The dangers of moving home on Twitter
As The Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) astutely noted, this makes PC Pro 0.8% more efficient on Twitter, which is the biggest efficiency saving we’ve made in years, but not the real reason we decided to make the move.
When we first joined Twitter in 2008, some charlatan had already laid claim to the @pcpro address and was using it to divert people to a rather shady, ad-filled website (no it wasn’t www.pcpro.co.uk, before someone makes the joke on comments). He made one tweet in two years, yet somehow accumulated hundreds of followers – doubtless people who came looking for PC Pro and blithely followed the wrong account.
We made a couple of previous attempts to convince Twitter to reallocate the @pcpro account to us over the past couple of years, but didn’t receive a reply to our email/tweets. Finally, after a third attempt last week, we received a reply from Twitter, saying it was prepared to hand over the account.
Things went quiet for a few days, until last night – on my way home on the train from dinner with friends – I checked my work email and found a message from Twitter support telling me @pc_pro had been transferred to @pcpro. Without any warning whatsoever, Twitter had called the removal vans and shunted PC Pro and its followers off to a new home.
This, naturally, came as something of a surprise to our news editor Nicole Kobie, who is out in San Francisco covering the Intel Developer Forum, and suddenly found that our Twitter account had disappeared. There’s no redirect from www.twitter.com/pc_pro to www.twitter.com/pcpro. Twitter simply moved the account – and our 3,000+ followers – to the new address and wiped @pc_pro clean.
Naturally, I tweeted our followers to inform them of the change of address and then, a nanosecond after pressing the send button, it dawned on me: could someone now register @pc_pro and take advantage of all the followers, goodwill and incoming links that we’ve generated on that address for the past two years. The answer? Yes, they blinking well could.
Unbelievably, Twitter had simply thrown the @pc_pro address back into the pool, waiting for any chancer, cybersquatter or rival to move onto our abruptly vacated patch. Having solved one cybersquatting problem, Twitter had potentially created another, far larger one.
By the time I realised this, my train was barrelling through the leafier parts of Sussex, where there’s more chance of bumping into Gandhi on a moped than a 3G signal. Thus, at 11:30pm last night, I was sat on a deserted Burgess Hill station with my laptop and 3G dongle, desperately trying to re-register the @pc_pro account before (a) some other blighter swiped it; and (b) I was mugged.
Thankfully, I managed to get there before anyone else and prevent @pc_pro from being taken hostage. But I really shouldn’t have had to rely on pure luck.
Twitter needs a much more grown-up approach to account transfers. Account holders should be warned when their account is being switched over so they can alert their followers; the old account page should redirect to the new one, at least for a month or so; and the old account shouldn’t just been thrown instantly back into the pool for any @Tom, @Dick or @Harry to snaffle it.
Movers: consider yourself warned.