Developments in OAuth and OpenID
Two of the things we're working on at present to enhance .tel services are integrating OAuth (Open Authentication) and OpenID into .tel. I'm personally excited about this as I think that this will bring huge benefits to many people and realize a vision for .tel that encourages people to see it, not as a traditional domain name, but as more of a communications solution.
Moving from a web-view to a multi-modal view
The majority of the work done to date is with the traditional web and mobile web in mind. To an extent, this has been driven by a requirement that .tel is still being perceived, purchased and utilized as a traditional domain. This may be due to its relative ease of set-up and its pure functionality – that of providing information online in a basic format for easy discovery and access. It can be set up in minutes, is accessible from mobile devices 'out of the box' and now, with the support of AdSense and TelAds, can provide a revenue stream in addition to the contact information displayed that many find easy and simple to action.
But this is not the ultimate vision of .tel. The above functionality will be enhanced, tweaked and supported as we move forward of course. However, the use of DNS for storing of that information is the power behind the vision for .tel. As it's stored as data, it can be accessed, manipulated and utilized by many means. As can be seen from the applications we've developed for the iPhone and Android, .tel is the first domain that can be managed completely from mobile devices. With the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Outlook applications, one can lookup contact information from the DNS without leaving your address book, and import it there and then also. And through third party soft phone applications, the same can be done, enabling the global directory to serve really fast contact information that is updated in real time.
Moving from online to offline access
All of this is done with an internet connection. We must remember however that there are instances where we may be without internet connectivity (my iPhone service drops out even at major London train stations) and many in other countries with either no or low access to the internet, either through coverage, government regulation or poverty.
This is where it becomes interesting. With OAuth support, services can be linked together without having to share usernames and passwords, creating a strong bond which will then allow .tel and other services to interact. This we know will help those in the community who are developing management solutions for .tel to provide a trusted online service and we hope deliver them much success. But at the same time, it will enable 'offline' services to interact with .tel.
What do I mean by this? There is a proof of concept running on Twitter (see http://twitter.com/2tel) at present which shows Henri Asseily and my .tel names being managed by Twitter, and the both of us looking up information from other .tel names. OK, fine, Twitter is an online service. But what we're actually doing is managing our .tel names and looking up .tel information via the Twitter SMS gateway. We're simply using the Twitter service as a bridge at present to enable us to utilize their SMS gateway to do this. It could quite easily be a stand-alone SMS gateway. OAuth will therefore enable .tel owners who don't have continuous access to the internet to manage their names, and enable those with no internet access at all to access real-time updates from .tel names via SMS. The first top level domain you can access and update without an internet connection.
This is what excites me. I have to admit, I'm excited because I came up with the idea. But if I can come up with that idea (and I'm not a real technologist, I just like and talk about technology) then what can the real technologists come up with? The future of OAuth and binding .tel names to SMS I think provides a significant opportunity to telecommunications companies to begin to offer these to their customers, and a compelling business model for them to embed these into their offerings. There is a huge market out there of people who wish to be found online but don't have access to the internet all the time; India is just one of those markets and virtually all communication is done by SMS or mobile.
Moving towards a single uniform identity that you can own
At the same time, OpenID will also provide a compelling case for .tel to start to become used as an identifier for people online. Many people don't have the skills or desire to build a website of their own. They use free services – Blogger, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook – to communicate with people when they want to (as well as still SMS, which remains the biggest surprise to mobile companies who never expected it to be successful as a communications tool). But at the same time, we increasingly see that individuals need a place they can 'own' online – the 'go to' resource so that, if they leave one or more social networks, they won't lose their 'social graph' (or, in non-jargon, the friends they really want to keep in touch with whom they re-discovered through the social network). Additionally, the pervasiveness of these services and networks is leading to complexities in remembering usernames and passwords for all of these services (especially if security is front of mind). OpenID makes a .tel domain the username that people can utilize to sign in to other services. It then provides one place to bind all services together, and also an increase in the ability for people to utilize their .tel names more than just as a web address to give to people. Sure, you can get a free OpenID from third-party service providers, but you're back to the same problem; how long can they continue to provide this as a free service, or as a service at all, without a revenue stream? With .tel becoming an OpenID provider, you own your domain – it's not yourname.openidprovider.com, it's simply yourname.tel.
So I believe the next six months will open up the ability for existing owners to re-engage and potential owners to re-evaluate .tel as more than just a web-based service, and I'm looking forward to seeing the developments that existing members of the community and new participants will develop.