Five things to know about Facebook usernames

Facebook has announced it is to join other social networking sites like MySpace and Twitter to offer personalised URLs they've dubbed Facebook "usernames", or, as they are also known, "vanity URLs", but what do you need to do to get yours secured?

Until the scheme goes live this weekend we won't know exactly how Facebook's automatic system will be dolling out the new web addresses, or how successful, or popular the launch will be, but our quick things-to-know lowdown should shed a little light on the process.

Some names are already gone
That's right. If you happen to share the same name as a prominent Facebook staffer (we're not sure how common "Zuckerberg" is, but there's got to be a few of you out there...) then you'll likely be unlucky in nabbing your exact name URL. Likewise if you're a John Smith, a Bernard Matthews, a Harvey Nichols or a Sara Lee, then you'll also struggle - Facebook has prioritised registration for both companies and prominent people to make sure no intellectual rights holders, or celebs, are adversely affected by the new scheme.

It's first come, first served
The virtual land rush, as it's been described, starts at 12.01am EDT on Saturday 13 June. Converting this time over to GMT means an early start for us Brits as the username launch will go live at a minute past 5am here. However, if there are 20 other Colin McGimbles on Facebook and you really, really want to nab Facebook.com/colin.mcgimble rather than a numbered variant, you are going to have to suck it up and set that alarm. Bear in mind there are 200 million Facebook users around the world who could potentially try and log on to get their personalised address. A fair few folk may be planning to set their alarms for the crucial moment, but you can bet that the majority of them will not actually get up, meaning if you do rise at sparrow's fart for the registration, you've probably got a good chance of getting a decent URL.

Choose wisely. You can't change it, or transfer it
Facebook says once you hit confirm after either going with one of Facebook's username suggestions, or entering your own and seeing if it's available, you will not be able to change it. Ever, ever, ever. Even if you've spelt it wrong or made a typo. As far as picking a name and knowing it's gonna stick with you for the life of your Facebook account, the social networking giant suggests: "You should make sure it is something you like and that it's appropriate for friends, family, co-workers, and anyone else who might use it to find you", i.e., Facebook.com/ColinBigBoyMcGimble isn't something you're going to want to share with your boss. You won't be able to transfer your final username to another account either, a strict rule the site is introducing to avoid name-squatters, or entrepreneurial types nabbing a good username and selling it on.

New Facebook users aren't eligible
If you signed up to Facebook really recently (since 3pm EDT on 9 June) then for want of a better way of approaching it, Facebook is treating you like a potential name-squatter only in it for the username or a Johnny-come-lately not loyal enough to deserve inclusion. Therefore, you're not going to be eligible for this "first wave" of name nabbing. Instead, you'll have to wait until Sunday 28 June to rummage through the wreckage of what's left after this first, high profile name rush.

If you don't get your first choice, there is an alternative
So, another Colin McGimble got up early enough to nab your dream username, the swine. Facebook's username suggestion system will give you alternatives that work around your name. The site might offer ColMcGimble, CMcGimble, ColinMcGimble1975, etc, etc, but if you were dead set on a cleaner-looking option, there is another-nother alternative. A Facebook app, Memorable Web Addresses, that's been available for a little while, lets you create a URL that points to your Facebook page that you can stick your name in. Its free service will give you http://profile.to/ColinMcGimble. Just as long as that git McGimble hasn't already nabbed that too, of course.

Good luck! Log on to www.facebook.com/username/ from 5am tomorrow to secure your future Facebook URL.