Vanity URLs Are Not A Business, And Why Facebook Will Provide Them For Free

-Profile.to Logo-If the primary service your web startup is providing to users is short profile URLs (a.k.a. vanity URLs), you might as well file for bankruptcy. Perhaps that’s a bit excessive since many entrepreneurs figure out a way to survive even after being shot in the leg (metaphorically speaking of course). Last week Techcrunch reported that Facebook would soon be providing users with free vanity URLs in a land grab that would begin later this week. That means services like Profile.to (which is a relatively popular Facebook application) will essentially be rendered useless.

Short URLs have become all the rage with the rapid growth of Twitter since users are limited to 140 characters with each tweet and URLs take up a lot of space. As services like bit.ly, tr.im, tinyurl.com, and many others continued to grow, some entrepreneurs realized that Facebook was lacking an effective profile URL. In a short amount of time, numerous profile URL services emerged, looking to assist the millions of individuals that Facebook wasn’t catering to.

While short URLs have become a requirement of any new social platform, Facebook has always been reluctant to offer them. One could postulate that Twitter is the main force driving Facebook to offer a new vanity URL service..

Why Facebook Needs To Launch Quickly

There are a number of ways to exchange contact information with others but one of the most recent trends is to ask someone what their Twitter username is. The reason is that you can quickly keep in touch with them by texting “follow [username]” to Twitter. Right now Facebook provides a similar service but users are forced to enter a person’s full name. With the launch of free vanity URLs (if that is in fact true), users will find it easier to add friends and fans while on the go.

Right now Facebook is at a huge disadvantage as users are not quickly texting in messages to create relationships or keep in touch with others. Yes, Facebook has a huge mobile presence which continues to grow every day but there are still plenty of areas in mobile that Facebook is lacking and this is one of the largest.

Go Create A Real Business

Whenever Facebook decides to launch their new vanity URL service, URL service providers will need to go develop a new business model. While vanity URLs have been a feature that attracts new users (just like free e-mail addresses used to attract new users), there needs to be an underlying service that URL providers offer their users. I previously argued that Facebook could charge for premium URLs but it appears that strategy may have changed and as far as I can tell, Twitter is the primary reason.

A vanity URL by itself is not a business model (unless of course you are Facebook), it’s only an attractive feature. While the developers of profile.to and other services may have temporarily generated some cash through advertising, it clearly isn’t sustainable. Do you think I’m wrong about this? Care to argue that profile URLs are solid businesses?