A new universally accessible address book, such as that used on Facebook, will be embedded into internet's core.
Online universal address book to be launched
CAIRO // A universally accessible address book, such as that used on Facebook, will be embedded into the core of the internet, in another example of the changing structures of the web being discussed this week in Cairo. At a meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the governing body that manages the structure of the internet, the new .tel system has plenty of people talking. Years in the making, .tel will be a new top-level domain, similar to .com or .org. However, instead of hosting millions of websites, the system will keep simple, lightweight contact cards for individuals and businesses. The idea is to build a single, standardised online directory where users can share simple contact details from phone numbers and email addresses to the co-ordinates of their physical location. "Imagine if you could quickly manage and securely publish all the ways that you could be contacted, sharing differing information with different people," said Justin Hayward, the communications manager for Telnic, the London-based company that is managing the new system. "Wouldn't it be great if your address book was always up to date with all the ways that you could interact with your friends and colleagues?" Such systems are already in use in social networking applications such as Facebook, where users upload personal details to a profile that can be viewed by others. Like Facebook, .tel will allow users to keep a minimal profile publicly available while controlling who can access more personal details. But where .tel stands out is that the information is hosted in a universally accessible location opposed to the "walled gardens" of social networking systems. In a traditional web-hosting arrangement, a user enters a web address into a browser and the details are sent to a domain name system (DNS) server, which searches its database of web hosts and redirects the user's browser to a new location containing the content and files needed to display the page. The .tel system works in a different way, using a technique that has never been tried before. Millions of dollars of investment and years of work were needed to bring it to a commercial launch, which will happen next month. When a user types in the web address of a contact, such as thenational.tel, the contact information is located directly within the DNS database, meaning no redirection is necessary. Results come back instantly and are universally accessible to internet-connected devices, with no web browser needed. "It uses the internet as infrastructure," said Mr Hayward. Businesses and individuals can have an online business card that is "live, under your control, and it's accessible from anything", he said. Applications have already been written that will synchronise contact information between mobile devices and the .tel system, while others will let users search for contact details using .tel directly from their phone. As .tel can "talk" to any other service, it has the potential to make life easier for internet users. Instead of entering the exact same details to sign up for a host of different websites, users could point each site to their .tel page, where any information they are happy to share is already available. Registering a .tel domain such as tomgara.tel is expected to cost US$15 (Dh55) to $25 a year - though the expectations are that many net users will get their .tel free from their mobile provider or from their employer. According to Telnic, companies may pay a relatively low registration fee as well, but solid revenues are expected for providing integration services and consulting to large corporations that would want to add thousands of customers to the system. On Dec 3, Telnic will open commercial registrations for .tel to businesses and individuals with trademarked names; next February, registrations will open to the wider public. More than 100 resellers, known as registrars, will offer .tel domains to their customers. The system is unlikely to be replicated, as the underlying system of storing information directly in the DNS is restricted exclusively to the .tel top-level domain. While individual users will choose to book their own domain, such as johnsmith.tel, the service will spread faster through adoption by large companies and mobile network operators that Telnic hope will use the service as a public directory for customers and employees. Mobile operators such as Etisalat could offer a personal .tel site as a benefit to their subscribers, Mr Hayward said. "It could be a single point where their customers could manage all the services offered to them. It's a rich experience and adds value to the customer relationship," commented Mr Hayward. email@example.com