Spanish shoeshiner is giving away some of Twitter’s most desirable real estate for free

23 Feb 2015

Javier Castaño snapped up some of Twitter’s most potentially valuable geographic handles shortly after the social network launched, and is now passing the real estate on to the relevant authorities – for no charge.

The 50-year-old Malaga resident and former graphic designer turned to shoeshining during Spain’s economic downturn to help make a living, but an ongoing interest in the internet and the burgeoning social media scene motivated him to snap up several key Twitter account names in 2007, including @RioDeJaneiro, @Canada, @Japan, @Rome and @Madrid.

But unlike others who became involved in a kind of gold rush to register potentially valuable user names (like those before them who snapped up as many key URLs as possible ahead of the .com boom), Castaño isn’t interested in selling any of the accounts.

Instead, he claimed the handles to prevent others from registering them for their own financial gain, and has spent the intervening years attempting to get in touch with governments and other relevant representatives to hand over the handles for no charge.

“Today @Canada belongs to the Canadians, @RiodeJaniero belongs to the Brazilians, Rome belongs to the Romans,” Castaño told The Washington Post in a recent profile.

Rio de Janiero was the latest city to accept Castaño’s offer and, in its first tweet under the account posted on 13 February, representatives thanked Castaño for allowing them to take control of the account.

Though much of his time has been spent attracting government officials’ attention through letter writing and tweets from his own profile, @xabel, Castaño’s handover process can be long and complex, as he is meticulous in ensuring the right people take control of his accounts.

“There were some attempts to pose as institutions in order to get an account, but I was pretty cautious,” he said. “I waited patiently, and until I was completely sure I was talking to the right person, I didn’t give any passwords.”

After working on the project for years, Castaño has just one account he wants to hand over: @Japan. He might be left waiting, however. Despite his best efforts, Japanese government officials told The Guardian earlier this month that they had never heard of him.

“There is no discussion, as far as I know, about setting up new accounts,” said a representative who posts tweets for the Japanese prime minister’s office.

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic