Social networks have evolved into a category of their own. They are not Web sites in the traditional sense and even when considered modern Web apps, they are a special type of application. They have become our new digital personas. Email used to be our online persona. Blog URLs (especially when coupled with OpenID) have also served that purpose. Instant messenger IDs have been also serving as our partial online personas. Social network personas combine elements of all three of these: Personal blog/comment URLs, email and real-time chat.
We often see people including their Twitter usernames ( e.g. twitter:@rajivpant) as contact info on presentations, business cards and email signatures.
Would Twitter ‘s username convention of @rajivpant have been better if it had evolved as rajivpant@ , with the @ sign at the end instead of beginning? That would have been more consistent with email and one could take it as shorthand for rajivpant@twitter ( or in this proposed sn: format, for sn:[email protected] )
That way, on Twitter posts (tweets), you could refer to a user as rajivpant@ (implying @twitter as the default). On posts on other sites, you could refer to the user as rajivpant@twitter and still have it link to the user’s page on Twitter (and potentially also notify them on that service). That way, we’d have a consistent person naming and linking convention across social networks or blogs. E.g. rajiv.pant@facebook , rajiv.pant@google
I’ve omitted the “.com” domain name suffix above to avoid confusion with email addresses, but an alternative to that could be to have social network URLs like sn:[email protected] where sn:would be a universal social network protocol handler that would be distinct from the email URL syntax of mailto:[email protected] . It would avoid the need of per-site handlers like twitter:@rajivpant that are becoming common.
One benefit of having the @ (or + in Google+) at the beginning is that the text editor can start to autocomplete the name for you. However, that convenience could still exist in other ways. For example, if you type a special character sequence like sn: , it can start showing you names and just insert it using the username@ format instead. In fact, it could even show you names from your connections on other social networks!
In your contacts (e.g. MacOS Address Book), you could then enter someone’s social network addresses using the sn: URL format. When someone clicks on a sn: link, the URL handler would first look to see if there is registered custom app for that domain name (e.g. Twitter client on MacOS or iOS) and then launch that app. If no app is registered for that social network’s domain, it would map it to an http: URL like https://twitter.com/#!/rajivpant , https://www.facebook.com/rajiv.pant or https://profiles.google.com/rajiv.pant
This would avoid site specific URL formats like twitter:@rajivpant
For brevity, the URLs could simply be in the format sn:username@twitter , sn:username@facebook , sn:username@linkedin and sn:user.name@google If such shorter forms are adopted, then each social network’s brand name would be registered via a system of registries or it could default to .com if the full domain name isn’t specified.