Two formerly analog products in need of innovation

Every address on the Internet has an associated IP address, a series of four numbers connected by three periods. For example, Google owns the range of IPs from 74.125.0.0 to 74.125.255.255. Typing the IP address into your user bar works - try it by typing 74.125.1.1 into your address bar, and the Google homepage comes up. We could browse the Internet this way, but it's a really crappy way to browse - it would be harder to remember web addresses if they were all numbers and harder for companies to advertise - they'd have to focus really hard on getting you to remember their IP address. And yet this is something that we do with phone numbers every day. Once upon a time, phone numbers were analog - you had to dial '1' before a non-local call, so the router knew where to send the call - and the second digit of the area code had to be '1' or '0,' while the second digit of the exchange (the middle set of 3 numbers in a 10 digit number) was never '0' or '1' so the phone company could send your call. But now, everyone has mobile phone numbers, and it's just as easy to dial New York from a mobile phone as it is to dial my next door neighbor. I can also send text messages to crazy numbers like 37523, like Verizon wanted me to do to enter some contest at the Oakland A's game on Saturday. My point is, why are we still using the actual numbers? Why can't we use screen names, which everyone agrees stand for a number, like we do with IP addresses? How much easier would it be to, instead of writing down your number at a bar, to say, Call me at "kevinburke"? Or for businesses to say, Dial "Verizon" or "James Sokolove" - a simple message at the end of their ads? We have a small attempt at this by bundling letters together on the keyboard (for example dial 1-800-FLOWERS), but when three letters are bundled together there are way fewer combinations, and the combinations have to be exactly seven characters long. One potential problem is this makes personal phone numbers much easier to remember and dial - your ex girlfriends and enemies would always know your screen name. On a related note, digital cable and satellite companies still make you browse channels in their linear order, and remember that 038 means ESPN and 551 is HBO, with 200 channels in between that I never watch. That's lunacy. I don't watch more than ten channels - let me assign my favorites and arrange them on the screen horizontally as well as vertically, like the new Safari 4 homepage. This would make browsing a snap (although the cable companies may arrange the channels as they do to protect bundling their cable packages instead of offering a la carte channels). Anyway, digital companies should embrace the freedom that new technology gives them.

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