Shane BarnhillTuesday,3 September 2013

The Snap:

Heads up Dick Costolo, because this post is for you. I’m a big fan of the moves that you’ve made while leading Twitter, such as launching Cards for lead generation, opening up an Ads API, implementing 2-step verification, and acquiring and releasing Vine. These moves — and there are plenty of others — have improved Twitter’s user experience and made it a more useful tool for businesses. But there is one giant problem that you haven’t remediated during your tenure at Twitter, and the rationale for failing to address it has become untenable.

I’m talking about dormant Twitter account names.

The Download:

Twitter isn’t new anymore. It’s over seven years old, which is ample time for user attrition. Consequently, a lot of desirable account names that were created by curious people years ago have since been abandoned and left to decay. These accounts don’t benefit anyone — not Twitter, not the original account holders, and certainly not aspiring entrepreneurs who would like to obtain them and put them to use for their businesses — new companies that create jobs, spur economic growth and drive innovation.

Twitter is an essential communication channel for businesses of every size, and a good Twitter name is now arguably more important than a good domain name. And domain names, in fact, provide a useful comparative example. They aren’t granted to individuals and companies for perpetual use without conditions. Instead, domain names have to be renewed periodically, and this requirement is applied evenly to everyone, from individual users like me to large multi-national conglomerates. The point is, domain names have recognized value that, if left unattended, is released back into the public domain for acquisition and new value creation.

By contrast, a discarded Twitter account destroys value by locking it inside of an asset that isn’t available for use. Aspiring entrepreneurs are often forced to utilize unintuitive suffixes in their Twitter accounts due to the shortage of brief and meaningful names. This creates branding problems for companies and harms the user experience for individuals, who sometimes erroneously assume that company and Twitter names will be the same.

Sign the petition on!

Yahoo wrestled with this problem recently, and resolved it with an approach that Twitter should emulate. After providing holders of unused accounts with the opportunity to simply sign into Yahoo in order to keep them active, Yahoo then recycled dormant user names and made them available for acquisition at the low price of $1.99 apiece. Abandoned Twitter accounts would certainly command higher prices, but I would suggest either making them available for free or pricing them at a point that just covers the cost of the recycling process. After all, Twitter has much more lucrative revenue streams and this exercise is more about enabling entrepreneurs and improving the overall experience for Twitter users.

And let me stop you, Dick, before you point me to Twitter’s inactive accounts policy, which not only contains an unfulfilled promise to “release all inactive usernames in bulk,” but also links to Twitter’s trademark policy as it relates to Twitter account names. The inferred message is that inactive accounts are only relevant to trademark holders who seek to have Twitter release them due to infringement concerns.

While appropriating accounts for trademark holders is important, it limits the transfer of Twitter names to established businesses. New companies are left out, partially because of the long cycle time for trademark approvals. As the United States Patent and Trademark Office notes on its website, a new trademark application is likely to receive a response “within six to seven months from filing the application. However, the total time for an application to be processed may be anywhere from almost a year to several years.” Unfortunately, wait times of “a year to several years” aren’t compatible with nimble innovation. Start-ups that seek to launch exciting products need to move quickly to build brands around them, and a presence on Twitter is an integral part of a new brand.

So Dick, you’ve made some great moves at the helm of Twitter as you march toward billions of dollars of annual revenue, and I have no doubt that you’ll make many more. But dealing with inactive accounts in a way that benefits entrepreneurs, individuals and Twitter is one obvious move that you’ve stalled on for too long. It’s time to take action.

Sign the petition on!

Take Action!

Hat Tips:

Inc., Gizmodo, Twitter blogs, @dickc, Wired, ForbesImage Credit: Flickr

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