I’m not the first to talk about the problem with knowing whether a “real person” is behind an account on Twitter. I’m probably not the first to suggest this solution, either. But I’ll add another voice to hoping Twitter makes account verification possible. It would help.
I was struck when reading the blog of LeVar Burton tonight, who’s massively popular now on Twitter (@levarburton) after such a short time. What got him going on Twitter initially? To combat a “fake LeVar.” As he wrote:
I joined Twitter because it came to my attention that there was someone who was impersonating me! Actually pretending to be LeVar Burton. Now, I must admit to being no stranger to social networking sites and am certainly aware of the number of “fake LeVars” on MySpace and Facebook and I know you can’t control that kind of thing… but! It really bugged me that this “person” had convinced an impressive number of people following his every post or Tweet as they are known in Twitter Dom, that he was me. So with the help of the good folks at Twitter, the ‘fake LeVar Burton’ got kicked to the curb and I reclaimed my inalienable right to speak for myself!
This type of thing is a problem. Seth Godin is another celebrated example. Someone established a fake account in his name, gained a ton of followers, and Seth finally had to say it wasn’t him.
Sidenote: Seth, even if Twitter is not “you” as you wrote last year, if you’re really a marketer, you’re long overdue to make it you. You’ve got the account now, dump the “placeholder” and do something, anything, with it. You’re missing the cluetrain.
People shouldn’t have to figure out if LeVar is really LeVar, if Seth is really Seth. Twitter needs to establish a way for people to verify their identies. And it’s incredibly easy for this to happen.
Over at Google Webmaster Central, they set up a way ages ago for site owners to verify that they really owned the sites they wanted to manage using Google’s tools. Easy. You either install a unique meta tag on a page you submitted to Google Webmaster Central or you install a unique file name on your server. Once you do this, you ask to have that information verified. Google Webmaster Central does a check, and if the right info is in the place they said, they know you really do control the site.
I want a similar thing from Twitter. Let me “verify” one or more web sites via my profile. For example, my Twitter profile currently links to my blog here at Daggle. Twitter should go a step further. Give me either a unique meta tag or file name I could put on my blog. Push a button, Twitter checks, if it sees I’ve installed things, then it could put a “verified” icon next to my site. To further help with identity verification, let people verify two or three different sites, if they want.
It’s easy for anyone to register a Twitter account in someone else’s name (I’ve done it myself, for good purposes). It’s easy for someone to also link to a “real” site for that person, use their image and follow some people you’d expect the “real” person to follow as well. It’s much harder for someone to gain control of the “real” person’s blog or web site.
Add verification, and people no longer have to guess so much whether it really is Al Gore on Twitter as we did last November. They can simply see that Al Gore’s Twitter account links to his site, and that Twitter has verified that his site links back to his Twitter account in a confirmed fashion.
It’s easy. C’mon, Twitter, do it. Especially as concern rises about fake accounts and spam associated with them, this seems like an easy fix.
Postscript: Andy Beard pointed out that the Google Social Graph API might also be a solution. Agreed — I almost mentioned it but ran out of steam when doing this post last night.
Mine The Web’s Socially-Tagged Links: Google Social Graph API Launched is an article I wrote last year that explains the system in more detail. You can see in that article how through the graph, it could already see that my Twitter account and my blog were connected.
Twitter could implement this and get a number of accounts verified fairly quickly. But there will still be some cases where someone can’t put up a Twitter widget but still wants to use some web page to help verify their identity. Imagine someone at a company who can’t blog or is unable to install a “what I’m Twittering” gadget. They still might want to use a page about them or the corporate web site home page itself to claim their identity. So it would be nice to have both.
Postscript 2: See Twitter To Offer “Verified Accounts”.