A few days ago we received a bizarre email here at The Next Web. It suggested that I was a troubled individual who must be punished for my crimes. Weird? Yes. Worrying? You bet.
Luckily, it turned out the writer wasn’t referring to me but my namesake, the Australian mass-murderer Martin Bryant who killed 35 people and injured 21 others in a massacre at Port Arthur, Tasmania, in 1996.
It’s not the first time I’ve been confused with this notorious killer. In the 13 years since the Port Arthur Massacre I’ve received numerous emails telling me what an awful person I am. Less than half were from ex-girlfriends, the rest were from people who somehow believe a mass-murderer has escaped from jail and started writing tech blog posts on the other side of the world.
Of course, this problem is widespread. Wherever people share the same name there’s room for confusion. Fellow The Next Web team member Boris receives about four Twitter messages per day that were meant for other Borises, the sender just got confused.
As we noted at the time, on the day movie star Patrick Swayze died our own Patrick de Laive became the unwitting target of many Twitter users’ grieving thanks to his Twitter name being @Patrick.
Is it time for Names 2.0?
The idea of having a first name and a family name used to suit us all. Back in the days when most people lived their entire lives within a small radius of where they were born it was fine. It was unlikely that you would bump into anyone with the same name as you in your village.
Now, two things have changed. Firstly, we’re a lot more mobile. Thanks to cheap flights we can travel to just about anywhere in the world within the space of a day if we really need to. It’s far more common than it was for people to move city, or even country, several times during their life. As a result, many of us meet a lot more people now than we would have done in days gone by.
Secondly, thanks to the internet we’re connected to a lot more people. These are both deliberate connections we make with people online and co-incidental, passive connections made when people see things we’ve posted, search for us or just stumble upon us in the way someone idly browsing the web is bound to.
So, with all these additional connections the potential for confusion between people of the same name grows significantly. Maybe we need to rethink the way we give out names.
How it would work
In today’s connected world we all need unique names to avoid confusion. How do we make sure we have unique names when there are over 6 billion people on the planet? I’m no maths genius but I reckon a twelve digit ID of letters and numbers would do it. Fancy being called 1A34TN099128? It would certainly differentiate you from notorious criminal 1A34TN099129.
Now I know it’s not a very catchy or memorable name but you could have a nickname for everyday use. Your Name 2.0 would just be used in formal situations (like weddings: “Do you, 9B25RM800237, take PT69YPU400OX to be your lawfully wedded spouse?”) and online.
Think how useful it already is when new websites let you sign up using your existing, Facebook, Google or Twitter account. Now just imagine if you could use your name, uniquely assigned to you at birth by a central registry for all global names.
There would be no impersonators – only you would be authorised to create accounts in your name. Maybe this could be authenticated via a chip implanted at birth. You’d never need a password, just your 12-digit name and your chip for authentication.
A stupid idea?
Yes , this probably is a stupid idea; but then you probably don’t share your name with a mass-murderer. I think it’s a great idea!
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