One ring to rule them all?

In the last couple of weeks there have been several announcements about phones and phone numbers. Some of them appear to point in rather different directions. Various carrier solutions are aimed at the idea of a single phone number ringing multiple different devices, at the same time a start up, Burner, is doing what seems to be the opposite, having multiple phone numbers link to a singe device (and from there letting you “burn” numbers, so you can cut yourself off from that Craigslist posting, Tinder encounter etc.). At the same time Google has purchased an RCS (Rich Communications Services) business, allowing them perhaps to add more intelligent routing capability to their Google Voice services.  All of this points, rather improbably at some level, to a long life for the phone number.
Carriers and IoT
The announcements by ATT, Sprint, and T Mobile are about a single number ringing multiple devices. It appears that this is most focused on IoT scenarios- as more and more devices are connected to “the network” then clearly it makes sense to be able to address them. 
It’s worth questioning whether the currently wireless service providers are the right service providers for IoT solutions. Managing a single customer relationship and a single device is very different from a family and 25-50 distinct “things” to be communicated with, and the fact we still have a robust ecosystem of Mobile Device Management players (e.g. AirWatch, Good) suggest that there is a lot of enterprise telephony still to be captured by carriers (or not) never mind every robot in a factory.
Mom- what’s MPOP?
Why is this fairly simple idea new, and how hard is it to execute? Multiple Points of Presence (MPOP, the ability to send a call addressed to one device/person to more than one end point) in communications systems usually implies a server or similar capability in the cloud. That has to be the first delivery point of the message/call, which then in turn routes the incoming message to one or more devices. That secondary delivery is being managed by someone who is not always as expert at message delivery, or who is trying to do something more complicated (and edge-case prone) than simply make sure a call ends up in one and exactly one place.
Anyone who has ever logged onto a communications service on a device they haven’t used for a while to see a old unseen message pop in as new is experiencing the downside of poorly implemented versions of this approach.
Software and smarter numbers?
Burner is taking the opposite approach. They are offering multiple temporary numbers which map to a single physical device. The value proposition of burnable numbers is fairly clear, and removes some of the queasy feeling you get as you look at a form where the only possible next step is a call from a pushy sales person, or robocalls about your credit card balance.
Burner’s most recent announcements are an extension of their idea of single burnable numbers. By imagining the phone number as a platform, they are looking to integrate apps like Dropbox and Evernote with a managed phone number, allowing automated customer service and similar capabilities.
Google’s acquisition of Jibe Mobile, an RCS based messaging company, also speaks to the resilience of the carrier centric approach here, and to the value of bringing software thinking to the routing and handling of messages. RCS is usually seen as the “carriers’ response to OTT and other rich messaging,” and is touted as a potential replacement for SMS. It does allow some freedom from phone numbers, but is ultimately more about making complex communications capabilities usable (like escalating seamlessly from instant message to calls, or transferring a session from device to device).
I’m not dead yet!
So whether it’s many devices having the same number, or one device having multiple numbers, in the short term it seems like we have some life left in phone numbers (despite many attempts to declare them already dead). In the medium and longer term it is going to be interesting to see who wins in this space, and whether the capabilities developed for a numbered world will transfer to a broader set of solutions, or be be siloed. Just as IPv4 failed to scale to the number of devices connected to the internet, it’s hard to see how phone numbers do that for IoT. Phone numbers will not have a clear and glorious death – perhaps like the fax and telex, they will be with us until we wake up one day and realize they have gone.

Will the Sean Parker of blockchain please stand up?

Now that Ethereum Frontier has launched, the only thing between us and cyber-utopia is an app. Not just any app–but a P2P blockchain app that makes normal people lots of money. And before that, we need an anti-hero willing to do the work of building the prototype for this world-changing app without getting paid.
Imagine a company. Imagine the management of this company resigns. The employees who remain are allowed to keep the company running by working peer to peer. The incentive: they’d get to split the money that used to go to management salaries.
That is a lot of extra dough to go around. But without anyone at the helm, people would need a system of agreements between one another to make sure each individual was held accountable to coworkers.
Without a legal department (they resigned too) each individual would need to write their own contracts: one for each person they work with regularly. As an editor, my contract with a writer might stipulate they send me a certain number of articles per day; when this “smart contract” looks in my WordPress account and sees articles, it automatically executes on our agreement and pays the writer.
That’s supposedly the promise of blockchains: peer-to-peer transactions for everything. And it’s the vision of Ethereum, the open source blockchain platform that officially launched last week.
If you missed the Ethereum launch, you are in no small majority. Distributed apps are still in the toy stage, with steep learning curves and no easy commercial path. Meanwhile, conventional startups pay. It will take someone making a killer d-app in the spirit of Napster, for the fun of disruption, to kick off an economic tremor.
“You don’t see the BitTorrent company today making billions of dollars and becoming the new Google,” says Stephan Tual, CCO of Ethereum. “What you do see is people starting to think: I don’t want to pay for music anymore. It’s allowed Apple to come and create its music store,” says Tual.
That means someone needs to find a highway-robbery scenario that lots of people care about: something on the order of $20 CD’s, says Tual.
“Whenever there’s a disruption it’s usually because of reaction to a rip off that has somehow become normal.”
Bitcoin is useful; it obviates bank charges and taxes. But those fees aren’t acutely frustrating our brilliant youth quite the way the retail music industry was doing back in the Napster days.
When the killer d-app comes, it might be employment. With millions of college-educated Millennials under-employed or under-earning, it’s only a matter of time before pressure to earn drives people towards online marketplaces where knowledge workers can moonlight and build skills. This “Napster for employment” might get attention from engineers, inspiring them to build mainstream blockchain copycats.
The ultimate promise is persistent online identity. Participating in more than one employment marketplace would reflect back on one common log of ratings and transactions.
“This reputation system would ask: What is this Stephan good for? Has he sold stuff on the decentralized eBay? Has he used the decentralized Airbnb?” says Tual. “All that reputation accrues over time. Who Stephan is becomes a valuable thing; I can then put that as a collateral for a loan–now you’re in microfinance territory.”
Abstractly, the value of blockchain is governance: how we organize with each other and work together. So just as Napster led to BitTorrent and the iTunes Store, niche blockchain applications could radically change the way our corporations and governments work.
“The impact will be tremendous,” says Tual.

Judge says cops can trick you into befriending them on Instagram

In what might be the slowest tech news week of the year, there’s a weird tidbit out of New Jersey. A U.S. District Judge has ruled that cops are allowed to create fake identities on Instagram to follow suspects. As we’ve seen in the past, criminals occasionally post evidence of their crimes on social media applications, and image-heavy Instagram is no different.

The ruling came about after police officers befriended a serial burglar — Daniel Gatson — on Instagram. The person had posted shots of certain wares, described in the opinion as “large amounts of cash and jewelry, which were quite possibly the proceeds from the specified federal offenses.” He protected his Instagram account, so you had to request to follow him to see the content, and the officers created a fake account to get that access.

They used the picture evidence to obtain a search warrant for Gatson’s home. In return, Gatson tried to get the evidence thrown out, saying it violated his Fourth Amendment Rights. The judge wasn’t buying it, because Gatson approved the agent’s friend request. “No search warrant is required for the consensual sharing of this type of information,” the Court said in its opinion.

This is, of course, not the first time that social media and the law have intersected. Agents, officers, and lawyers have used Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites to gather intel and evidence in cases, resulting in varying degrees of public outrage. The DEA was scolded by Facebook this past October after it came to light that the agency had taken an arrested woman’s photos from her phone and used them to create a fake profile in the hopes of gathering intel from her contacts. The case hasn’t gone to trial yet.

In August last year, Oakland prosecutors were able to up a man’s charge from vehicular manslaughter to murder using some of his morbid tweets. Some courts have even ruled that a plaintiff had to hand over his Facebook password to a defendant so content on the site could be used as evidence.

But a legal expert who spoke to Ars Technica about the case said they believe this might be the first incident involving Instagram.


Does your coffee machine need its own domain name?

When everything’s connected how can we take people out of the middle of the billions of devices and let them talk to each other without us getting involved? The Wireless Registry has an idea.