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You Know My Name, Look Up My API…


For the last few years, when the new phone books were delivered– placed on my front porch. I’ve picked them up and taken them directly downstairs to the blue recycling bin.

When I pick up my daily mail, I sort it over the recycling bin. I take the good bits inside the house for further review.

When I check my email, one of my chores is emptying the spam bins, marking the messages that got through the filters, and discarding the messages that aren’t currently of interest.

When I watch broadcast television, I mute the commercials, and when I can– I record the programs and fast forward through the commercials. There are a number of small or alternate tasks I do while the unavoidable commercials run.

When I’m in the car listening to the radio. I mute the commercials. I don’t have any cues to tell me when they’re over, so I miss parts of the programming. But that’s an acceptable price.

When I look at web pages, I focus on what I’m interested in and block out the rest. If you were to do an eye tracking study, you’d learn that I don’t even see the advertising around the edges.

I suppose the original spammable identity endpoint was the physical location of a person’s residence– the unique public spatial coordinates. The postal address is a unique identifier in a system where messages are sent. Anyone who knows an address can send a message to it. No reciprocity of relationship is required for a message to be sent from one node to another in a postal network. The genius of this kind of system is that no special work is required for any two endpoints to exchange messages. These were the also the pre-conditions for spam.

The telephone originally had the same characteristics. Fixed spatial coordinates and a publicly visible unique identifier, with any node capable of calling any other node for message transmission. Unlisted numbers, caller ID and other filtering techniques have been employed to screen out the unbidden caller. However, the number of robo-calls continues to rise, even with the advent of the national ‘do not call registry.’ It’s only with Skype and Google Voice that the messaging permission context begins to change– filtering is baked into the system.


Email suffers from the same blessings and curses. Once an email address has been publicly revealed it can be targeted. Because the cost per message is so low, the email system is overwhelmed with spam. Of all the messages in the email system, more than 94% of them are spam. The actual value of the system has been compressed into a tiny percentage of the message traffic. Needles have to be pulled from a haystack of spam.

The amount of energy spent shielding and filtering spammable identity endpoints continues to grow. But as online social networks grow, alternative messaging systems start to gain purchase in our interactions. The two models that have the most uptake are: 1) the reciprocal messaging contract (facebook, skype); 2) publication/subscribe contract (tw*tter/rss). Both of these models eliminate the possibility of spam. In the reciprocal model, a user simply withdraws from the contract and no further messages can be sent. In the pub/sub model, the “unfollow” or “block” deactivates the subscription portion of the messaging circuit. The publication model still allows any unblocked user on the system to subscribe and listen for new messages.

In these emerging models, the message receiver has the capacity to initiate or discontinue listening for messages from a self-defined social/commercial graph. Traditional marketing communications works through the acquisition or purchase of spammable target identity endpoints and spraying the message through the Network at a high frequency to create a memory event in the receiver.

As these new models gain maturity and usage, the spammable identity endpoints on the network will begin to lose importance. In fact, as new models for internet identity are being created, an understanding of this issue is a key to success. Motivating a user to switch to a new identity system could be as simple as offering complete relief from spam.

So now we must ask, what’s lost in moving away from the old systems? The idea that any two endpoints can spontaneously connect and start a conversation is very powerful. And this is why concepts like “track” are so important in the emerging context.

These new ecosystems of messaging are built on a foundation established through the practice of  remote procedure calls between computer programs on a network– accelerated by the introduction of XML:

Remote procedure call (RPC) is an Inter-process communication technology that allows a computer program to cause a subroutine or procedure to execute in another address space (commonly on another computer on a shared network) without the programmer explicitly coding the details for this remote interaction. That is, the programmer would write essentially the same code whether the subroutine is local to the executing program, or remote. When the software in question is written using object-oriented principles, RPC may be referred to as remote invocation or remote method invocation.

The outlines of the new system start to become clear. The publish/subscribe messaging framework allows for both public and private messages to be sent and received. Publicly published messages are received by anyone choosing to subscribe. Discovery of new conversation endpoints occurs through track. Private messages require reciprocal subscription, a layer of security, privacy and audit. All commercial transactions through the Network can be reduced to forms of  private messaging. Messages are transacted in real time.

The applications in our current Network ecosystem that have most of the elements of this public/private messaging system are Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed. As more of our social and commercial transactions move to the Network, we’ll want a choice about which APIs we expose, and their rules of engagement. You know my name, look up my API…

Published in digital economics identity network real time web user data value zettel