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Pros and cons of .tel names


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Pros and cons of .tel names

Post by Sunrise on Mon 19 Aug 2013, 7:20 pm

A few days back we posted a request for testing of a new Blackberry app and a number of members were kind enough to respond. Many of the comments however were about the purpose of the app and more specifically the value of .tel names. These are great points, worthy of further discussion, but I wanted to move this debate away from the more mechanical aspects of simply finding out if the app performs as advertised across different carriers and devices.

A number of points were raised by members and I’ll address those specifically in a moment, but let me start out with a bit of background. I apologise ahead of time, but this is likely to get quite long, so I’ve tried to break it up with headings.

What is .tel?

A .tel name is best thought of as a unique ID like lane.tel or smith.tel to which contact information can be attached. Some people liken it to an electronic business card or wallet that makes it easier to exchange contact information with a single reference.

It also shares some characteristics of a bookmark in that referenced contact information is automatically updated when it changes or when new data is added, preventing the data from becoming stale.

Target Demographic

There are several demographics for whom the .tel name appeals, but generally speaking users are over 35, regularly exchange business cards (a dozen or more a month), have some tacit value attached to their name (like a realtor or consultant)and are not highly technical (typically they wouldn’t maintain their own web site, but might use Twitter or Facebook).


The .tel offers several appealing benefits to the target market:
  • It’s very easy to create and maintain
  • No hosting or designers are required
  • It creates an immediate online presence optimised for mobile and SEO
  • It’s an additional electronic presence that drives traffic to existing web properties
  • It’s a single point of contact – a hub for all contact points
  • It’s very easy to exchange in conversation, email signatures, marketing collateral, etc

Contact Information, Not Content

.tel focuses almost exclusively on contact information. It has very little to do with content. It is not a replacement for a web site. All .tel names look identical via a web browser and cannot be altered by the user. It has a highly targeted purpose: to make exchanging contact information and keeping in touch just a bit easier.

Who Hates It?

Hate may be a strong word, but there are lots of people that don’t feel the pain of the solution being offered, can’t see the point of it or have alternate solutions that work just fine.

I’m speaking broadly, but I’d be surprised if I could sell anyone under 24 on the idea of .tel – and if they’re technically oriented, it’s just about impossible. If you’re over 40, you’ve probably moved around a bit and had the misfortune to lose touch with people you wish you hadn’t. Twenty years ago (even ten years ago), there weren’t the social networks or communication mechanisms available for keeping in touch. In a social context, and particularly in an electronic social context, .tel makes little sense (there are arguments for it, but it’s a hard sell).

In a business context it’s a bit easier. If you’re involved in business development, sales or any form of client facing or face to face networking activity that involves the regular exchange of business cards, collating and maintaining up to date information, the concept of .tel is more attractive. No more card scan, no more transcribing, no more updating stale data.


But I can already do this with the contact page of my web site/ Plaxo/ Facebook/ LinkedIn/ vCard/ .MOBI/FOAF/ hCard/ a sub-domain of my .com/ ENUM/ OpenID/ XFN/Etc.

There are dozens of technologies and standards that share some elements of .tel characteristics. I’m happy to argue the pros and cons of each and every one, but over the past year I’ve looked at every alternative that has ever been mentioned in any discussion and I can say categorically that none of them come close to what I need them to do. Each is good in their own way and if they work for you and address the pain, I’m not going to try convert you to .tel, but I will say that it is distinct from all of them. The closest, in my opinion is Plaxo.

The Technology

The reason I like .tel is the underlying technology. It’s robust, it’s extensible, it’s easy to integrate with any internet enabled device. It’s fundamentally simple and (largely) compliant with established standards.

At its heart, .tel is a top level domain name accredited by ICANN. It’s an innovative use of the DNS that writes contact data directly into the DNS in TXT, LOC and NAPTR record types. NAPTR records can be encrypted with 1024 bit encryption using a public key infrastructure. This allows users to make any record private and only visible to those you elect to share that data with.

A simple interface allows users to create records and write them to the DNS. Structure is added through a folder analogy that equates to sub-domains, so my Webnames.ca details for example are available at webnames.lane.tel .

Viewing a .tel via a web browser is achieved through a web proxy server that reads the data from the dsn and renders it in a predetermined format. Users are restricted and cannot set the A record for the domain name, so all .tel names look identical when viewed through a browser.

A comprehensive API allows developers to create new applications or to integrate the .tel data into existing web based applications. Applications for various devices (including Blackberry!) have begun to emerge. The dev community for .tel live at dev.telnic.org


As mentioned under the technology heading, privacy is handled through PKI encryption of the NAPTR records. Privacy is dealt with through a separate system called TelFriends. Anyone can create a free TelFriends account without the need for a .tel name, enabling people to enjoy the benefits of .tel without the need to have one themselves.

Each individual needs to determine a balance between what information they want to make public and private. Public information can clearly be scraped and one of the main concerns is that developing a bot to scrape the DNS for email isn’t overly taxing. We have a number of honeypot .tel names with public email addresses to test for this, but so far we haven’t seen this activity. I’ve chosen to make my email public but I suggested that my mom make hers private.

In fact, my mom’s .tel is completely private. Because I have a friending relationship, I see 8 contact data points, but anyone that’s not friended sees nothing other than a self reference back to the .tel name. Her .tel is jacquilane.tel, for reference.


.tel is new and not without problems. The key thing for me is that none of them are insurmountable. Here are the problems I see:

  • It’s still too complex. There are a lot of advanced features that could be hidden for the average user
  • The friending process needs a lot of work. It’s a wall rather than a hill, so once you’ve set it up, you’re golden, but you do have to get over that wall
  • Simple stuff like password retrieval is non-standard and needs to be simplified
  • LOC info needs to be encrypted
  • Sub-domain NAPTR records need the ability to be encrypted
  • Labels need to be longer

A lot of this is being worked on and new builds are being deployed regularly. The vast majority is UI and easily addressed.

Final thoughts

It got late, so I’ll need to save specific responses for tomorrow, but I wanted to sign off with a few final thoughts.

I believe that .tel will be to telephone numbers and email as domain names are to IP addresses. At the end of the day I want to Call John, Email Cindy and IM Tom. I don’t care what their telephone numbers are. This is one of the great things about the Blackberry and other smartphones. 90% of the calls I make are straight from the dialler and based on the name. What .tel will do is ensure that behind the scenes, data for John, Cindy and Tom is complete and up to date. I enter their .tel name once and everything else is automatic.

I (somewhat) believe the wild predictions that there will be 1 billion .tel names within five years or so (actually I believe there will be 150 million+, but a lot nonetheless).

I believe that within two years, you’ll start to see .tel names shipping with your mobile plan. Your carrier will use them as a differentiator to win or keep your business and you’ll simply get a .tel name along with your standard issue telephone number. The .tel you choose and what you elect to do with it will be up to you.

Final, Final

If anyone actually gets this far down this post and wouldn't mind heling out with feedback on our .tel address book app, we'd really appreciate the feedback on whether it works as expected on your carrier/device. The original thread is at the top of the post or do a forum search "Hornet".




    Current date/time is Sun 27 May 2018, 9:58 am