook is taking another step toward strengthening identity on the site through vanity URLs. Now, user profiles pages will sit at URLs like facebook.com/Jenny instead of facebook.com/profile.php?id=12345678, which are much easier to understand and remember (and, great for SEO).
But Facebook usernames will also make it possible for users to tag each other through the use of an identifier like Twitter’s “@justinsmith” for the first time. The inability to address other users in a succinct way has always been a major limitation of Facebook status updates to date.
Now, Facebook users could easily tag other users (and Pages) in-line, without needing to attach a link or manually tag. This kind of addressable identity is one of the major strengths of Twitter.
This could mean a variety of interesting things for the future of Facebook usernames. For many users, Facebook usernames could eventually replace other email accounts for a broader range of messaging use cases. Eventually, Facebook usernames could become increasingly used across the web as unique identifiers through Facebook Connect.
For now, Facebook usernames will mainly strengthen identity within the site through URLs (and at the same time boost Facebook’s SEO). However, I expect we’ll be seeing them much more in the future.