WhitePages IDs Growth in the Explosion of Personal Data
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names and phone numbers on a Bing map of addresses, with the idea that people could schedule parties or meetups with those living nearby.
WhitePages’ latest creation might be its most ambitious. In an update of its previous caller ID app for Android smartphones, WhitePages integrated social and professional networking with local information, like weather and news headlines. So, when a friend calls, you’re able to see what’s going on in their city, check out a short version of their LinkedIn profile, and see their last tweet or Facebook post. As one reviewer said, it’s “like caller ID on steroids.”
“We’re really bridging the virtual world with the real world. And when you do that, there’s some really magic opportunities to create tons of usefulness,” Algard says.
And while the new caller ID app was a pretty big milestone for WhitePages, there was another change that will have an even bigger effect. Just in the past month, WhitePages rebuilt its core database, moving from a SQL-based system toward the more modern noSQL database technology. Those systems can grow faster, handle more data, and be spread across servers more efficiently than their predecessors—making it easier and cheaper to manipulate the kind of wildly growing data that WhitePages collects.
Along with that update, WhitePages also re-launched its application programming interface and its system for letting Web users “claim” their profile and (the company hopes) add more data for the company to crunch, such as cell phone numbers. “It was the biggest re-architecture we’ve ever done of our systems,” Algard says.
It’s pretty interesting that a company founded on a decidedly old-school identifier—the humble phone number—has stuck around long enough to see so many changes in the attitudes about public identity.
When WhitePages started, anonymity reigned online, revered as one of the fundamental principles of Web use. These days, of course, real identities are increasingly the currency of our digital worlds, a change forced by Facebook and its drive to “make the world more open and connected.”
Oh, and that whole data-hound thing? It’s becoming pretty fashionable, too.
“A lot of Web companies are becoming more data-oriented. I think they’re all realizing that, fundamentally, what they have in common is they build databases, and they’re all for some single purpose,” Algard says. “It’s an exciting time for us. We’ve been doing this for well over a decade.”