XNS: It’s Dog Food Time
About nine months ago, I wrote about a new technology platform called XNS (eXtensible Name Service) and the non-profit organization I and several others had formed to manage the technology. Our plans have moved more slowly than we wanted for a number of reasons, not the least of which were the bursting of the dot-com bubble and reactions to the changing face of the Internet, but the basic promise of XNS as a privacy-protected means of sharing permanently synchronized information remains intact.
The main feature of XNS that’s been available since the beginning was synchronized electronic business cards (currently called "e-cards" in OneName’s interface, but we’re working to change that to something more sensible). The idea is that you can create an electronic business card in your XNS agent containing just the subset of contact information you want to give out, and then you can share it with others in the XNS system. When you make changes to your information, the copy of your electronic business card stored in their XNS agent automatically updates.
In the initial release of XNS, the reality of electronic business cards wasn’t nearly as attractive as the theory. In the current version of the XNS public agency software, the XNS developers eliminated some of the earlier annoyances. For instance, you can now send electronic business cards from the front page of your XNS agent. When you receive an electronic business card, you can now reply with your own, just as in the real world, where you generally give someone a card when they offer you theirs. Since it was annoying to have to log into your agent to see if you’d received any electronic business cards, you can now have your agent send you email notification when someone sends you an electronic business card (click the Setup tab, and then click the Set Your Agent Preferences link to find the email notification preference).
At the URL below, you can log in to your existing agent (if you don’t remember your password, you can use the answer to your secret question to get a temporary one mailed to you), or sign up for a new XNS agent for free via a new and far more streamlined procedure.
Where does the dog food come in? First, for those of you unfamiliar with the industry term, it refers to using the software you write. I may not be programming XNS, but as the chairman of the XNSORG board of directors, I should be using XNS for what it can do. Now, as you probably know, I’m in the process of moving from Seattle back to Ithaca, NY, and my snail mail address and telephone number are changing. I’m faced with having to inform potentially thousands of people of my new address and phone number, but it feels weird to broadcast them in TidBITS, where they’ll be available and too easily searchable forever. Instead, I intend to put XNS to one of the uses it was designed for – sharing and synchronizing information with other people who are members of the XNS community and have agreed not to misuse said information. And more to the point, I want to share my contact information with those who are share theirs with me.
So here’s the deal. If you’d like my new contact information, log in to your XNS agent (or sign up for one, if you didn’t do so back when I first announced XNS), create an electronic business card with the contact information you’d like to share with me, and send it to me, using my XNS name, =Adam Engst. When I receive it, I’ll return my current electronic business card, but you’ll notice that I haven’t yet updated it with my Ithaca information, in part because I haven’t finalized everything yet. By 13-Jul-01, when I have the final addresses and phone numbers, I’ll update the information in my XNS agent, which will cause the information in your copy of my electronic business card to update. You’ll have to log in to your XNS agent to see the update, so I’d recommend bookmarking the login page so you can go back easily.
I realize this isn’t a truly innovative or unique feature, but it is real and it is useful, and I want to show that XNS can be used in useful ways now, even before we’ve accomplished many of our more ambitious goals. I hope to be able to pass on other small uses of XNS soon, and if all goes well, I’ll have more interesting news about the future of the XNS technology later.