None of the 20 largest cities in the US control their names on Instagram

New York skyline

In the early 90’s it became possible to trademark buildings in the US so that the use of for example images of the Chrysler Building in New York would be protected. The owners of trademarked building could now stop unlawful commercial use of their buildings on everything from t-shirts to souvenirs. As trademark law evolved, more areas have been subject to trademark protection and for example the New York Port Authority has claimed ownership of images showing the Manhattan skyline. Weird as this may be, it shows the commercial value in owning and protecting a trademark for a famous landmark or place.

Social networks are exceptions

With that in mind, it is rather strange that social networks are exceptions to the rule that a trademark owner can claim the right to a name. Most social networks distribute account names on a first come first served basis. That is the reason some major brands like Mercedes-Benz own the domain name mercedes.com but the Facebook address www.facebook.com/mercedes belongs to an individual.

There is of course a democratic aspect of this approach since it means that everyone has the same chance to register a name and it’s not just about who has the deepest pockets. Maybe you remember how Facebook took away the vanity url “/harman” from Harman Bajwa and gave it to Harman International? A move later reversed by the social network.

The other side of the coin is of course that brands stand little chance of being the first to register on every new app or platform that may be the next Twitter. Even if you use external services to keep an eye on such registrations, the management of all this eventually will become expensive and time consuming. Individuals are almost always the first to enter new sites and while some may have a legitimate reason to register a name, many don’t. And once a name has been assigned, it is almost impossible to claim it unless you have a trademark registratation. Even if you do, there are no guarantees that you will get your name back.

Branding places in social media

An area where social network user name policies becomes almost completely unregulated territory is place branding. Countries and city names aren’t necessarily protected trademarks everywhere. I haven’t been able to find out if it is common to have a trademark registration for a city name for example. An effect of this is that a large portion of place names on Instagram have been snatched by individuals instead of for example tourist boards or other official tourist bodies.

In fact, none of the 20 largest cities in the US control their actual names on Instagram. Both @newyork and @newyorkcity belong to (unknown) individuals. The unofficial @newyorkcity and @sanfrancisco accounts have 1.2 million and 111,000 followers respectively which means that owning these accounts can be quite lucrative.

Four accounts are private and four others are completely inactive with 0 posted images. Half of the 20 accounts have posted 10 images or less. It might seem like a little waste that an account name like @losangeles only have 13 followers (after studying this account for two days it seems that the owner deletes and posts new images every day to keep the account active, three days ago it had 10 images, today it has 3).

Instagram names of the 20 largest cities in the US (number of followers)

1. https://instagram.com/newyorkcity – Unofficial (1.2m)
2. https://instagram.com/losangeles – Unofficial (5)
3. https://instagram.com/chicago – Unofficial (12,900)
4. https://instagram.com/houston – Unofficial (1,132)
5. https://instagram.com/philadelphia – Private (827)
6. https://instagram.com/phoenix – Unofficial (523)
7. https://instagram.com/sanantonio – Unofficial (49)
8. https://instagram.com/sandiego – Unofficial (3,656)
9. https://instagram.com/dallas – Private (326)
10. https://instagram.com/sanjose – Unofficial/Inactive (57)
11. https://instagram.com/austin – Unofficial/Inactive (8,806)
12. https://instagram.com/jacksonville – Unofficial/Inactive (1,595)
13. https://instagram.com/sanfrancisco – Unofficial (111,000)
14. https://instagram.com/indianapolis – Unofficial/Inactive (43)
15. https://instagram.com/columbus – Unofficial (129)
16. https://instagram.com/fortworth – Unofficial (303)
17. https://instagram.com/charlotte – Private (133)
18. https://instagram.com/detroit – Private (2,602)
19. https://instagram.com/elpaso – Unofficial (9)
20. https://instagram.com/seattle – Unofficial (2,690)

What to do then? I don’t have definitive answers but I do think there needs to be a debate about this. Account names in social media is real estate, it is part of an infrastructure and a good handle can be of great value much in the same way as a good street address.

  • There has to be a balance between the democratic principle that everyone has the same chance to register and the protection of certain rights holders. These are the news ways in which people, brands and organizations communicate. If it is easy to find the right account of a city, country or a brand it benefits all users.
  • It should not be possible to register a valuable name and not use it. Inactive accounts should get a notice of cancellation after 12 months of inactivity, with the chance to activate. If not, the account should be terminated. And it should also be possible to apply for inactive names even without a trademark.
  • Social networks need to prevent obvious cases of cybersquatting. For a city like Charlotte, it might not be a surprise that there are others that want to claim the same handle, but in many cases people register these names hoping to benefit in some way. Networks need to work against that.

Bed bugs a search problem for New York hotels

I am currently searching for hotel rooms in New York for an upcoming trip and as many people do, I search on sites like Hotels.com and Bookings.com. But I often also want to double check the reputation of the hotel by doing a regular Google search. When doing this, I soon discovered that bed bugs in hotel rooms seem to be a great worry for people who are about to travel to New York.

For many of the hotels I searched, the top suggested search terms by Google was related to bed bugs, meaning that this is one of the most used search terms.

newyorkbedbugshotel

If you are only searching one or two hotels, you might get the impression that this hotel has a problem with bed bugs. But that might not be the case at all. It may just be a general worry that travellers may have and that they want to make sure that this hotel is clean and tidy.

Hotels that have this phrase associated to them in Google Suggest should at least google it and monitor what is being said online. Sites like bedbugreports.com and bedbugregistry.com frequently pop up in the top of the search results. In case that there are inaccurate reports about your hotel on these sites, a hotel representative can contact the site and hopefully they will remove the posts.

Instagram a gold mine for journalists during hurricane Sandy

The hashtag #Sandy on Instagram has more than 315,000 photos, most of them uploaded during the last 24 hours during the hurricane Sandy in New York and the east coast in the USA. The vast number of images uploaded by ordinary citizens is a gold mine for news media. We have seen it before and this time it is happening again, journalists asking for permission to use photos on Instagram in their reporting.

Here are a few examples of comments on one single photo:

instagram sandy hurricane

 

instagram hurricane sandy new york

instagram hurricane sandy

 

Fake photo of hurricane Sandy goes viral on Facebook

During breaking news stories like natural disasters, social media can be an invaluable news source. The problem is that with increasing attention the likeliness that someone will take advantage of the situation also increases. Yesterday, it didn’t take long for spam links to appear on Twitter under the hashtag #hitsunami which was used to report about events during the supposed tsunami that would hit Hawaii.

Also, pranksters and people who are just misinformed tend to spread false rumours and fake photos and videos because social media is so fast and few of us actually stop for a moment to check the source of the information. A photo from the hurricane Sandy, aka Frankenstorm, has just gone viral on Facebook with currently more than 177,000 shares. The problem is that it is fake, and definitely not taken today. A quick picture search on Google reveals that the image appeared already two years ago.

The viral image:

sandy-frankenstorm-new-york

A two year old version of the image from Sept 16, 2010 was posted on Urban Legends.

The person who posted the image on Facebook also did some research and concluded that it was fake:

sandy-facebook

Here is the original photo of the thunderstorm that was used to create the fake image:

http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/n_supercell_thunderstorm.htm

As always, it if looks to good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Stop for a moment and check before you share.

Hat tip: I found this via Andreas, @Iam_Curtis on Twitter.

Depth is out. Speed is in. I’m late for yoga, hurry!

The launch of free newspaper Metro’s New York edition yesterday was commented on some places, for example here. It might seem as a tough task for a Swedish newspaper to establish itself in New York, and it probably will be. But I wouldn’t underestimate these people, they have proved that they are able to challenge monopolistic and oligopolistic markets before. Metro was born with the help of Jan Stenbeck, a man (sadly passed away last year) who among other things introduced commercial TV in Sweden via its channel TV3 in the 80’s.

B.L Ochman comments: “It’ll be harder to get the target audience to actually read the paper. Young people don’t ignore newspapers because they cost 50 cents or a dollar. They ignore them because they prefer to get their news online or on TV. They want to skip the ads and they only want to follow news topics that affect them personally.” I respectfully disagree.

Having seen the development of Metro live, I moved to Stockholm in 1995 when it was launched, I admit I was skeptical at first. The short summaries of news agency material are not news, was a common reaction. But Metro found a niche that it exploited successfully. The “metrofication” of news has just accelerated since then and a lot of people who previously didn’t read papers, now read Metro. Since the birth of internet, people are more and more getting used to not paying for information which has paved the way for free newspapers. And since it is handed out in the subway, you might as well take one. It’s designed to last as long as your subway ride and why not grab a paper instead of trying not to look at the guy in the seat in front of you?

Another trend is what Trendsetters call “time compression”. People get more and more stressed and try to fit in more things in their lives. No one has time to watch TV movies or follow long TV series anymore, they’re too busy. Speed dating is just another example. The quote from Ellen DeGeneres: “I’m late for yoga, hurry” brilliantly illustrates how our lives are metroficated, cut up in small shallow pieces.

Depth is out. Speed is in. Metro fits right into that picture. Whether New Yorkers agree is yet to be seen, but I can’t see why it should be any different from London, Paris or HongKong.