by Elizabeth Kricfalusi, Tech for Luddites
I've received quite a few questions from readers over the last few weeks. And while I've already replied directly to each person, I haven't had a chance to share the info here. So this week I'm going to post at least one question a day—more if they're short. If you have any questions, please send them in as well.
Reader Cheryl publishes a cool blog—let's call it A Cool Blog—and she wanted to create a Twitter account of the same name. Unfortunately, when she signed up for the service, the name was already taken.
I'm sure many people have run into this problem. And while the "you snooze, you lose" principle is perfectly fair, it can be frustrating when the person who has the name doesn't seem to be very active on the site. For example, the person with the A Cool Blog account has fewer than 10 followers (and follows fewer than 10 people) and has only tweeted a few dozen times in the past six months. So the question is:
Is there anyway I can petition Twitter to fork over the name, or even approach this person directly and ask if s/he'd be willing to give it up? Is it even his/hers to give, or do the official Twitter folks have to get involved?
There was a topic a while back on the Twitter community Help forum, getsatisfaction.com, that said Twitter will release the name on request as long as the account has been inactive for nine months. If that's the case in your situation, you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate what your current username is, what name you want, and whether you want to change the name on your existing account or start a brand new one.
However, I also discovered this entry on Twitter's own Help pages that says they're working on automatically releasing all user names for accounts that have been inactive for nine months, so they're not currently releasing them manually. And since both posts seem to have been made around the same timeframe, I'm not sure which one currently applies. You can always try and see what happens.
The other thing I want to point out is that, unless the account has been inactive for close to nine months already at the time you check it out, you might not want to wait. I wanted a certain name that someone had and hadn't posted in five or six months, so I put a note in my calendar to check again at the nine-month point, and the person had made one update in those last few months. So, if I wanted Twitter to release it, I was going to have to wait another nine months.
Contacting the person directly
The other option, of course, is to try to contact the person directly and request her to let you have the name. Unfortunately, unless the person follows you, you can't send her a direct message. You could try following her and she might follow you back, and then you could send a DM with your request. (I wouldn't suggest making the request through a public @username tweet—I know I would find that presumptuous if someone did that to me.)
If that doesn't work, you can see if she's posted a web link in her bio or in any of the tweets she's made and see if that leads you to a place with contact info.
If you do manage to reach her and she is willing to give you the name, you don't need to get Twitter involved at all. Unlike most sites, Twitter lets users change their name at any time. So she can simply go into her account settings and change her name to something else, which will free up the old one for you. (I did a test on this, and it seems to be instantaneous.)
Of course, there's no guarantee the person will relinquish the name. In that case, you might want to try variations of your preferred name, like MyCoolBlog or ACoolBlogNow. (If you want more ideas, go to godaddy.com and type in the name of a website that you know already exists. It will tell you that name is taken and give you a list of alternatives.)
What happens to earlier tweets when you change your username?
If you do change your username, the new one will immediately replace the old one as the sender of all your previous tweets. HOWEVER, if your old username appeared in someone else's tweet—e.g. when replying to you or as a Follow Friday recommendation—that will not change to your new name. And if someone sees that tweet and clicks on your name, it will take them to a page that says that account doesn't exist.
To avoid this problem, I would recommend that after you change your name to the new one, you create another new account with your old username (which will now be available again) and post a single tweet directing people to your new account. (Of course, you might want to put a note on your calendar to you repost it before nine months is up to make sure it doesn't get released by Twitter!)
Note: None of the information above applies if someone is using your name and pretending to be you in their tweets. Impersonation is a violation of Twitter's terms of service and they will remove fake accounts, as they did when someone was pretending to be the Dalai Lama ('cause, yeah, His Holiness has nothing better to do than tweet all day...). If someone is impersonating you, report the violation here.
Have you had any experience trying to get someone else's username? Were you successful? If so, let me know how you did it and I'll update this post (without revealing your name, if preferred.)
Last Updated: August 2, 2009