Check out The Web 2.0 Address Book May Have Arrived by Tim O’Reilly, passing along (with approving remarks) David Pogue’s pitch for GrandCentral; it gives you a single phone number that rings all your phones wherever you are. Says David: “Its motto, ‘One number for life,’ pretty much says it all.” Since I have a similar service through AccessLine courtesy of Sun, I can appreciate a resource like this. But there was something about the announcement that was bothering me.

What was bothering me was the company name, GrandCentral. Hold on a second, I thought, I know them; one of Halsey Minor’s startups. They do Enterprise Service Bus or Web Services aggregation or something like that. New business model? It turns out Tim has the story on that: “(Note: I was on the board of the company formerly known as Grand Central, which is connected to this one via its name and its primary investor, Halsey Minor, but I have no connection to the current company.)”

OK then, but the logical conclusion is that the motto, more accurately, should be “One number for life, as in the lifetime of this particular incarnation of this particular company.” Call me paranoid, but I get nervous sometimes about outsourcing my calendar to Google and my data backup to Amazon and my email to Yahoo and my pictures to Flickr and my bookmarks to Del.icio.us.

Out there in the cloud, your personal treasures should be better off, managed by professionals, we all know the mantra. And I even believe it, mostly; wrangling backups and data replication is a crappy use of my time, or really of anybody’s time who isn’t a full-time pro. I wish I could worry less.



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From: Janne (Mar 18 2007, at 17:41)

Can you think of any organization that you can trust to keep up a service like one telephone number, or an email address or the like for, say, thirty years hence? One that you can be very sure will not go belly-up, or get bought out, or change their business focus, or that won't rationalize away the "lifetime" service, or that isn't dependent on you working at a particular company or live in a particular place? Twenty years? Ten?

I can't.

So, most people I know - myself included - will not actually have the same contact info throughout their lives. Having to propagate new addresses or numbers is going to be a regular occurence, as is managing other peoples' changes. Even if you had real, working lifetime phone numbers and email addresses, you still have to deal with peoples' changing physical addresses and other biographical changes. It is pretty much inevitable, so how about focusing on making these changes relatively painless and reliable rather than worrying about getting The One True Address?

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From: David Carlton (Mar 18 2007, at 22:15)

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect to be able to keep an e-mail address indefinitely if you own the domain in question. It was certainly worth the ten bucks a year (or whatever it costs to me to register bactrian.org) to have an e-mail address that wasn't dependent on the goodwill of others.

Like Tim, I get nervous about outsourcing parts of my life. (Which is why I largely don't.) Having said that, I'd be happy to outsource (part of) my backups to Amazon: I don't trust them to stay around forever, but there's no particular reason why I can't change backup providers every few years. (It's a private interface, not a public one.) For the calendar and bookmark examples, I would want them to export my data back to me in some sort of open format, at which point I would write a cron job to grab that every night and make sure it goes into my backup.

(Or at least I should: my Google Reader subscription and saved items lists are both long enough to merit that treatment, but I'm not saving them. I should really fix that, shouldn't I?)

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From: John Cowan (Mar 18 2007, at 23:53)

This is a plug.

JungleDisk (dot com) provides a wonderful backup/restore facility overlaid on Amazon's S3 service. JungleDisk itself is currently free as in beer (coming soon, lifetime subscriptions to the software for USD 20). As for S3, it's cheaper than dirt: USD 0.15 per month per gigabyte stored, plus USD 0.15 per gigabyte transferred. Kinda cute to see charges for USD 0.78 on my credit card bill.

The program provides a WebDAV interface as well as doing backups, and there are versions for Windows, Linux, and Mac; I use Novell's NetDrive to make the WebDAV appear as a local disk on my Windows system. Everything's encrypted before it leaves your system and decrypted when it returns; you can use either your S3 key or a public/private key pair that you generate.

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From: Tim (Mar 19 2007, at 03:48)

In Germany personal telephone numbers have their own area code: +49 700. Individuals and other legal entities reserve a number in this space at the Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency) and got it "for life". The real connecting will be done by the telcom of your choice. In theory you can change the telcom, the number stays the same. (In practice almost nobody uses 0700-Numbers, to call one oh those simply cost more money.)

Decoupling registration and service is a pretty smart move, turning the telephone system into something like the DNS. If you mistrust bureaucracy with your registration - and who wouldn't mistrust a federal agency which doesn't just regulate telephone and computer networks but also gas and energy and train networks? - some part of the registration can sure be ousourced to the free market. But even the DNS has a central part which isn't part of market forces (replaced by political forces, of course).

(Can somebody say somethink smart about ENUM? Never groked that.)

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From: David Magda (Mar 19 2007, at 04:59)

I think sending your data into the cloud is just another form of backup / data redundancy. You may not want it to your primary copy because of the concerns you raise, but another copy can't hurt.

It reminds me of the quip about backups a couple of years ago: Tar(1) up your files, encrypt them, and post them to Usenet. If you need to restore just download them via DejaGoogle.

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From: Paal Thorstensen (Mar 19 2007, at 23:07)

I can't think of a commercial organization to trust to keep up these kinds of services over the long term either, but there certainly are some types of organizations that can fulfill some of these needs. Having used the same e-mail address for the last 12 years thanks to the IEEE Computer Society alias service (with 4 different ISP's) I don't see why they couldn't also provide a "phone number alias" if the cost to them was low enough to provide that service. However, I'd be surprised if we in 20 years still worry about having the same e-mail address or phone number we used to have.

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From: Matt (Mar 21 2007, at 09:12)

On a similar line of thought.... I used to have a PO box for things I didn't want to give out my home address for (mainly publicly accessible political stuff). When I moved to another part of the city, going to retrieve this mail was a pain and I let the box lapse. Changing all the associated address references was a larger pain.

I've often wondered why the postal system doesn't have an aliasing system in a similar manner to email and the discussed phone number aliasing systems.

The post office gives you a virtual street address and this would be seamlessly forwarded to the address of your choice, saving the need to go check postal boxes and being able to move with you as your geographic location changes. To me it simply makes sense and I see no reason why it couldn't be offered.

Of course there's a lot of things I see no reason why they couldn't be offered. I'm sure there's a lot of hidden reasons mainly havin to do with petty people's little fiefdoms involved.

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From: John Cowan (Mar 21 2007, at 10:39)

I have no trouble getting first-class mail forwarded from my P.O. box to my house automatically; I just have to go there every few months to clean out the junk mail. It's possible that not all U.S. post offices provide permanent forwarding in this fashion.

One consequence is that first-class mail addressed to "Cowan, 12017-0042, U.S." should reach me from anywhere in the world. (Try it!)

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