Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

stewart.jpgStewart Alsop (who I met recently at the Fortune Brainstorm 2002) writes in his column in Fortune Magazine about GoodContacts.

When Barak was visiting a few weeks ago, he was raving about it as well. GoodContacts is basically a contact management package that talks to Outlook or Act! and spams them with email and asks people to update their info. The good thing about GoodContacts is that they don't keep your contact list, they just enable you to spam from your computer. That's why I thought about using it until I realized I would have to switch to Outlook. (and why I am still drooling) It is viral, useful and cool. It triggered a "flashbulb moment" for Stewart.

Stewart Alsop

And that leads me to the flashbulb. Imagine that we all have one phone number and one e-mail address that knows where we are. Imagine that the network keeps track of our location and our personal data, and automatically updates anyone who might be interested. Imagine that we don't have to think about whether the right phone number or address is stored in the network or our PC or our PDA or our phone. Imagine that all these little details of personal life are just handled. Yeah, yeah, I'm dreaming. But if that stuff happens, it will start with dumb little programs like GoodContacts. That's enlightening.

boldface added by Joi for emphasis

I have great respect for Stewart and all this SOUNDS good, but the lightbulb that flashed for me was. OUTLOOK? PERSONAL DATA? Ack! I would like something with similar functionality. It would be great, but I still can't imagine using a Microsoft product for contact management considering all of the security and privacy problems they have. I also would HATE for all of this information to ever end up not being local. Be careful when you ask "the network" to do stuff for you. I envision something similar, but a much different architecture.

Think IM buddy lists. Everyone should be able to have identities that are separate from their "entities". (see my paper about for more thoughts about this) You should be able to have multiple identities for the various roles. Each identity would be attached to different attributes such as memberships, age, corporate roles, or writing pseudonyms. Locally, you would be able to attach current information such as shipping address, home address, current phone, voicemailbox, etc. to each of the identities, being able to manage which identity was "active" or capable of routing to you at any given time. At work you would want your personal phone calls screened, your business contacts on. At home, you could reverse them.

Managing our identities and personal information in this age of privacy destruction will be essential. I truely believe that privacy underpins democracy and that "viral" solutions that give people like Microsoft or their software, access to our contact info should be watched carefully. Peer to peer, multi-vendor, multi-id, hash/digital signature based connectivity is much more interesting for me.

But maybe Stewart was going to get to the architecture next. I think it's a great idea, but the architecture discussion has to happen NOW.


Hi Joichi,

I agree with your concerns. I responded to Stewart's bot because my email address is so well known, etc. But I share the same concerns about understanding the rules and regs that would govern server access to this data, local or not. It falls directly into the issues you have been battling for in Japan re: national ID registries and their vulnerabilities.

Good points all.


I agree that privacy is a key part of this, but I would rather have a personal "IP address" that followed me everywhere. No one would need to know where it was routed, it would just reach me. Already when I'm home my Cell phone forwards to my home phone. This adds to my privacy rather than detracts.

So the forwarding can be transparent and hidden from the person trying to reach me. When I travel my cell number and email address travel with me. This is transparent to anyone trying to reach me (thus the 4AM call in Singapore). Do we need IP addresses assigned at birth? Could they be kept private but routable? Could it also be the basis for verifiable but private ID?

We're all frightened of having one number assigned to us, but to Joi's point, if it's architected well it could be the key to a safe, secure and private system.

Found this good rant about community and identity on BoingBoing. Very relevant to my thoughts about identity.

Rich Persaud

As one of those people ... ownership and property rights are both
social contracts. A framework of reputations owned by a
monolithic "community" would be the worst possible combination of a
small town and Orwellian nation-state. The act of observation alters
that being observed. A history of observations inevitably constrains
future actions.

A multiplicity of "communities", decentralized and diverse, is an
acceptable alternative provided that, (a) individuals explicitly
enter into contracts (social and legal) that define their reputation
in each community, (b) there is horizontal audit transparency of
reputation data (i.e. no special rights for community owners,
affiliates or law enforcement), and (c) there is sufficient financial
and cultural separation between communities to incent meaningful
choice (a market) in social contracts.

In this context, "community" = country, state, county, town, company,
audience, market, industry sector, discussion group, search engine,
weblog or other shared-risk ecosystem.

Decentralized = geographical + policy decentralization.

100% transparency does not lead to loss of privacy. 100%
transparency leads to loss of speech. All speech and action becomes
part of a continuous game of posturing, creative writing and mediocre
(not even amateur) performance art.

Community boundaries segment risk, define topology and vary
feedback. They are necessary for evolution, learning and behavior
change (historical role of reputation systems).

Moving faster does not make time less important. It makes distance
more important, as an alternate unit of separation.



My comment and the Yamagishi paper I refer to in the comment are posted in the entry about Yamagishi-san.

GoodContacts is peer-to-peer.

Thanks Chuck. That's good.

This reminded me of a cool phone system that let's you tell it 3 numbers to call you at the same time, forward calls, have total control with one 800 number...naturally fax and email come along for the's a bit pricey but the best version of unified boxes I've ever seen. A friend of mine worked for the company many years ago when unified messaging was unheard of. I can't remember the name of the company...Ahhh, I knew if I kept writing I'd remember...WildFire.

P.S. I hope Mitch Kapor's efforts mean there will be a popular alternative to Outlook. Despite some good features, I'm happy to have switched to Poco...