Wanted to make sure you folks saw my AdFreak post today about Twitter's decision to stop releasing inactive user names.
About two months back, I asked Twitter to release the LittleDebbie user name for our client, and they did so quickly. The only requirement was that the account had been inactive for at least nine months, which it had been.
I tried again for another client this week, only to get an automated response from Twitter saying there would be no more released names. So if someone's squatting on the name you want, you're now out of luck.
I hope this is a short-term issue. Twitter's booming popularity has obviously made it hard for the social site's overloaded support staff to respond whenever someone wants a name.
The Twitter team's long-term solution is to start closing all accounts after six or nine months of inactivity. (Personally, I think a year would be more fair.) Unfortunately, they haven't figured out a way to start closing the accounts, so tons of names have been squatted on since 2007. For example, Sony, Target and Ikea are all just sitting there. Maybe company reps claimed the names, but I doubt it.
Bad news for the squatters: Unlike with Web site addresses, it's hard to contact the owner of a Twitter name and offer some money to take it over. A company's only real hope is to start an account with a mediocre name and hope for the best. Or try claiming copyright infringement, which might be tough if there are no posts on the account.
You could claim that companies get what they deserve for showing up late to popular sites like Twitter, but I think that's unfair. At one point, Twitter was just one of many (over 100) "microblogging" sites, and there was a time when it seemed Twitter might not come out on top in its fight against more feature-rich competitors like Pownce and Jaiku. But time proved Twitter the winner, and now more and more companies are turning to the service as a communications tool.
Which is great, as long as they don't mind using pseudonyms.