.Tel Me What I'm Missing

I'm bewildered by all the buzz surrounding the Internet''s new ''.tel'' top-level domain. This new entity, sponsored by London-based Telnic, is intended to be a global repository of contact information for individuals and businesses. The twist here is that this information will be encoded into DNS (Domain Name System) records, allowing it to be distributed to the 12 million or so name servers around the world. When folks look me up''perhaps as BewilderedDave.tel''the DNS will not direct them to a Website, as it typically does. Rather, they will access my contact information directly from the records that are returned by whatever name servers their computers are using to look up IP addresses.

That much is clear. It''s also apparent from the news coverage and the descriptions on Telnic''s Website that the company has put mechanisms in place for those with .tel domains to control access to their contact information, should they not wish all of it to be publicly available. What''s confusing is why this service would prove all that helpful to either individuals or to businesses.

Consider the scenario Telnic uses to explain how an individual using a .tel domain can guard his or her privacy. In the company''s illustrative example, Alice (alice.tel) meets someone named Gary. (Bob is occupied in another role.) She informs Gary about her .tel address and gives him the URL for a login page at a Website run by Telnic. He then uses Telnic''s Website to create a ''friend request message,'' which gets transmitted to Alice. She receives the message, reading within it a short greeting from Gary reminding her that this ''friending'' request comes from the guy she just met at the local pub. Alice then puts the wheels in motion to allow Gary to obtain access to parts of her contact information that she doesn''t share with the general public.

Obviously, Gary didn''t impress Alice enough when they first met. If he had, she surely would have just given him her phone number then and there, instead of asking him to jump through hoops.

Telnic''s description explains in detail how the friending scheme works''how encrypted contact information is put into a subdomain of alice.tel using Gary''s public encryption key so only he can read it. Telnic further explains that if Alice has a falling out with Gary, ''she simply stops publishing private contact data'' at that subdomain. Telnic''s explanation is silent, however, on what to do about the fact that Gary may still retain Alice''s phone number, written perhaps in a small black book.

I suppose Alice could change her phone number, cutting off Gary without irritating too many of her other friends because they''ll be using the always-up-to-date alice.tel to reach her from their Internet-enabled mobile phones. But how about Alice''s grandmother?

To me, the friending mechanism seems too cumbersome, and the actions needed to cut someone off are too drastic. I am also skeptical about how useful it might be for reaching businesses, although they will in general publish contact information that''s always freely available to the general public.

The problem is that I won''t know the .tel domain name of the business I want to reach. How can I figure out the .tel name for, say, the new pizza joint that just opened down the street? Even if I remember that the name of the place is Joe''s Pizza, using joespizza.tel is more likely to return information about a restaurant in Los Angeles than the one in my home town. So I''d be more inclined to Google Joe''s Pizza, using as much information as I have about it to find its Website, where I can look up its contact information easily enough.

Perhaps I''m just too mired in late-20th-century thinking to see the value of the new service. Somebody please tell me what I''m missing.


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