Prompted by the awkward mass @home.com to @rogers.com email address change, Peter Rukavina tackles the fickle impermanence of email addresses (go read his comments and then come back and read on).
I’ve been having similar problems with phone numbers lately. I have a home phone at my apartment, but I’ll probably only be at that apartment for maybe two years or so. I share the apt with a room-mate, so we can’t both take the number with us. I also have a cell-phone, but it’s a ‘work’ cell-phone, and a normal ‘work’ number. I’m never sure which number to give to my insurance company or doctor.
I have the same problem with mailing addresses. I have most things mailed to my work as it is my most permanent address. Email address, as Peter has pointed out, are the worst of all.
There is a bigger problem here – that of identity. In search of a permanent email address, I, like Peter, am lucky to work at a web company and can have whatever address I can find a domain for. Currently, I’m both email@example.com, my work address (and professional identity) and firstname.lastname@example.org my sort-of-personal address (Acts of Volition identity).
This works well for me, but is full of holes. For example, people I’ve met through my personal web log often end up being people I related to professionally as silverorange. For example, I often reply to posts on Reinvented.net, from the perspective both of Acts of Volition writer and silverorange representative.
Peter Rukavina’s Reinvented.net has gone part way to a solution to the dual-identity problem by merging his web log and company website. However, while frank honesty is one of the best attributes of this site, I’m sure this arrangement occasionally forces Peter to avoid some subjects knowing that his clients – both current and potential – will be reading.
I’ve wandered into two different issues here. First, there is the problem of different identities (steven@work, steven@home, steven@civil_disobedient_mob). The best solution to this is to be as honest and ‘yourself’ as possible in all situations – to only have one identity. This is easier said than done. I doubt there will ever be a solution to ‘worlds colliding’ situations, like seeing your teacher buying condoms. We often refer to this as “killing independent George” thanks to a Seinfeld episode on the subject.
Second, is the problem of the transition and currency of contact information (phone, email, instant messaging, and mailing address). This problem is a little easier to solve; by proxy.
Each person should have a unique identifier, perhaps a name or something like email address to avoid duplicates. This identifier could then be used as phone, email, instant messaging, and even mailing address.
For example, I mail a package to my girlfriend with only her unique identifier on it – no address. The post office, as an entity to whom I’ve given the right to my actual information, then converts the identifier into my current physical address. If I move, I just change the address in my central profile.
This is a simple concept, and there would be plenty of problems to work out. Privacy would be a key issue, for example. But in the hands of a trusted ‘identity bank’ – if there could ever be such a thing – having all contact run through a pointer or proxy could be a great protector of privacy.
Microsoft is vying to be this identity bank with their Passport service. Already they have gone farther than anyone else in merging the email and instant messaging identities of Hotmail and MSN Messenger users. The integration of Passport into their new OS, XP will no doubt speed its adoption.
For a system like this to be universally adopted, I suspect it would have to be a protocol rather than one proprietary service (like Passport). If only because the zillions of Slashdot readers will never ever sign up for a Microsoft service.
Does this make any sense? I’m sure it can’t be a new idea. How do you manage your multiple identities?
* appologies to Peter for hijacking his post and to Nick who came up with the idea of having one proxy postal address