Decoupling Identifiers

by Aaron Huslage

I've been thinking a lot about how we identify ourselves in virtualspace quite a bit lately. Specifically, where things intersect in interesting ways. Where do those intersections cause conflicts and how can they be resolved using emerging telephony platforms?

Take, for instance, the humble telephone number. It is a tried and true method of identifying an individual or organization in multiple circumstances. It is also portable amongst different forms of communication...I can move my mobile phone number in the US to any other carrier (mobile or otherwise) by signing a form and waiting. The problem comes when I want to transfer my mobile number to a service like GrandCentral, but I still want to have SMS messages forwarded as well.

You simply can't currently do that. If I move my mobile number to GrandCentral so that I am no longer dependent on any one phone or plan or anything (something I am doing in my new role covering Mobile issues for ETel), then I am completely up the tree when it comes to receiving SMS messages. I have to relay a new identification token to those that I wish to communicate with. Additionally, I have very little control over the phone number relayed out by my mobile phone, so I implicitly share the temporary phone number that I'm using at any given time.

I have had my phone number, email address and various other identifiers for well over 5 years (some over 10!). Do any of these hold up for my whole lifetime? As fellow ETel blogger Imran Ali mentioned to me, millions of people are approaching the 2-decade mark on some of their identifiers. Is changing the identification mechanism even possible at this point? If so, who owns it?

I find solutions like OpenIDand XRI promising in this area, but they are a ways out and have some user experience issues before they are adopted in any large way by carriers. Certain products are on the horizon that may fit the bill, Equals is meant to help solve that problem, but it too is difficult to use and requires a large "bootstrap" of people for it to be useful.

What do you, humble readers, think of my dilemma and what do you see that might help me, and others in my situation, to fix this issue? What do you need in this collision area between phone identifiers? Can business do this on its own, or do we need some external body to maintain these sorts of identifiers?