Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Changing the .tel Discussion

Below is a post I'm about to make on the domain forum. I figured I'd post it here first.


This should be controversial.

If you really want to understand the value of .tel, please read this whole post. If you want to constructively challenge the information here, please go right ahead, but let’s stop talking about .tel as a TLD that we can build minimalist web pages on. That's not going to get us where we want to go.

[Name redacted] said, "You cannot use .tel domains like any other TLD. Once/if the Telnic/MySpace deal goes through, I wonder how many... MySpace users will fall prey to the promises of the video and will face a shock when they won't be able to use their $19.95 /year .tel domains for any images, audio, video, etc. How many hundreds of thousands of refunds will be in place?"

[Name redacted], thanks for the comments. I could see your point here if .tel was supposed to function "like any other TLD," but it's a TLD in name only. It's really a way of standardizing contact data in a way that it can be utilized by a multitude of communication devices (mobile phones, computers, etc.). .tel is not about what you the user sees when s/he pulls up in his/her browser (so, the "images, audio, video, etc." aren't important) it's what your mobile device “sees” and can do with properly formatted contact data. Read the quote below for clarity’s sake:


By far the most convincing attribute of .tel addresses isn't what most blogs are talking about -- quickly updating data, no hosting, etc. -- but that, if apps are developed for mobile phones, instead of having phone numbers in your phone, you could store .tel domains that your friends can update as their info changes (putting your friends in control of *their* contact information stored in *your* phone). This means no more “dead numbers” or emails flying back and forth saying “I changed my number.” There must be 1,000s of Facebook status updates and 100,000s of emails daily that inform people of changes in phone numbers. All of these people would immediately understand what .tel offers: It takes a headache away for them -- and that alone is worth the $10-$15/year to register a .tel.

What does this mean in the short term? It means that .tel addresses could become a new way to contact people (it’s easier to remember than a phone number AND, as the data stored on the .tel changes, those changes will automatically propagate to all the mobile devices the .tel contact is saved on).

What does this mean in the long term? It means that .tel domains could become the new vanity phone numbers. Remember the trade in 1-800 numbers of the 1990s? Many early domainers do – that’s what got them to recognize the scarcity of domains early on.

Additional thought:
I emailed a version of this post to a friend the other day. Let’s say his name is John Doe. Right before I clicked “send,” I thought, “What if on my phone I typed (assuming is taken) to call my friend and to email him I did the same - just typed into the email "To" field?” Similar to the discussion above, either my email provider or an app I’m using would identify my friend’s email address from and send the email to that. I wouldn’t have to remember his email address or look it up.


When I posted that earlier in this thread, I didn't see a single response to my claims. This suggests to me that even the folks who are investing heavily in .tel are thinking about .tel addresses as turnkey websites with free hosting, which in my opinion, suggests most don't fully understand what they've purchased. Obviously, toe-to-toe, a standard TLD (.com/.net/.org) will always beat out a .tel if the two are competing as websites. .tel wasn't meant to compete against .com/.net/.org, it was meant to *standardize* contact data (note that, for example, phone numbers on .tel addresses must have the proper country codes or they can't be entered, etc.).

.tel is much more similar to a phone number than a webpage, though it shares some of the characteristics of both. If the folks who have invested heavily in them don't realize this (and soon), it'll become much harder to transfer this idea to the public.

One more try: The beauty of .tel is not what *you* see on the .tel "page," it's that…

(1) The contact data conforms to the same rules across all .tel addresses (so a mobile device knows how to rip and use a phone number regardless if it is asked to do so from, or

(2) The data is stored not on mobile devices (like contact info is now), but on a central server, so that management of that data (updating, deleting, etc.) is controlled not by the mobile device owner, but by the data-"owner." This means that FINALLY, my friend Jill can change her contact info in MY phone and I don't have to do anything to make that happen. I don't even have to know that she's doing it, because (assuming is taken) is already in my phone.

(3) If you follow the vanity number logic, .tel domains will have much higher recall rates than regular phone numbers (see the data below).

Please, folks, this is a telecom tool, not a TLD. Let's change the discussion and start discussing how we're going to get this idea out there, rather than talk about building "web pages" that are limited from step one. These web pages might be a good way to attempt to monetize in the interim (I say this having plenty that would be suitable for this --,,,,, etc.), but they won't be a good way to go in the long run. Someday, I hope to be able to dial on my phone and have whatever number I've entered on ring on the other end (no intermediate step of me going to to look up the number). Similarly, could forward to the email address listed on at the time. Just like vanity phone numbers, I could lease or sell the .tel. (And recall rates for vanity phone numbers versus "digits-only" numbers are extraordinarily higher.*)

Everyone, your thoughts? I'd especially like to hear from those who have been constructive critics so far -- [Names redacted] -- about these claims. If their opinions change even a little, perhaps folks will stop talking about only realizing the partial value of their .tel addresses through limited development and start talking about bridging the domain/telecom gap.

*From, with permission:

“800response and their friends at Infosurv and e-Rewards teamed up to determine the consumer recall rates of vanity 800 numbers compared with recall rates of numeric toll-free phone numbers that are used in visual and audio advertisements… What they found supports our original supposition that 800 vanity telephone numbers retain significant value that continues to grow over time.

- Over 70% of respondents recall the vanity telephone number over the numeric version.

- Advertisers can expect an 84% improvement in recall rates for vanity 800 numbers vs. numeric phone numbers shown in visual media (TV, billboard, print) - and a much more significant 9-times higher recall rate in the case of audio (radio) ads.

- 58% of consumers prefer to dial a vanity 800 number vs. a numeric toll-free to reach a local business.

My comment: In addition to the two primary benefits of .tel addresses listed above (the first two numbered points), .tel would mean a VANITY number for everyone. Individuals, businesses, etc. could benefit from those high recall rates. No longer: “Call me at 1-789-555-1234,” but “Call me at” (and 1-789-555-1234 would be the number your friend’s phone call routes through because it’s listed on


Unknown said...

Another good post Luke – and because you’ve marked it as controversial, I’m going to take issue with it, if only for the sake of argument. :)

I can’t argue the points you make as I agree with them whole heartedly. .TEL is a domain name only by virtue of its pedigree. Take out the word “domain” and describe .TEL by its attributes only and no one could argue that it’s a domain name, at least by the traditional understanding of a domain name.

What’s controversial about this post isn’t the content, but rather why you would plan to post it on

You’ve made the point that it’s not a domain name, so presumably it has no more (or less) relevance to a domainer than a vanity plate or a 1800 number. So why argue your points with domainers?

The answer presumably is that it’s pretty much the only game in town. There’s not a lot of vibrant discussion going on elsewhere and this brings us back to .TEL’s pedigree and domainers being the constituency to most closely follow the release of a new TLD.

I’m convinced .TEL will surpass .COM as the most prevalent TLD within five years, but this is as irrelevant as saying that there are more telephone numbers on the planet that .COMs. Comparing .TEL to .COM is comparing apples to oranges.

It would be great to read your posts/ideas and those of other tel supporters in marketing forums or small business forums. Take your arguments to the intended audience of the product. It is through that audience that we’ll see mass adoption and go from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of registrations.

When we look back on this time from five years in the future, I think we’ll see that those domainers who recognised the potential of .TEL played a critical role in igniting the .TEL phenomenon and will reap the rewards of their foresight. But until the discussion moves into the mainstream and .TEL is delivered through the Telcos, Mobility providers and other mainstream outlets, we won’t begin to see the full potential of this technology.

[Important Note: I have utmost respect for the forum, its members and domainers in general and I trust my comments in no way imply otherwise]

Luke said...

Thank you for the constructive comments and for holding me to task. You're right in saying the appeal would best be made to marketing + telecom folks (I emailed some marketing bloggers last week and the response was very positive). I hope domainers will get on board early on and see the telecom potential of what they're holding on to, as the more people working to bridge the domain/telecom gap, the quicker those gears can start turning. There's a lot of potential for this to be a disruptive technology in telecom, but more people need to see it's potential in order for that to happen. I'll expand my appeal and I hope you and others will do the same.

Thanks again for chiming in. The feedback and foresight is great.