I Want To Buy Your Twitter Username, But It Breaches Their TOS. What Happened To Capitalism?

(Inspired by a musing from Robert Scoble – more on this later.)

Increasingly, your choice of username on Twitter is becoming a really big deal. Twitter profiles rank really well on most search engines, often at the very top of the results, and as more and more people join the network the right name – both in a sense of accuracy (certainly for brands) and, for convenience and retweet value, length – is becoming important.

Having an accurate username that reflects or exactly matches your business or brand name is of course ideal. Twitter has policy in place that allows them to “reclaim usernames on behalf of business or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark to those names”, which is fine and how it should be (even if it isn’t always actioned).

But what about the little guys? What if somebody has the Twitter username that we want. Shouldn’t we be able to buy it from them?

Here’s the thing – buying and selling Twitter profile names is a serious breach of their TOS. A few websites have tried to get around this, but it’s essentially illegal.

Earlier today, Robert Scoble expressed an interest in the essentially dormant @s username, later boosting his bid with a $5,000 offer to charity.

This offer was then doubled by @shervin, raising the valuation to $10,000.

Ultimately, the auction is likely to prove moot, as Twitter themselves now own the @s username. But Scoble’s query is legitimate, because as Twitter continues to creep up on 100 million users, the availability of even remotely credible usernames is rapidly beginning to thin out. Which raises a valid question: should you be punished with a crappy username on Twitter simply because you came to the service late?

Internet domain names are, of course, bought and sold en masse. The best and most lucrative domains are quickly snapped up, and can command an enormous selling price on the open market.

Why should it be any different on Twitter? Doesn’t it make sense for the company itself to set up an internal auction system so that the top profile names can be sold to the highest bidder? Okay, so they’ve got legitimate issues with squatting, but if they increased the verification process for all sign-ups to the platform then this would become far less of an issue, almost overnight.

And even if they didn’t, so what? This open system works for the rest of the internet – first come, first served. And if you still want it, you have to pay for it. Naturally they would continue to claim back profiles that clearly breached trademarks, become dormant or otherwise fell foul of TOS.

Of course, any two parties could do this secretly, and I’m sure this happens all the time, but the risk is enormous. If Twitter finds out, it’s goodbye to that account. And all that money.

Reality check: as Twitter expands, @business has a lot more clout and financial worth than @b129P43g. It isn’t just about your username, of course – you actually have to do a spot of engaging, too – but as a starting point, especially for brands and influencers, thevalue should not be underestimated. And if there’s a value there, I say people should be able to pay for it.