Thursday, May 10, 2012

A rant against 1:1

Everey now and again, I get really annoyed with sites that assume you have only one of something. "Please enter your email address" is a common request - except that I have several, and would like to have the opportunity to use any of them as my login id. After all they are each unique. Tripit.com does it right. Many other sites do it wrong. This posting from Robert Scoble illustrates the kind of muddy thinking. Apple making the assumption that there is one credit card.
Years ago, I used Plaxo. However the geniuses behind that didn't think I might have more than 1 email address, more than 1 set of followers, so I would get suggestions from them to follow people I was already following.
In the world there are very few 1:1 correspondences that are timeless. So any time a system assumes that there is a pair of things that are in absolute 1:1 correspondence, I am mightily suspicious.
There are 2 interesting cases to ponder:
1:1 at a time and 1:1 over time.
1:1 at a time, I get. However there have to be rules/policies/processes or whatever to change to a new one. But even those are suspicious because we may have to account for the zero case. And it usually isn't bilaterally 1:1.
1:1 over time is much harder. If it isn't possible for two things to exist independently of each other (for each one there is always exactly one of the other), then we have to question why they are not combined. By the way there are often good technical reasons, but maybe not so many good business or policy reasons.
So a word to the wise, when someone tells you there is a 1:1 correspondence, then they may be talki8ng about a single world view and that you should at least explore the alternatives lest you be trapped in an expensive rethinking process.

2 comments:

Richard Veryard said...

As it happens, I only have one mother, and she only has one maiden name. Moreover, this is not going to change, ever.

But when a service provider wants me to use my mother's maiden name as a secret password, I demur. So I have a collection of false mothers-maiden-names, Along with a collection of mythical first schools, imaginary first pets and so on. I then have the struggle of remembering which is which.

By which time, I've forgotten why I needed to log on. Sigh.

Chris Bird said...

Richard I understand that you have only one (birth at least) mother. But that relationship isn't exactly one to one. Without delving into family history completely, she could have many children (your siblings), and she existed before you did. So the role of Richard's Mother is, I agree in 1:1 correspondence, but the person who is Richard's mother is not in 1:1 correspondence with Richard or anyone else.
So, I guess it depends on which abstractions we use. I (at the risk of descending into a Clinton-esque land of definition) would argue that the word "is" is inappropriate (but convenient shorthand). It would be a bit cumbersome to say, "This person who plays the role of Richard's only birth mother" in conversation. So we use "is" in this rather corrupted form. I am sure the cunning linguists reading this can tell me what the linguistic term for such use of the verb to be is.