As he traveled the world last year as part of a user research project, Michael Ducker noticed a problem. Ducker, a senior product manager at Twitter, was part of a team that visited Brazil, India, and Indonesia to learn about how people use mobile devices around the world. Twitter is courting new users aggressively, and like most tech companies it signs them up with a combination of an email address and password. The problems with passwords are well known: they can be hard for us to keep track of, easy for hackers to figure out, and never anything but tedious to type out on your mobile device’s tiny keyboard.
But in his travels, Ducker and his team began to understand the other half of the problem in signing up new users: the farther he traveled from America, the less likely it was that anyone he met had an email address. In developing countries, people are more likely to identify themselves via their mobile devices. Instead of email addresses, they have cell phones — and no way to easily sign up for Twitter or other services. But that’s all about to change: if Twitter has its way — and developers decide they can trust it again — phone numbers will become the primary way we log into our mobile applications, and we’ll all have fewer passwords to remember.
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