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Evan – Twitter needs a better policy on Usernames

Evan,

I have a bunch of Twitter usernames — I gobbled them up in March 2007. I’d consider them some of the “quality” ones. Almost like the domain game of 1995, I grabbed some of the best Twitter usernames, because I could see value in their use in the future.

I’ve been working and investing my own money in developing services to help make Twitter a better place. I came up with the first Twitter bots and have written extensively about Twitter on my blog. I’ve also helped with bugs and features via Al3x since SXSW ’07.

18 months later and I’ve slowly been getting various accounts pulled from me. You claim that I’m in violation of your terms of service, specifically: “You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.”

Well, I’m calling bullshit on you right now. Just say it, the Boston Celtics called and they want you to pull rank to get them in the front-row seats of the game (Twitter), when I’ve been holding those seats (username:celtics) for 18 months.

Last night, “celtics” was pulled from me. You moved my account to “bc_fan_news“. I’m running a fan account with news on the Boston ‘Celtics’. I’m not trying to impersonate them — my username’s profile clearly states it is a fan account, run by a fan, and not officially affiliated at all. In prior weeks, I lost ‘stanford’ and ‘bostoncollege’. Why not give them [The Boston Celtics] the username ‘bostonceltics’ instead? Why was my ‘celtics’ one swiped? Why was anyone’s username swiped?

I’m just wondering, when does it end? My personal twitter account is ‘STP‘ — are you going to pull that from me when STP (motor oil company) or Stone Temple Pilots comes to you guys and claims trademark infringement? My initials are STP — as in, “Steven Thomas Poland.”

This is a slippery slope you guys are going down.

StockTwits just raised nearly $1 million — their business is based off Twitter. Definitely one of their assumptions is that they’ll be keeping their username ‘StockTwits’.

There are other Twitter accounts out there providing sports headlines and info about teams — so it’s obviously not a problem that I have many usernames. 

The point here is, you just made up an excuse as to why you pulled my username — and that’s not good policy. How does that make anyone feel comfortable investing in services/business on top of your platform, when it could all disappear at any moment for them?

Keep up the good work on Twitter, but please put a better policy in place here. I feel as though you’re allowing yourself to get bullied, likely because you don’t want to deal with any lawsuits — but how can anyone sue you — these are privately-owned usernames; not publicly-available domains. If a user is trying to impersonate, then I agree, pull their username from them. Otherwise, don’t give into these corporate and celebrity bullies that are just now, 18+ months later, jumping on the Twitter bandwagon.

Sincerely,

Steve Poland

Update: Allen Stern at CenterNetworks brings up the question, “Will Twitter need to setup a dispute-resolution process and review board?”

Update 2: Chris Lockwood makes another good point, which is what can be the case with any username/acronym/word: “The funny thing is that “celtics” is not automatically a reference to a sports team. There is an entire ethnic group of people who had that name long before basketball was invented.”

Update 3: I did know the Terms of Service when I signed up, but still the question is how do they determine who should keep the username they’ve been using: “We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames.”

Update 4: If you were an $800K investor in StockTwits, wouldn’t you want a written letter from Twitter stating that the username ‘stocktwits’ was no longer bound to the line above regarding the Terms of Service? Maybe there needs to be a process in place where companies/individuals can ensure that clause doesn’t apply to them?

Update 5: Some additional 1-liner comments by Dave Winer, Huffington Post, StockTwits investor Howard Lindzon

Update 6: Former TechCrunch writer Nick Gonzalez chimes in with a post of “Who Owns Your Social Media Accounts?” I reply with a post of my own, “It’s Time for Twitter Premium Accounts

Update 7: How did Evan deal with this at Blogger? There’s only one unique subdomain for ‘blogspot.com’ — so if the Boston Celtics had wanted to take away ‘celtics.blogspot.com’, would he have let them without warning to the current user of that blog?

  • http://sharemarketing.wordpress.com Matt Hames

    You’re right. This is a slippery slope, and Twitter went way too far down it.

  • http://www.speljamr.com Tim Finucane

    This is some outrageous bullshit from Twitter. It’s a seriously piss poor way for Twitter to behave. If they can do this to you they can do it to any of us. Everyone on Twitter should be calling them out on this. Seems to me that they are bending their user agreement to take away your username anytime they want. So how many other fan sites are in trouble? Maybe @Wegmans will be next.

  • Thomas M

    Steve,

    I understand that having your legitimately gained account name changed sucks but frankly I’d agree with Twitter here. Large companies (who may be paying for our free use of twitter next year?) should be able to claim their own name. Otherwise it’s no better than the domain system in which people are regularly held to ransom for their own name or users are tricked into visiting the wrong site (not that I’m implying you did either).

    Where it becomes slippery is when for example Scoble loses his name in a freak accident and they then set a precedent of allowing this to happen for individuals.

  • http://ppmartin.wordpress.com ppmartin

    You raised a valid point, Steve. Twitter should indeed further clarify their policy on usernames.

  • http://twitter.com/SIGEPJEDI SIGEPJEDI

    Steve, excellent post and I’m with you 100% on this. For those of us who ‘got it’ from the start, it is so VERY frustrating seeing this take place.

    For a long time now, Ive taken the position that companies (or the like) entering the game late need to embrace those who have invested their personal resources in an attempt to bring value online for said companies. It is sad to see another example of this, and frustrates me to no end having gone down similar paths.

    In cases where these efforts are legit these individuals, like Steve, are GREAT resources to companies entering this space. Wise up and get them on your team, not alienate them.

    The name of the Twitter/Social Media game is conversations and connects, well you (Twitter & Boston Celtics) just pissed off likely one of your greatest advocates. I hope you are prepared for the long term impact in brand damage. (see http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2008/08/10/the-long-term-impact-of-online-criticisms-on-personal-brands/)

    Yours Truly,
    JOSH CARRICO
    http://twitter.com/SIGEPJEDI

  • http://www.justinpfister.com Justin Pfister

    Wow. Have you fully investigated your legal rights? I’m sure they didn’t just give the NBA the ‘celtics’ username. There was probably money on the line. The same guy that owns http://twitter.com/lakers has a lot of other NBA teams. Those are all probably going to get yanked soon.

  • http://willhiggins.net Will

    If you don’t like it, then go use identi.ca or something. Domain name speculation was cute in the 90′s but it’s pretty boring now, but people still do it. Twitter’s never put up with name speculation. There’s a legit reason twitter takes names, so there’s no money in it ever for people like you. I’m sure if you had a profit stream from @celtics you’d have a valid argument. That being said, the real @celtics are doing as poor a job as you at twittering.

  • Steve Poland

    @Justin – yeah, the ‘lakers’ username — that’s me, too.

  • http://aafter.com Subhankar Ray

    I am sorry to hear that. Time for some more competition – I guess. Can somebody publish names of all twitter-like services?

    Regards,

    Subhankar Ray

  • http://lockwoodletter.com/marketing Chris Lockwood

    The funny thing is that “celtics” is not automatically a reference to a sports team. There is an entire ethnic group of people who had that name long before basketball was invented.

  • http://janetalkstech.com Jane

    I think your argument sounds similar to that posited by domain squatters. You admit you snapped them up because you foresaw that they were quality names. Well, just as I can’t (in good conscience) sign up cocacolablablah.com, you can’t honestly expect to keep those twitter names you clearly signed up like stanford and bostoncollege. Celtics is probably debatable, but obviously in a country like America where the first connotation of that word is referring to the celtics, I say lick your wounds in peace.

    Cheers,
    Jane

  • http://www.socialjump.com william smith

    Personally I have to applaud Twitter for changing it. Nothing is more irritating to me than domain squatters. If the real Celtics are actually going to use the service to communicate with fans its better than someone else just holding the name to make a buck off of it – especially when you consider Twitter is a free service.

  • http://twitter.com/sergio Sérgio Rebelo

    I’m betting there wer some things going against you in this celtics case:
    - keyword stuffing on the bio – You should just leave the text about what you were doing.
    - ambiguity on the name – Boston Celtics News is not clear if it is official or not
    - Use of BC logo – You are using Boston Celtics Logo both on profile image and on background. you should have avoided that.

    If you turn clear as water that you have nothing to do with the brand, organization, team, whatever it would be much more difficult for twitter to remove your username

  • http://www.kensheppardson.com Ken Sheppardson

    Seems cut and dried to me. If you were running some sort of Celtic language word-of-the day service or something, you might have a leg to stand on, but you’re clearly trying to capitalize on someone elses trademark for financial gain.

    If I were Evan, Twitter, or ICANN my policy would be simple:

    - Trademark first : If I’ve trademarked a term and you haven’t, I get the username/domain.

    - First come, next served : If we have competing, legitimate trademarks, the first one there wins.

  • joetucker

    I agree with will smith completely. too bad for you dude. The TOS says they can do whatever they want with usernames and now you’re freaked out to learn that they’re pulling accounts from squatters? If a bunch of us get to use twitter for free because they are pulling accounts from people who signed up for the sole purpose of later trying to sell those names, well then too bad for you. Frankly, i wish ICANN would do the same thing to domain squatters. Good for twitter.

  • http://MarkMayhew.com Mark

    good post, I hope twitter doesn’t pull some of my names (@SocialWeb for instance).
    Let’s talk about it on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MarkMayhew

  • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

    Steve, you may not have the moral high ground here, but at least you have chutzpah. Still, you might want to note that the “privately-owned” user names are owned by Twitter, not the users. Of course, users expect a rational and consistent policy. But I doubt that squatters represent Twitter’s target constituency.

  • http://stevenkovar.com Steven Kovar

    I understand Twitter’s concern, but they need to put their foot down and either do this universally to everyone with “questionable” usernames (yeah, right), or let it be a free market and allow usernames to be bought/sold.

    Frankly, they should let it be free domain and maybe monetize off of it by creating an auction system for Twitter names. That would be more revenue than they make now.

  • spanky

    Twitter blows – I used my handle “infiniteloop” off and on. Then one day I signed in – only to find they took it away, too!

  • Steve Poland

    My response to: http://threatchaos.com/?p=430

    They can by all means take-away all my usernames, I knew that from the get-go. It’s the reasoning behind why they take them — their current policy isn’t clear enough. Just to take one from me and give it to someone else, is that fair? If they took yours and gave it to a glassware manufacturer called ‘steinnon’ because that company wanted it, would you consider that fair?

    Businesses are starting to build ontop of Twitter’s platform — investing money; real money into services. I’m doing that. StockTwits is doing that. StatTweets is doing that. Twitter just can’t be taking away usernames without a real policy in place. I was doing nothing wrong; and in my opinion, I was adding value to Twitter. I had 50+ followers that I was delivering news headlines too. Granted, I still am doing that, under a new username they assigned to me, but that new username isn’t as catchy — and yes they said I can change that username now to something else, but once I do that, then will they not take that one away? What if I started building a brand around my Twitter username — like StockTwits — then what?

  • http://www.scent.net Scent

    I agree they need to come up with something better. I am interested in picking up a twitter account that is not active twitter.com/scent to use with customer service and have not been able to get in touch with the person who uses it. I would be willing to throw a few bucks their way to release the username to me. It would be nice if twitter had some sort of mediation or functionality within the system to allow for this.

    I do not like the idea of them just taking the name and handing it over to the first person that asks. It makes you wonder how they will handle companies with the same name or similar issues.

  • Ramon Leon

    I applaud Twitter for doing this, squatters SUCK; you shouldn’t be snapping up names because you think they’ll be valuable later, that’s not what the service is for and this isn’t real estate.

    Nice job Twitter.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jetsongreen Preston

    What about Stone Temple Pilots?

  • Steve Poland

    @Preston – good call; updated the post.

  • http://mc-kenna.com/ Damien McKenna

    Of course, why should the Boston Celtics get it when there are a wide variety of other uses, many listed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic

  • http://supermarkethq.com Ryan

    I disagree – I don’t think Twitter is going down a slippery slope. I think they’re making a sincere attempt to make their service as authentic and as useful as possible.

    The subtext is that a Twitter username suggests identity (in fact that’s the underlying magic of Twitter) and that the service on the whole becomes less useful as identity becomes fractured.

    It may well come to pass that they need to set up a more stringent system to analyze conflicts (e.g. what if your last name and user name were knicks and your twitter feed was not about basketball?).

    But in your case, I’d say they did the right thing and they did it with full disclosure.

  • http://steve.com Steve

    “I have a bunch of Twitter usernames — I gobbled them up in March 2007. ”

    I hate people like you … taking advantage … you deserve what you get

  • Mikey

    Do you honestly think Twitter will still be around in one to two years time. I wouldn’t build a business on Twitter. I’ve come to agree with the people who class Twitter as just a feature, built by a company run by people who are sh*tting themselves on how to make Twitter pay.

  • Larry Honig

    You are talking abut Twitter as a namespace – see this article I published in Broadcasting & Cable last April. http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6431687.html

  • http://www.duxb.com Daniel

    @Mikey – yes i think twitter will be around but they will be bought or become a search engine

  • spanky

    I agree w/ others:
    twitter = feature
    twitter NOT= stand-alone company

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  • http://www.rescuetime.com Tony Wright

    Not a slippery slope at all.

    Clear precedent with domain names, isn’t there?

    If you have a legitimate interest in the domain name (or twitter name in this case) that does not compete with the trademark holder, then you have some rights. If you’re squatting, prospecting, building on the goodwill that they’ve built as a brand etc., you really shouldn’t.

    Nissan.com is a great example of a legitimate case. Yours really isn’t.

    Recommended reading:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark#Trademarks_and_domain_names

    Quote:

    “As the website itself was not the product being purchased, there was no actual consumer confusion, and so initial interest confusion was a concept applied instead. Initial interest confusion refers to customer confusion that creates an initial interest in a competitor’s “product” (in the online context, another party’s website). Even though initial interest confusion is dispelled by the time any actual sales occur, it allows a trademark infringer to capitalize on the goodwill associated with the original mark.”

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  • http://www.dailytwitter.com dailytwitter

    oh yes that fear has been instilled into my account, given i am one of a very few who has twitter as their username – although i plan to use it to augment and drive a great usage of twitter and generate greater advocacy for their product – which i think it a great product.

    cynics may think this has a short shelf life, but when you see the adoption and usage over the past 18 months it indicates this is not a passing fad.

    lets see how twitter develops, but i suspect if my thinking is correct you will see this happening a lot more, as brands begin to participate in micro blogging – but i do think they will just churn out their crap, rather than do something much more innovative with their pages – hence that’s where we come in :))

    dt

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  • http://runningwithfoxes.com Nick Gonzalez

    I think we have to look past whether content is related to a commercial entity or not. Facebook plays nice with Watercooler, even on apps that aren’t officially sanctioned by sports teams.

    I can understand that teams want these names, but think that an authenticated Tweet stream solution makes more sense. The only way you can really authenticate is a manual process anyhow.

  • http://anthonybchan.blogspot.com Anthony

    This is just messed up. What if Celtic Football Club in Scotland wants @Celtics? (I guess there wouldn’t be a ‘s’ at the end.) But still, this is very disappointing to hear what Twitter is doing to @STP.

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  • http://feed.us rick

    I’ve got a few that I know are going to get taken away from me. I kind of expect it. I hope they offer me some sort of deal when it happens.

    I’d still be pissed if I were you, though.

    But one thing though… these aren’t domains. We didn’t buy them.

  • http://workbench.cadenhead.org/ Rogers Cadenhead

    I don’t know what grounds you have to object here. It sucks to have the rug pulled out from under you, when the username @celtics has some commercial benefit, but Twitter users don’t own their usernames.

    Regarding your StockTwits example, any business that depends on its Twitter username commercially ought to have a registered trademark in that name.

    Even then, though, when all the users and their content live on one company’s site, you’re at their mercy. This is one good reason why microblogging should be as decentralized as blogging.

  • http://paulsorgi.blogspot.com Paul

    Twitter has a Policy and it is very simple. They reserve the right to take any name back if they feel it infringes upon others. I paraphrased but bottomline Twitter can do what they want.

    As Twitter moves to Monetizing there will be more changes and they will effect heavy users.

  • rickd

    You took a gamble and you lost. Stop crying about it and come up with a better “idea for making money”

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  • http://twitter.com/vlb Vicki

    I would have a lot more sympathy, but, like William Smith and Ramon Leon, you lost credibility in the first paragraph. I think name squatters need to stop. Now. It’s bad practice.

    I’m afraid I find in favor of Twitter on this one.

  • http://chromehacker.com Twitterlovr

    I too invested many hours of research finding the perfect names
    Twitter took them. on one account I followed like 400 people to see how that worked. Having never ran a blog or a website twitter seemed cool. I was previously looking into investing in domain names. Steve Poland and twitter changed my life I am headed in a whole new dierection (thanks Steve). Now that has changed twitter squashed my dreams of rss feed info using yahoo pipes to feed twitter relevent info . So let’s get to it. I did not use any of the suspended accounts yet.

    Twitter stole:
    Palmisland, cheapcruise, horoscopefree, teethbleaching, dentistry, iqtest, voyuer, prizefight , sporttv, tuxedorental, missrussia, creditcare, psychiatrists, butchers, primerate, cheapphone, bookkeeping, breadmachine, dentalcare, articlewriting, cosmetics,
    Dnatest, futuretrader, boatloan, bannerad, neonsigns, valoan, wgf,
    Dragrace, skateshoes, xtv, medicalbilling, And 300 more as good or better names yes three hundred I loved twitter. I truly wanted to build a blog and rss feed with the best new info. All for nothing the hundreds of hours finding the perfect avalable names. Just to come back with some newly learned blog skills and no cool twitter accounts
    To use. So don’t invest any money in your twitter space and don’t
    Buy matching domain like I did now I have 214 domains a godaddy
    With no twitter to feed to them and I am out $1750 in domain EEG fees. This was my first attempt at any web properties. It may be to fickle for me.

    Twitter give me your names back, they are your but I regged them first.
    Ps I am the last guy to ever spam!!!!!!!

  • http://fatg.sopca.com gasper_k

    This is actually stupid. If the real Celtics would come together as some form of official group, they’d have every right in the world to take the account away from BC.

    Another thing is that I can find some twitters and start a company with their username — only to take it away from them. It’s awful and shouldn’t be allowed.

    PS. I’m European and when I hear “Celtics”, I actually think about the ethnic group first.

  • kosso

    I am ‘squitting’ quite a few silly and quite a few useful twitter accounts too.

    and created a few useful bots back in march last year http://kosso.wordpress.com/page/4/?s=twitter

    got interesting plans for @question and @answer ;)

    hope they dont take those

  • Chris

    The real question is, are you using all of these usernames you “gobbled up”? If you are, then I’d have some sympathy for you. Otherwise, you’re just another low-life cyber-squatter trying to make a quick buck while actually doing nothing.

  • http://www.fathermuskrat.com Father Muskrat

    What a load of shit! I worry about the slippery slope on this one, too.

    However, I’m wondering if you’re really using or squatting on these names and am quite certain it’s the latter.