In an interview with Telnic, I learned more about the top level domain and its benefits.
The first time I wrote about .tel was back in 2006 when it was approved by ICANN. I wasn’t a big fan of it back then. I wrote about it again earlier this week, and said I still think this domain extension is a longshot.
Earlier today I talked with Justin Hayward, communications director for .tel backer Telnic. My general opinion is the same, but there are some ways, if executed well, .tel could work out.
How it Works
Let’s say I register Andrew.tel. (You can see a sample page I created on the beta platform here.) I get a .tel account where I can input contact information such as my phone number, e-mail, web address, skype, etc. I can also add keywords that describe me, such as “domainer” and “technology”.
Then, anyone who accesses andrew.tel can view this information. I can keep some of the information private and encrypted, such as my e-mail address. If someone wants to e-mail me, they can submit essentially a “friend” request to access the information. (This creates a limited viral effect for the domain). I can make some of the information available to certain groups or even just individuals. So it’s not just a vCard. I can have an infinite amount of vCards based on who sees it.
Also, there’s no set format for the domains. I don’t need to register firstname.lastname.tel. I can register first.tel, last.tel, nickname.tel, etc.
My initial concern with the domain was that there would need to be a high adoption rate so that you’d have a reasonable chance of typing in a .tel to find someone. If I’m looking for Mark Smith, I want to have a good chance of typing in marksmith.tel and getting their contact info. (This is similar to .mobi. I need to have a reasonable assurance that typing in cnn.mobi will take me to CNN’s mobile web site).
This won’t work well for .tel because there’s more than one Mark Smith.
Hayward acknowledges this and says that Telnic doesn’t envision people guessing at .tel addresses much. To be found, it plans to penetrate Google with its structured information. It will also launch a search site.
Businesses can use .tel, too. They can upload IVR information, direct extensions, etc.
Technology — and the Mobile Phone Advantage
The data is stored on the DNS, not a web site. This makes it easier to integrate into other applications such as Blackberries, iPhones, and Microsoft Outlook. (You can see existing applications at dev.telnic.org.
Although I’m not completely sold that it matters the data is on the DNS, Hayward pointed out there’s a good percentage of the world population that accesses information via mobile devices rather than desktop computers. They need information fast and they need it to be low bandwidth. .Tel delivers on both of these with a total data transfer for a .tel domain of under 1 kb. This is also helpful to people “roaming” overseas.
“With .tel we’re providing people with a way of publishing to the internet that doesn’t need web coding and web hosting,” said Hayward. This applies to people in emerging countries as well as people who don’t have the expertise to create a web page. Although people who can’t code can create a Facebook page, Hayward notes that social networks are inherently closed. You can’t contact someone through the network without joining.
Many registrars will offer .tel domains for $15-$20 in March after the sunrise and early registration period passes. GoDaddy will sell the domains through its reseller program but has not yet signed up to sell them on GoDaddy.com. This could be a problem since GoDaddy registers about half of new domain registrations.
One reason registrars might not be excited about offering .tel is the limited cross-sell opportunity. You can’t sell web hosting or privacy protection to a .tel customer, and these are two cash cows for registrars. A registrar could offer voice services such as vanity phone numbers and efax, however.
Although Hayward makes good points about the potential for .tel, I still see major hurdles for it to overcome.
1. Adoption and critical mass. Even if people don’t find friends by just typing in firstlastname.tel, people need to understand what .tel is when they see it in order to be comfortable with it. .Tel needs heavy hitters to sign up for the service, and these people need to put .tel on their business cards. .Tel would be wise to offer free accounts to influential people and corporations.
In my previous article, I argued that social networks rendered .tel obsolete before it was launched. Hayward argues the opposite may be true — information is more fragmented than ever before, and much of it is locked up inside closed networks.
2. Competition. Telnic had to convince ICANN it could use the DNS to store the information directly. It took many years. But it would take less time for a competitor to convince ICANN of this. Perhaps even .name could enter the space. The second type of competitor would be someone using a software solution. Google? Facebook? Using the DNS offers some advantages, but could have drawbacks too.