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Twitter May Release Some Deleted Usernames Within Weeks

What’s happening with all those inactive and deleted usernames that Twitter has? Some of them will continue to be held back for a few more weeks; some likely for much longer, Twitter cofounder Ev Williams said yesterday.

I caught Williams between sessions at the Chirp conference yesterday and put to him a question that Les Porter had asked me on Twitter:

Please ask if they know when they’ll release inactive usernames in bulk. Thanks.

Williams said that Twitter hopes in the next few weeks to deal with one class of names, deleted names, and release them back for reuse.

Things are trickier when it comes to inactive names, he said, which are those not used for over 6 months. Some names have been registered but never used at all (Williams mentioned one person who’d registered over 10,000 names but hadn’t done anything with them).

Releasing inactive, never-used names is easier than those that are have been used but later abandoned. That’s because in the case of abandoned names, someone may want to restart their account again in the future, he said. A bigger issue is what happens if someone has made a few tweets, then gone inactive. Do you delete those tweets in order to release the name back into the wild?

Twitter’s still figuring out the right way to handle the situation, which involves millions of names, he said. But when the names are freed up, don’t expect a Facebook-style landrush announcement. Williams said he’d prefer if they just quietly become available again.

This is probably a good time to recap a few key Twitter help pages on the subject:

Inactive Username Policy: Defines inactive names as those that haven’t been used for 6 months, says they may be removed from Twitter, but that these names are not currently being released and there’s no way to request them.

Name Squatting Policy: Defines that grabbing a name and never using it might be considered name squatting, which is against the rules. So are attempts to sell or buy names. So how did CNN get to buy @cnnbrk? Apparently, they hired the person who created it as a consultant. And MSNBC gained @breakingnews by first taking over “management” of the account last December then a month later, actually buying the site behind it. Suffice to say, it feels like in both cases, the companies are getting around the no buying rules by not making outright purchases.

Trademark Policy: Covers rules about when usernames might be found in violation of Twitter’s trademark policy and how to report a violation, which could include a request to take over the name.

Impersonation Policy: Covers rules where someone is pretending to be someone else, how to report and request the name. FYI, parody impersonations are allowed, as long as the accounts are clear in a variety of ways that they are parodies and do not use the target’s real name.

How To Deactivate Your Account: Covers how people can close their accounts, which causes a name to be deactivated.

Why Can’t I Register Certain Usernames?: A nice illustrated guide to the type of screens you might see depending on the status of a username, from deleted to suspended to inactive.

To recap, here’s also a quote sent to me from the head of Twitter’s Trust & Safety team, Del Harvey:

Twitter is not releasing inactive usernames currently with the exception of usernames involving copyright or trademark issues.

That’s nicely within Twitter’s 140 character limit. As to when the situation may change, maybe in a few weeks for deleted names according to Williams. For other types, there’s still no timeline. Stay tuned.

Postscript: There’s a new service called TweetClaims, launched soon after this article was created, designed to help people monitor if names are released.

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