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Twitter considers selling usernames to boost revenue


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Twitter has considered selling usernames to generate new revenue as owner Elon Musk tries to revive the company’s business, two people briefed on the plan said.

Twitter employees have been in talks about selling some usernames to the service since at least December, according to these people. The engineers discussed running online auctions where people could bid on usernames, which are the words, numbers, or sequence of characters that follow the @ sign by which accounts are identified on the platform. Musk’s username, for example, is @elonmusk.

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It’s unclear whether the project will go ahead and whether the plan will affect all usernames or just a subset, the sources said. But Musk said last month that he wanted to weed out inactive Twitter accounts and free up 1.5 billion usernames. Only some of these names – those of well-known people, brands and popular names – can be of value.

The social networking company has been in turmoil since Musk bought it for $44 billion last October. Given the high price of the business, the billionaire is under pressure for the acquisition to be successful.

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Musk has since slashed expenses at Twitter, ordering layoffs, cutting other costs and halting supplier payments. At the same time, he tried to find new avenues for revenue as Twitter suffered a sharp drop in ad revenue. He created a new subscription plan for users to pay for identity verification stamps, and the company submitted documentation to the Treasury Department to be able to process payments.

Musk said he has ideas of creating “one app for everything”, similar to China’s WeChat, which more than a billion people use to read the news, connect with friends, make payments and order food.

Unique usernames – also known as identifiers – can be lucrative. They are often claimed by the oldest users of social media platforms, and some people and brands are willing to pay thousands of dollars for them. Black markets have sprung up where people can buy “original gangster,” or OG, usernames that are desired because they feature a short word or number and may have been abandoned by their owners.

Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment.

Twitter rules prohibit the buying and selling of identifiers. This business has already attracted hackers. In 2020, a 17-year-old from Florida was arrested after hacking Twitter to obtain usernames to sell, compromising Musk’s and celebrity accounts.

Telegram, the popular messaging platform, said in October that it would allow people to auction off their identifiers.

Four days after acquiring Twitter in October, Musk tweeted that he would “definitely” try to purge year-old inactive accounts, some of which have coveted usernames. In December, he said Twitter would release the names of accounts that are “obviously deleted accounts with no tweets and no login for years”.

His plan sparked concerns among some who feared the company would delete accounts of people who have died and whose Twitter pages are used to honor them. In July – the last time the company released financial numbers – Twitter had nearly 238 million daily active users who saw ads.

Twitter also continues to lay off employees. Musk reduced the company’s workforce by about 75% of the 7,500 active employees at the time he took over. Last week, further layoffs affected dozens of workers, including advertising engineers and workers in the trust and safety sector, said three people with knowledge of the cuts. The Information previously reported on the layoffs.

This week, Musk, who also heads electric car maker Tesla, sent an email to Twitter employees saying he was available for meetings after finishing “most of my work at Tesla”. He stressed that he must approve all product design and engineering changes, “however small,” according to a copy of the note, which was seen by the New York Times.

“We will agonize until we get as close to the perfect product as possible,” Musk wrote.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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