Facebook makes it personal, offers vanity URLs

Social networking site wants to turn Facebook pages into personal Web homes

Looking for a more individualized presence on Facebook? If so, the social networking site will offer the opportunity to do so starting this weekend.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Saturday, Facebook Inc. will be replacing the randomly chosen ID numbers in the URLs for people's profile pages with actual user names. The new URL policy should make it far easier to look up Facebook users, said Blaise DiPersia, a Facebook designer, in a blog post yesterday.

"When your friends, family members or co-workers visit your profile or pages on Facebook, they will be able to enter your username as part of the URL in their browser," said BiPersia. "This way people will have an easy-to-remember way to find you. We expect to offer even more ways to use your Facebook username in the future."

She added that the company hopes that such Facebook user names will convince its user to make the site their "personal destination, or home, on the Web.

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., said the change is long overdue, and finally puts Facebook on par with Twitter, whose URLs have long included user names.

"As everyone has a unique user name in Facebook and most users select something that is meaningful to them, why not have their actual address reflect what the user wants to be called?," asked Olds. "This will make it easier for users to find other users and make the site just a bit more understandable and accessible."

Based on recent stats, a whole lot of users are already finding Facebook easy enough to use.

Earlier this month, the Nielsen Co. reported that in April, Facebook users spent 13.9 billion minutes on the site, a dramatic hike from the year-earlier total of 1.7 billion minutes. The 700% increase let Facebook easily maintain its place atop the social networking business.

Facebook has been slowly but surely making changes to its design and user offerings. Users havn't been receptive to all of Facebook's changes, but the company has altered its plans at times to answer the complaints of its members.

At the same time, the company isn't ignoring its competitors. For example, the site in March moved to take on Twitter Inc. by updating its public profiles so that users can share their information with an unlimited number of friends. The update allows facebook users to send brief messages, similar to Twitter Tweets, or longer ones that include photos and videos.

And in April, Facebook engineers worked behind the scenes to install a new photo storage system, dubbed Haystack, that they say is 50% faster than similar systems. In development for the past couple of years, the new system was slowly rolled out over the course of several months to better deal with the site's 50 billion files worth of photos.

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Sharon Gaudin

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