Short thought: The unit should be person, not account

[Cross-post from Medium]

I’ve been thinking, inspired partly by Amy Zhang’s paper on mailing lists vs social media use

We have a bunch of issues with online identity. Like, I have at least 20 different ways to contact some of my friends, send half my life trying to separate out people being themselves from massive coordinated cross-platform campaigns, and dozens of issues with privacy, openness (like do we throw a message into the infinite beerhall that’s twitter or deliberately email to just a few chosen peeps). How much of this has happened because our base unit of contact has changed from an individual human to an online account?

I’m wondering if there’s a way to switch that back again. Zeynep Tufecki said that people stayed on Facebook despite its shortcomings because that’s where the school emergency alerts, group organisation etc were. What if we could make those things platform-independent again? I mean we have APIs, yes? They’re generally broadcast, or broadcast-and-feedback, yes?

I guess this is two ideas. One is to challenge the idea that everything has to be instant-to-instant. Yeah, sure, we want to chat with our friends. But do we really need instant chat on everything? If we drop that, can we build healthier models?

The second idea is to challenge the account-as-user idea. Remember addressbooks? Like those real physical paper books that you listed your friends, family etc names, addresses, phone numbers, emails etc in? What if we had a system that went back to that, and when you sent a message to someone it went to their system of choice in your style of choice (dm, group, public etc). I get that you’re all unique etc, and I’m still cool with some of you having multiple personalities, but this 20 ways to contact a person — that’s got old, and fast.

The third (because who doesn’t like a fourth book in a trilogy) is to give people introvert time. Instead of having control over our electronic lives by putting down the electronics, have a master switch for “only my mother can contact me right now”.