Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tel it like it is

Had to laugh when I read in the IT section of today's Guardian that some people are getting excited about a new web domain, ".tel". Apparently the sole use will be a single web page showing the contact details of the person who owns the domain. Since most people do not have unique names, this immediately invalidates the whole point, and since there is no protection as to who can register names in the first place, it is merely an exercise in internet greed, encouraging both cyber-squatting and generating FUD* in people scared of somehow missing out.

But as always the joy is to be found in the quote of someone pushing this new domain. Like so many in IT, he clearly has no real idea what people actually do with it. Step forward and take a bow, one Andy Chantrill whose words of wisdom read thus:"Every minute, thousands of people are getting off planes, and what is the first thing that they do? Turn on the BlackBerry," he says. "Some of them will be thinking ahead to renting a car. For them, it's - the directory quickly connects them to an agent, saving time and hassle. Or maybe you're thinking of sending flowers? will let you quickly find your nearest florist."

Can't dispute his first line. Every minute people do indeed disembark from planes. And now we leave reality behind. Some may indeed resort to their Blackberry, or other mobile device. But the vast majority do not. They scramble for their luggage. They fight for trolleys. They queue up at Passport Control. They check their tickets and itineraries, and ensure that the foreign cash is still safe in their inside pockets.

But to Mr Chantrill the very next thing that our intrepid travellers do is to think about car rental. Ummm. Most travellers do not actually rent cars you know. If they did, the termini of airports would be crammed full of rental establishments. Instead there will be couple of sad booths, one empty, and one with a bored clerk smiling hopelessly at the passing crowds. But in any case, anyone with an ounce of sense rents a car before arrival. And if you have decided to take pot luck, then you do indeed go straight to a booth. Or you call a rental agency you have an account with. You don't stand about phoning some "agent" who may well be in a call centre the other side of the world and start making arrangements for a car that might be the other side of the airport with no way of getting there other than by courtesy coach that takes a hour to arrive.

No matter. Whilst waiting for that coach you can do the next thing that everyone does when they get off a plane. You order some flowers. Now what does Mr Chantrill suggest - you walk through the terminal and pick a nice bunch of daffs for your host? Nope. This is the insane world of the internet salesman remember. What you do is use your Blackberry to find the nearest florist. In an airport? If there is a florist on your way out you will surely see it. If not, what is going to do? The nearest florist to Heathrow, for example, is probably miles from the airport and, being in the back streets of Hayes, entirely in the wrong direction for the vast majority.

My final thought - I possess a rather unusual name and probably could have my own .tel domain. But if you know me you know how to contact me already. And if you don't, you can find my email on my website. So I shall not be getting a .tel domain name. No flowers, by request.

*FUD mlud? An ancient acronym denoting "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt",propaganda tactics favoured by some in the IT biz to disparage competitors


  1. Thought I should reply to your comments just to clear up a few points:

    >Apparently the sole use will be a single web page showing the contact details of the person who owns the domain.

    Not really. The web page is but one representation of the information that is stored in the DNS zone. Other applications and services will be equally and if not more important, particularly on mobile devices.

    >Since most people do not have unique names, this immediately invalidates the whole point,

    Indeed, but how would you propose name collisions be resolved? Some people will just have to settle for their abbreviated names or monikers.

    >and since there is no protection as to who can register names in the first place

    There was a sunrise period specifically for trademark owners to secure their names. This ran from the 3rd of December until the 2nd of February. Feel free to check the database to see which names were registered during this period;

    I registered my domains during the landrush period, the nature of which is first come first serve, for a premium price. General availability starts on March 24th. The sunrise/landrush domains will "go live" on February 25th.

    You're wrong to assume that all people/travellers think and act in the same way. The use case of air passengers using a directory service to make quick rental car bookings on their mobiles was admittedly a bit contrived, but what do you expect from a short sound byte? Perhaps I should have given a more mundane example of somebody seeing their car towed away? People rent cars for all sorts of different reasons, and the directory is not exclusively for any single group of them.

    The fact remains that these industries both rely heavily on being listed in directory services, and that is the point I was trying to illustrate.

    >Now what does Mr Chantrill suggest - you walk through the terminal and pick a nice bunch of daffs for your host?

    Now you're just being silly!

    If you'd rather tap away furiously on your mobile trying to find the information you're looking for in a browser, then that is your prerogative. There are better ways.

    It sounds like everything you presently know about .tel came from that one Guardian article? I think if you looked a bit deeper into the problem domain, and the .tel solution, then you may reach a new conclusion.

    If you have any other questions or comments then I'll do my best to answer them.

    Kind Regards,

    Andy Chantrill.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reply so fully, Andy. Hope you appreciate that I exaggerate for comic effect,and sometimes you have to set up a straw man in order to have something to knock down. But I had previously been contacted by an ISP about registered for .tel and I did look into it then and I stand by the main thrust of my argument - as you say, names are not unique, so how can anyone who does not already know the details of someone with a common name hope to find them merely by putting into a browser?

    In my firm, people plan ahead when they travel. They have their contact with them. Our business is managing musicians. When we make arrangements for them we give them full details of exactly where they are going and who they are seeing. We have a database of all the contacts in our line of work. So when you say "tap furiously on your mobile" I genuinely do not get it - I don't do this, nor does anyone I work with. This is why I can see no purpose whatsoever in the .tel domain as far as we are concerned and I imagine that any properly organised business is similar. So extrapolating from that it is how I got my reaction to your example, and I do understand that you needed to come up with something easily graspable within the space of a short quote in a fairly short article.
    So, sorry if you felt I was knocking your competence and let us see if the .tel domain takes off as you expect it to.

  3. No worries mate, I had a good laugh about it - never caused "controversy" through a national paper before! :)

    >so how can anyone who does not already know the details of someone with a common name hope to find them merely by putting into a browser?

    You're right, but that is a problem that exists in the real world. It's rather amazing to think that the 10 most popular surnames in China cover 40% of the population! Even I, with a somewhat unusual name, have at least one namesake that I'm aware of.

    The .tel solution to this basically involves using tags and free text to add descriptive meta information about yourself, or your organisation, which will allow people to construct search engine/directory queries to find you. You could also add geolocation information to your .tel zone, further defining your identity.

    Mobile internet access is now starting to take off in a big way, due to a combination of cheaper/faster access and more elegant and sophisticated mobile devices. In Japan more people access the internet through mobiles than from desktops, and I suspect we're now on a trajectory to end up in a similar situation to them, sooner or later.

    If you need to find contact information, using the browser on your phone is not the best way, because that's not what Google, or any other search engine, was designed for. In regard to web browsing, there is an added technical benefit to .tel, which is the distributed nature of DNS. Mobile networks are inherently latent (slow), but pulling records from the DNS makes this lag far less perceptible than HTTP requests (web), particularly if you're browsing up and down a directory tree. This kind of responsiveness will make .tel a killer application, IMO.

    When you want to use a rental car agency, or sends flowers/gifts, or hire a plumber, and generally looks for services that are bought on an occasional basis that do not necessarily require much research to be done in advance, then where do you turn? Probably the Yellow Pages. The idea behind .tel is to kill that model, and replace it with records that are fully under your control, can be of any size, changed at any time, and found and accessed from anywhere.

    There is plenty of friction within the world of telecoms, and I believe .tel has all the right ingredients to present some great solutions to a manner of different problems (some which haven't yet been discussed).

    I tend to be an optimist and believe that good ideas always shine through in the end, and in the case of .tel this could happen very quickly, due to the viral nature of the Internet.

    If you're interested in trying out a free demo, you can sign up for an account here:

    - Andy.