What's the future for the .tel domain name?


Good news! is being relaunched with a slew of new features which frees it up from its previous shackles.

What is .tel

Your address book is probably a mausoleum - stuffed with the rotting corpses of long dead phone numbers. Perhaps you took my business card back in 2002, duly entered it on your Palm Pilot, and never spoke to me again. That address book entry has a phone number I've not used for a decade, an email address provided by a defunct start-up, and a postal address for a country I no longer live in.

Isn't there a better way?

That's what .tel was supposed to be.

  • I register a .tel domain - http://edent.tel
  • I fill it with my contact details.
  • You store my .tel in your address book.
  • When I change my phone number, I update my .tel and your phonebook receives the changes.

The magic of .tel is that everything is stored in the DNS. It shouldn't matter if the website goes down - or even if you've got low connectivity. All you need to do to get my details is:

dig @8.8.8.8 edent.tel naptr

Or, to get everything in the DNS records:

dig +nocmd edent.tel any +multiline +noall +answer

The tragedy of .tel is that there was almost no UI customisation available. Every site looked close to identical, corporate colour schemes couldn't be easily integrated, and the design was limited.

This is what it looked like back in 2009:

A plain looking website

Which, thankfully, had improved by 2013:

A screenshot of the original .tel platform

No further improvements were made.

So, how well did it work in practice?

Lack of critical mass

Back in 2012, there were 256k .tel domains. In 2016, it's a mere 105k domains. Those numbers need to be in the multi-millions in order to get the traction needed for success. In their original proposal, they were expecting 20 million registrations five years after launch.

As registrations fell, so did income. Senior staff left the .tel organisation, and the infrastructure was left to rot. There were no updates, and it looked like .tel might collapse - an unprecedented event in DNS history.

I worked in the mobile industry for a decade. I don't think I ever met anyone else with a .tel. I got mine when they first launched in 2009 - and have been lonely ever since.

As far as I can tell, no mobile phones were ever released which had .tel capable address books.

Relaunch!

Late last year, .tel owners were sent emails describing the upcoming relaunch and reinvigoration of the service.

✓ Lifting of usage restrictions.
✓ A new Telhosting platform.
✓ Android and iPhone apps.

✘ No porting of data!
✘ No sub-pages.
✘ No search.
✘ No advertising.
✘ Limited foreign language support.

It's a bit of a mixed bag. But, hopefully, there's enough to sustain numbers - if not increase them.

The most important is the lifting of hosting and design restrictions. Users will be able to point their .tel at any site they like. The idea of it just being an address book is disappearing.

For those people who do want to keep it as their virtual contact card - a new platform is being launched with an improved interface and fewer design restrictions. It will still be free of charge for domain owners.

As far as I can tell, this also means that sites can be secured with https - something which was unavailable on the old system.

Apps will be available for editing your site - but it would be a lot more useful to integrate with native address books.

It is downright odd that they're not automatically porting over peoples' data. There's going to be a one month grace period before launch in mid-March, but that isn't a huge amount of time.

The lack of sub-pages and search probably reflects how little those features were used. Removing Ad-Sense seems weird - but people can always add their own advertising.

They're also dropping support for "Arabic, Czech, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Russian" - I have no idea what those languages have in common! I assume they just mean that their hosting platform won't contain translations for those languages.

Is it enough?

I doubt it. Sorry to be so pessimistic - there are now literally hundreds of available top level domains. Including .mobi, .mobile, .phone, .call, .me - all of which could serve the same purpose.

If .tel had built on their early momentum - and perhaps done some deals with mobile networks or manufacturers - then perhaps .tel would be in a better position.

It is pretty neat that they can store data like this in the DNS, and it is more discoverable than .hcard or other microformats - but I fear that the idea of placing one's address details in DNS is doomed to failure.

Because they aren't porting existing data to the new system, I expect that a lot of existing .tel sites are going to be empty.

Bonus Retro Video

This is how .tel launched itself back in the day.

Bless!

One thought on “What's the future for the .tel domain name?

  1. (This reply touches a few other posts you've done on this topic)

    Since I for some reason can't keep my fingers off of novelty domain names, I chose to test this out to see what my thought about it would be, after having actual experience with it (it's still pine fresh, so I can only measure it based on the setting-it-up experience).

    I used name.com to register the domain "shellstrom.tel"; there were no more than two Swedish registrars that would provide services for .tel-domains and since I hand't heard about any of them before I just went with someone else that had a bit (or any in this case) footprint from the past.

    After having set that up, I blatantly went and followed your design almost to the letter but instead chose to go with the Nexus 5 wireframe instead (thanks for sharing the process/choices you did, I've put your name up as a mention in the HTML). It's not done yet, as I was more curious about the domain and how to start using it, rather than getting the most beautiful code set up.

    So, here are my thoughts about this, and I'll see what the future holds;

    It's weird to register a .tel domain. It personally doesn't tell me a whole lot about what I'm supposed to find when going there and I'm pretty sure other visitors have no clue either. Since .tel isn't an established term in pretty much any context, it's just a weird domain. Really, there should be better alternatives to this. I guess the reason for why there isn't, is that there's not much interest in consolidating this type of information.
    In Swedish, the pronunciation of this is going to be terrible. It has to be much more similar to "teal" than "tell", in order for the other party to sort of catch the difference between what would be written as ".tel" rather than ".tell". And then as a probable result, there's going to be a lot of misunderstanding and spelling out of stuff. Which frankly sucks.
    I'll be including this .tel-domain in a lot of my future communication, as it's now my de facto place where I have just this kind of information. It's nice to have an only place for it, but as you said, it could in reality just have been any other domain.
    I suspect I'm probably going to have to explain what the .tel is supposed to mean to the ones I share it to; I didn't even know it existed until you mentioned it, and no one else will either.
    Using .tel for lightweight contact information purpose... It's a novel idea. I like it as a concept. The execution, however, I feel has proven to be flawed and failed and I can't say I know what has to be done to fix it. It's now just become another top level domain to compete with the rest.

    I guess I'm going to have to wait and see if I get any proper use for this along the way. It doesn't look too promising or even exciting.

What do you reckon?