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Vanity URLs a perfect fit for Facebook

Facebook is offering some users the chance to buy a short vanity URL for their profiles, according to AllFacebook.com.

That means that instead of a URL with a long string of user ID characters, a public profile page would simply read Facebook.com/Oprah, say, or Facebook.com/Eminem, or whatever.

This makes sense from a company still bolting together a business plan and scrounging for new sources of revenue.

Advertising, weak across the board in this woeful economic climate, is particularly troublesome on Facebook, where inventory is plentiful and CPMs are famously low.

Facebook has also been tinkering with other revenue sources like virtual gifts, though it's hard to think of them as little more than a novelty.

Facebook does tell us that it plans to be cash-flow positive next year, and has enjoyed five straight quarters of profitability.

And so vanity URLs might be a sidelight on its balance sheet, which might be public record soon enough, if the company makes good on it plans for an IPO. But the idea is very much in step with the times.

In an online world where we build elaborate digital monuments to ourselves and amass as many friend and follows as we can (what Wired's Chris Anderson splendidly refers to as an "arms race"), all efforts to turn Internet status into a commodity should be encouraged, right?

It's a branding opportunity, if nothing else -- for both Facebook and the companies it would be marketing to. It's really just an extension of the lengths people go to acquire domain names on the Web.

The value of user names on social networks was borne out in CNN's recent efforts to acquire the handle @CNNBRK from a British developer as the news network raced Ashton Kutcher to 1 million followers. What a fun news cycle that was!

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